Animal Kingdom's Kali River Rapids - Part One
When most Americans think of Asia, it’s Japan, China, and Korea that first come to mind. These nations are often in the news due to political and socioeconomic events. Their stories often make front-page headlines. These countries are also densely populated and their wild animals have had to take a backseat to industrialization. It is for these reasons that the Imagineers avoided these areas and set their sights on the regions of India, Nepal, Thailand and Indonesia when designing the Animal Kingdom’s Asia. Although portions of these “secondary” nations are modern and cosmopolitan, they also cling to ancient customs and lifestyles. In addition, they possess vast areas of undisturbed nature that is in imminent danger from encroaching human population.
Although each of these countries individually offered wonderful storytelling opportunities, the Imagineers did not want to specify one particular nation as their Animal Kingdom representative. This would be far too limiting. Instead, they wanted to create an overall feeling of the southern climes of the world’s largest continent. To that end, the mythical Kingdom of Anandapur (ah-NAHN-dah-poor) was born. This ancient community would sit on the floodplains and lower foothills of the Himalayan mountain range and take on elements of several countries and make them its own.
Being a mythical locale, Anandapur can incorporate a number of geographic features and architectural styles without incongruity. Arid plains and lush jungles sit side by side in harmony. Marble temples and weathered wooden structures blend seamlessly. The backstory tells of the Chakranadi (CHAWK-rah-nah-dee) River that is born from the snowmelts in the Himalayas. Its nurturing waters soon reach warmer regions where a dense jungle grows and eventually flows into the Bugis Sea.
The Chakranadi River also experiences springtime floods. This can be witnessed at a decaying temple near the edge of town. If you examine the area, you can see how the river has overflowed its banks and its waters have surrounded this structure. In dryer times of the year, the doorways are accessible. In the meantime, the gibbons have taken over this shrine and made it their own.
Coming from the “Roof of the World,” the waters of the Chakranadi River are clean and pure. A local restaurant and hotel, the Yak & Yeti, advertises that they use these waters in their establishment.
To help give Anandapur an even more mythical, yet authentic feel, the ancient language of Sanskrit was chosen to be the nation’s tongue. In Sanskrit, Anandapur means “place of all delight” and Chakranadi means “river that flows in a circle.”
During the planning of Asia, Kali River Rapids was to be named Tiger Rapids Run to honor the most famous animal of the region. Initial thoughts called for a waterborne safari ride with animal encounters (as seen in the first two concept drawings below – look carefully). However, early on, it was decided that the whitewater excursion would not feature animals, but instead, tell the story of deforestation. It was felt that continual screams from the guests as they careened over the falls could be stressful for the creatures. In addition, for most of the trip, you’d be traveling too fast to see the animals for more than a couple of seconds. So in an effort to focus our attention in an ecological direction and to not set up false expectations of spotting tigers along the journey, the name was changed from Tiger River Run to Kali River Rapids. Kali (KAH-lee) is the multi-armed Hindu goddess who represents the destructive forces of nature, forces that change and reshape the planet.
Below are three concept drawings of Tiger Rapids Run/Kali River Rapids and a representation of Kali.
Asia and the Kali River Rapids officially opened at the Animal Kingdom on March 18, 1999.
Anandapur Township is a different type of community than Harambe in Africa. Harambe is a town of concentration. Buildings are clustered together with a civic pride toward growth. Anandapur Township is more sparsely populated with a hodgepodge of structures scattered around the landscape. The Imagineers tried to give each “land” of the Animal Kingdom a distinction all its own. For example, bamboo is a common sight in many parts of the real Africa, yet it was not planted in Disney’s recreation of this land. However, it was used widely in Asia and Anandapur. This is a subtle detail, but important in the scheme of things.
