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This weekend, Asia’s largest white water kayaking festival returns to the foothills of Wayanad.

All year round, the sleepy town of Kodenchery is only known for its pepper, cardamom and ginger, but come July, things get a tad spicier. Located at the foothills of Wayanad, it plays host to one of India’s most extreme adventure races–the Malabar River festival (MRF). Starting today—the three-day festival in its fourth edition this year—will see close to 150 participants from England, USA, New Zealand and local kayakers from all over India (think 17-year-old Neeraj Singh Mehra from Rishikesh). “The Iruvanjippuzha and Chalippuzha rivers flowing through the rocky terrains of Kodenchery make a perfect eight to 15 kilometre kayaking course little seen elsewhere in the country,” begins Manik Taneja, a certified kayak instructor, who heads Madras Fun Tools, an adventure sports enterprise, who are one of the main organisers of the event.

Getting there
From Kozhikode: Kodenchery is located 53 kilometres from Kozhikode city. Ride on NH766
and take a deviation before the ghat roads from Thamarassery. Kodenchery located 7 kilometres from Thamarassery is also locally
known as Thusharagiri
Stay: White Water Woods Resort, two-bedroom cottage for four Rs 3,500. Details: 8547596219. Richmount Adventure Park, dormitory Rs 1,000/head. Details: 8086078240

Backwater trails
While we are talking about boating, here is something else you can try. The renowned Nehru Boat Race festival is back this year on August 13. Book your tickets to witness snake boats over 100 feet in length racing through the Punnamada Lake. Will the Vembanad Boat Club successfully defend their championship title? Find out by experiencing the race from a specially constructed island pavilion over the waters. Rs 1,500 onwards. Bookings open from August 1. Details: bookmyshow.com

Paddling away
MRF will organise competitions in the beginner, intermediary and professional category (Rs 1,500 onwards) and even rent out kayaks for wannabe kayakers (Rs 600)–all with cash prizes of upto Rs one lakh to be won. Each year the best man and woman kayaker are also declared the Raja and Rani of the event, and are even paraded around on an elephant. Last year’s Raja Mike Dawson, had to give the event a miss to be part of the New Zealand’s Olympic contingent in Rio, while Rani Beth Morgan from Somerset (England), is back in Kodenchery to defend her title. “Last year there were just four women, this year I expect more women including locals, which will make my reign difficult,” expresses Morgan.

Long course
“This is also a way of giving back to Kodenchery, as I am bringing in local kids, who are more knowledgeable of the river but lack the equipment to navigate it,” adds Taneja, who crowdfunded  Rs 4.14 lakh through ketto.org as MRF was short of funds this year. With no Indian kayak manufacturers, kayaking as a sport is lagging due to high expenses and customs duty for importing the kayaks, which are usually grouped under the luxury yachts category. Taneja expresses that the event will also encourage the government to reduce custom duties attached to kayaks.Entry free. Details: malabarfest.com

— P Peter

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