It’s been only a short while since the one day Tsarap Chu and Zanskar descent. In Ladakh, India. The 20hr50min paddle. The 240km descent, the boxed walls, the long rapids, the silent cries in the night.
I get asked daily, why? What pleasure was in it? Is it worth it?
I’ve not come up with a real answer before – Mallory’s quip unsatisfactory – it’s always going to be there.
Perhaps I can sum up why I enjoy the isolation of a long paddle, even with peers, perhaps it’s also an explanation for those that don’t understand solo paddling as a concept. They both run as parallels for me.
Have you ever been to that place between heaven and hell. In a another earth, a place where all the acts of beauty are stained by the tears of yesterday. Where you can look at a mirror to yourself. Open your eyes to your faults in the presence of your gods as you understand them. It’s a place where the false prophets fall from the broken wings of the risen Phoenix. Where you are the cultivated end point of your actions. Where your personal truth can no longer be hidden. Where you are cast alone to find a way to salvation.
It’s a cold morning, the sun not up, the river is a shadowed blanket, formidable. It’s walled in now, no passage without going down with the flow. It’s time to be stripped to the very essence of right and wrong, good and evil. It’s knowing each paddle stroke is one closer to giving you answers.
Over 3 years I’ve been awaiting the right time for this trip and the right time emotionally – when the chaos and demons of the mind need to be tamed. Where the circus needs it’s ring master more than ever. Where truth is stronger and social graces can fall, a place where I have a choice. Burn it all to the ground and grow again or keep the whip and caged ideology alive.
The river, any river, is cathartic like that. It shows you a glimpse of paradise if you can ever get a past your demons. It’s a place we seldom go. Simply put a place we seldom belong. People spend around three score and ten avoiding this place. Filling over it with stuff they don’t need.
I’m not talking myth and legend here, it’s more much more. It’s hard to access on your local day run, hard with too any peers, hard for a go pro generation.
The rolling thunder – the waves crashing into themselves – blind horizons and not time to stop.
Running the river, not blind, but on memory now. Knowing that the moonlight will be casting a spell and ripping the rapids as shadows. Running in these places is about your understanding of trust. It’s about your own personal trust game. Knowing where you sit in this environment. Knowing that you need to care about each moment, as rightly so earth, in all her guises, doesn’t give a dam about you, that piece of plastic, your sponsorship dreams or your ego. For your sanity lay them to rest.
Time and again, one upon one, the personal godhead, the reason for it all is edged out. I know you see it now, perhaps the understanding is weak. Your ego trip, is edging god out. No pleasure in that. I’m not insisting on a God or judo-Christian belief. It would open to ridicule. It’s about now, your unique understanding, with how you interact in an honest way without idols. That’s what the river is about, that’s what kayaking is about for me. It’s a conversation with myself, a lesson about myself, it matters not to anyone else. We all have our own reason and our own truth. We all have battles we fight and cannot win. We all still try. Just don’t ever make your end point a demon for others, people do without understanding the damage. Just paddle now, for the pleasure, for the questions, for truth you seek.
Words: Darren Clarkson-King
Images: George Younger and Natty Cordon
Darren Clarkson-King has spent over 16 years exploring rivers across the Himalaya in Nepal, India, Bhutan, Pakistan and Tibet. He has also kayaked in Europe, Canada, Alaska, Thailand and Morocco. He has Countless 1st Descents, and numerous note worthy Solo descents to his name. He is Owner and Head guide of Pure Land Expeditions, working directly with N.A.R.A, the Ladakh Tourism Authority and Local Kerala Government to promote safe adventure sports and safe working practices.