In my blog about the Maharaja Jungle Trek, I discussed how the evil King Bhima Disampati built a hunting lodge where he and his guests could stalk and kill tigers. Eventually his regime was overthrown and a more ecofriendly attitude spread throughout much of the land. Today, the residents of Anandapur depend greatly on tourism for their livelihood. Throughout the township, a number of brightly painted signs entice visitors to see the various local attractions. Trekking through the forests and mountains, bicycling tours, and of course, whitewater rafting on the Chakranadi River are all offered.
In and around the Anandapur Township, flyers like the one below have been showing up. It seems that the Tetak Logging Company is using slash & burn techniques and devastating the land. The local population is planning a protest meeting for Thursday evening to discuss what can be done about this problem.
One of the best known and oldest travel adventure companies of the area is Kali Rapids Expeditions. The business was founded by a local woman named Manisha Gurung who was concerned that her beloved country was being destroyed by illegal logging. It was her desire to demonstrate that there are other, ecofriendly ways of generating income for her village. Kali Rapids Expeditions was named after the most thrilling section of the Chakranadi River, the Kali Rapids.
As visitors venture into Anandapur, they come to a structure elevated by stilts. This type of construction is typical in this region of the world as it aids in cooling by allowing air to circulate around the entire building. In addition, these stilts protect the structure from floods during the springtime melt. This is also the residence of Kali Rapids Expeditions’ owner Manisha Gurung and her family. The stairs/ladder to reach the dwelling can be seen on the side of the building. If you look at the windows, you’ll notice the curtains are old shirts. This is a poor country and the residents make do with what they have. We also discover that this building sits at the edge of civilization and is the jumping off place for exotic adventures.
The FastPass machines were designed to look like podiums that an official might use to check and stamp passports and other administrative documents. Nearby, rafting supplies are being readied for transport to the Chakranadi River.
As our trek into the jungle begins, we can see an ancient temple in the distance.
We start out walking through a bamboo jungle, our path marked by fanciful lanterns.
Soon we come to a stone outcropping. Judging by the brick and rock flooring, we make the assumption that this area once had significance to the local population.
On the other side of the rocks, bamboo has given way to more lush landscaping. Religious relics can be seen along the trail. Many of these have succumbed to the ravages of time, weather, and earthquakes. In addition, glimpses of the Chakranadi River can be seen through the growth.
At last we come to Tiger Temple, nestled deep in the forest.
In an effort to be as authentic as possible, the Imagineers visited and studied many of the countries in Southeast Asia. They returned home with a multitude of ideas and artifacts, many of which ended up in the Kali River Rapids queue. There are over 5,000 props in Tiger Temple and the adjoining buildings.
As you approach the temple, you will see one wall is covered in ribbons and several bells hanging from the rafters. Each ribbon represents a prayer left by a passing traveler. The bells represent answered prayers. It is believed that if a ribbon is removed, the prayer is nullified. Because of this, Disney maintenance does not touch these ribbons and lets them deteriorate just as they would in “real life.” Occasionally, new ribbons are added, just like would happen at an actual temple.
Although it’s obvious this is a religious temple, the actual beliefs of the Anandapur people are a little ambiguous. The Imagineers did this purposely as to not misrepresent a particular conviction. However, this region of the world is dominated by Buddhism and Hinduism and this is hinted at throughout the area. But it was the Imagineers intention to honor animals in the Tiger Temple rather than a deity. This is made clear as you first enter the building. A carved mahogany panel features eleven animals sacred to the kingdom.
Just past the panel is a large statue of a tiger. Although he looks more like a domestic cat than a mighty hunter, his fierce countenance and stylized stripes leave no doubt as to the species. Tigers often grace the entrances of temples and shrines as they are considered a “guardian” deity as they keep evil spirits from entering. Tigers are admired for their ferocity, great strength, and grace. Around the Anandapur tiger’s neck are adornments and fruit has been left as an offering.
The tiger looks out onto a grassy knoll. Here we find a number of statues, possibly Buddhist angels, in various states of decline. In this case, it is more than the ravages of time that have taken their toll on these stately creatures of heaven. If you’ll notice, a landslide has buried the back two statues. In all probability, this mud flow was brought on by slash & burn logging activity nearby.
Behind the tiger are a number of cages. Locked behind wire mesh are numerous religious artifacts that are only used for special celebrations. On these days, the objects are brought out and displayed in noteworthy ceremonies or religious pageantry.
These two friendly folk represent characters in Bali folklore. Performers wear these masks (topeng in Indonesian) and interpret traditional narratives concerning fabled kings, heroes and myths.
Just outside this area of the temple, we find a local peddler’s bike. He has come to sell the priests and merchants the produce of his farm. He has also used this time to cook himself a meal.
As we wander deeper into the temple, we come across nāgas. In Hinduism, King Cobras, nāgas, are considered nature spirits and the protectors of springs, wells, and rivers. They are also susceptible to mankind's disrespectful actions in relation to the environment. In the Tiger Temple, the nāgas protects the Chakranadi River. Once again, notice that the people of Anandapur have left an offering to this god.
The next room of the Tiger Temple is rather uninspiring – at ground level. However, if you look up, you’ll be dazzled. This is the Painted Pavilion and depicts a number of the Jataka Tales. These are the stories that tell about the previous lives of the Buddha, in both human and animal form. There are more than 500 of these morality tales and they date back to 3000 BCE.
“The Fearless Lion and the Brave Elephant” is one of the stories depicted in the Painted Pavilion. The fable tells of a group of merchants being tormented by great beasts. The lion and elephant hear their cries, come to their aid, and kill the attackers. In return, the grateful merchants vow to honor the lion and elephant for all eternity.
Consider stepping to the side of the line and let a few people pass by so you can study these works of art at your leisure. They are magnificent.
As we continue our journey, we leave the Tiger Temple and enter Mr. Panika’s Shop. The transition is smooth and almost undetectable as the shop is built directly adjacent to the temple. If you pay attention, you’ll notice the construction of the shop is far less sturdy than that of the temple. Mr. Panika is hoping to cash in on the budding tourist trade with tour groups like Kali Rapids Expeditions.
Outside the shop we see that Mr. Panika is very eager to make a sale. He is willing to ship anywhere you like – just please buy something. A scale and package sits nearby, waiting for the post.
Also outside the shop we see a movie poster for “Majboor.” This is a real, Indian-Hindi film that premiered in 1974.
Inside Mr. Panika’s Shop is a huge inventory from which to choose – and almost everything for sale here is animal related. Cabinets are filled to the brim, wall space is at a premium, and the rafters are overflowing. This shop is a museum of sorts. Mr. Panika’s desk is overflowing with paperwork and invoices. I especially like one sign hung high above the desk that reads “ANTIKS MADE TO ORDER.” Mr. Panika also insists on cash.
Outside a pane-less window, we see a well and children’s toys. In all probability, they belong to the Panika’s family.
One advertisement I find especially amusing is for a local hotel whose name has been obscured by rust.
In case you can’t read the print on the picture, let me list the amenities for you. I don’t think the Grand Floridian has anything to worry about.
Rooms with windows available
Fans in most rooms
Bathroom with running water on both floors
Mattress and toilet paper just a little extra
Next to bird market
Birds are a popular pet in many parts of Asia and countless local shopping districts feature bird markets. Next to Mr. Panika’s Shop is Disney’s version of a bird market, minus the actual animals due to humane reasons. An aviary sits opposite the bird market on the other side of the queue. I have memories of birds inhabiting the aviary in the early years of this attraction, but I can’t be certain my memory is correct.
After leaving the shop we finally find ourselves in the Kali Rapids Expeditions office. An outdated slide projector displays faded pictures of our upcoming journey while the prerecorded voice of founder Manisha Gurung describes how her business came into existence.
On the desk we see an old typewriter, telephone, and answering machine. Above are brochures for nearby attractions. They even sell cameras and film – the digital age hasn’t quite reached this remote corner of the world. A close observer will notice First Aid kits stored beneath the desk.
Hanging on a nearby wall is the Royal Couple of Anandapur. If you pay attention while visiting the many shops and restaurants in the area, you will encounter their likeness again and again as it is customary to honor them in this manner. Below the Royal Couple is the first 100 rupee note the business earned.
Hung on a side wall is the Raft Position Board. Here, guides can keep track of the various expeditions and their locations. If you pay attention, you’ll notice the names on this board actually correspond to the rafts you’ll be riding in.
Here is a list of all of the rafts posted on the chalkboard and their current status. I have also included a short definition as to the name’s origin. This list is not complete as there are more than 15 rafts. Be sure to read the status of the last raft.
Annapurna Orchid – Out – Sector 5 northern route - Annapurna is a section of the Himalayas in north-central Nepal
Monsoon Mama – Out – Sector 3 rapids run – The term “monsoon” was first used in British India to describe a large, seasonal wind blowing off of the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea which brought heavy rains to Southeast Asia.
Darjeeling Darling – Awaiting use - Darjeeling is a Himalayan city in the Indian state of West Bengal. It is also a type of tea.
Sherpa Surfer – Awaiting use – Sherpa are an ethnic group of people from the most mountainous region of Nepal. Mountaineering guides in the area are also known as Sherpa.
Jungle Jumpapoo – Repaired – Jumpapoo is a type of Thai vehicle.
Bali Bumper Car - On reserve for Ohio tour group – Bali is an Indonesian Island and home to most of Indonesia's Hindu minority in an otherwise Muslim country.
Java Jumper – Out – sector 5, southern route – Java is an Indonesian Island and one of the most densely populated places on the globe.
Baloo Meaway – Oars may need inspection – Baloo is featured in Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book” and is also a favorite Disney character.
Himalayan Hummer – Rafting on Sector 2 with Himalayan – The Himalayas are a mountain range located immediately north of the Indian subcontinent and are sacred in Hinduism and Buddhism.
Prambanan Princess - Rafting on Sector 2 with Himalayan - Prambanan is a Hindu temple in Java, Indonesia.
Bhaktapur Bubbler – Awaiting Use – Bhaktapur is an ancient city in Nepal.
Durga’s Delight – Awaiting Use – Durga is a Hindu goddess and noted for having up to 18 arms.
Banyan Boy – Replenish supplies – The Banyan is the national tree of India.
Rajah Run Around – Seat Repaired – Rajah is an Indian term for a monarch.
Manaslu Slammer – Due back yesterday! - Manaslu is the eighth highest mountain in the world
On the opposite wall hangs a map of the Kingdom of Anandapur. In addition, paddles, signed by previous and current raft guides, adorn the wall. The paddle in the upper right was signed by many of the Imagineers who traveled to Southeast Asia and help design the attraction.
During our walk through Tiger Temple and Mr. Panika’s Shop we have heard the unmistakable buzz of chain saws in the distance. This annoying sound has intruded on the serenity of the area and brought concern to the locals.
In the next room, tea is brewing for the tour groups awaiting departure. Overhead, stylized paintings depict the various rapids that lie ahead. While in this room, an old radio receiver comes to life with a warning for tour company owner Manisha Gurung. The alert warns her that illegal logging is taking place along the Chakranadi River and all rafting should cease until this problem can be addressed. Unfortunately, Manisha is not in the office and does not get the message, so her guides continue to launch rafts into dangerous waters.
The queue for Kali River Rapids is amazing. I’ve only touched on the highlights of this beautifully executed temple, shop, and office. In Disneyland’s early days, a queue like this would have been considered an attraction in its own right.
I know that many of you have no desire to ride Kali River Rapids – and that’s okay. But you should experience the queue. In the morning between 9 and 10 (on non-Extra Magic Hours days), this attraction rarely has a line. During this hour you can take your time and enjoy the queue at your leisure. When you reach the boarding area, you simply tell the cast member you’re not riding. It’s as easy as that.
That’s it for Part One. Check back tomorrow when I’ll discuss the rafting adventure along the Chakranadi River.