Kali River Rapids: History and Backstory

Location:  Disney's Animal Kingdom 
Opening date:  March 18, 1999
Boats: 20 boats. Riders are arranged 1 across in 12 rows for a total of 12 riders per boat

Kali River Rapids is a river rapids ride at the Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park of the Walt Disney World resort, in the “Asia” area. It is themed as a rafting expedition along the Chakranadi River, courtesy of “Kali Rapids Expeditions”. In keeping with Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s message of conservation and environmental protection, this attraction deals with illegal logging and habitat destruction.


 Attraction History

When the Disney Imagineers were designing the Animal Kingdom Park, there were many opportunities to develop stories around Asia.   Asia is the Earth’s largest and most populous continent.  Ask any student to name a few countries in Asia and they will probably say: Japan, China, Korea, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Nepal and Thailand.

The Imagineers decided to concentrate on the regions of India, Nepal, Thailand and Indonesia when designing the Animal Kingdom’s Asia.  These nations cling to ancient customs and lifestyles and they possess massive areas of undisturbed nature that is in jeopardy from encroaching human population.

Each of these countries individually, provides storytelling opportunities, but the Imagineers did not want to identify one particular nation as their Animal Kingdom representative.

They wanted to create a mythical locale that would incorporate a number of geographic features and architectural styles that would blend together.

The Kali River Rapids is set inside the fictional Township of Anandapur, which lies on the Chakranadi River (Chakranadi means “river that flows in a circle).  Signs throughout Anandapur, warn that illegal loggers are damaging the environment with slash and burn logging techniques. Because of these environmental concerns, Manisha Gurung (a local woman) started the Kali Rapids Expeditions. Manisha’s goal by starting the attraction was to show that there were more eco-friendly ways of creating income for the village.

According to Imagineer Manaslu Slammer:  During the backstory development, the Imagineers decided to create a new language for the Township of Anandapur.  A new ancient language of “Sanskrit”, was chosen to be the nation’s tongue. It means “place of all delight”.

The Imagineers created the area with the concept of barren plains and jungles that would be created side by side. They would include marble temples and battered wooden structures that would flow together. They created the story of the Chakranadi River that is created from the snow melts in the Himalayas. Its flowing waters would reach warmer regions where a thick jungle grows and then flows into Lake Tempe and Lake Sidenreng.

As you walk towards the Kali River Rapids look at the Chakranadi River that flows around a decaying temple near the edge of town. Imagineers have designed it so that you can see how the river has overflowed its banks and its waters that have surrounded this old temple.  Stop and watch the Gibbons that have taken over this shrine and now call it their home.

Original Concept and Design


Thank you to WDWThemeParks.com for providing the above image.

The original plans for the Asia expansion in Animal Kingdom called for an Asian safari ride to counterbalance the Kilimanjaro Safaris in Africa. In order to differentiate the attraction however, Imagineers decided to make the ride a rafting safari. The attraction, which was called the Tiger Rapids Run (or Tiger River Run), would have been similar to Walt Disney’s original concept for the Jungle Cruise.

Thank you to WDWThemeParks.com for providing the above image.

Guests would have boarded large yellow rafts which would be held together in groups. As guests floated through the Asian jungles, they would observe animals such as the Indian Rhinoceros, the Asian Elephant, the Asian Antelope and various other creatures. Other scenes in the attraction were to include an Indian palace, a scene depicting vicious deforestation, and the finale, which called for the rafts to separate from each other, before sending guests down thrilling white water rapids.

During the planning of the Tiger Rapid Run, Imagineers decided that the screams of guests going to down the river rapids would frighten the animals showcased in the attraction. Furthermore they also believed that guests would be moving too fast on the rapids to really observe the animals. Because of these problems, Imagineers decided to cut the live animal portion out of the attraction. The Tiger Rapid Run was then renamed the Kali River Rapids (after the Hindu goddess Kali, who represents the destructive forces of nature) and the focus of the ride was shifted to showcase the dangers of deforestation.

The Kali River Rapids opened with the rest of Asia on March 18, 1999.

Attraction Plot:

The local inhabitants of Anandapur depend on tourism for their income.  As you walk through the township, notice all the brightly painted signs that try to lure visitors to see the various local attractions. Walking through the forests and mountains, bicycling tours, and whitewater rafting on the river are all offered.

You will notice many flyers that share information about the Tetak Logging Company that is using slash & burn techniques and devastating the land.

As you approach the entrance to Anandapur, you will see a structure elevated by stilts. This is also the residence of Kali Rapids Expeditions’ owner Manisha Gurung and her family.  In this region of Anandapur, homes on stilts are typical in that it aids in cooling by allowing air to circulate around the entire building.

Disney in the Details:

Notice the Coke bottle as an insulator on one of the power poles, just like it would be done in a small village in Asia.

During the springtime snow melt, the stilts will protect the structure from floods. The ladder to reach the home is on the side of the building and if you look at the windows, you will see that the curtains are old shirts.


This location is the starting point for Kali Rapids Expeditions and exotic adventures. Notice as you enter the jungle, the ancient temple in the distance.

Next Post: “The Queue of Kali River Rapids”: One of the BEST in the Animal Kingdom park

Fun Facts and Trivia

  • Disney Imagineers conducted extensive research throughout Southeast Asia prior to Kali River Rapids’ debut, and more than 5,000 props purchased from local vendors are situated in the queue. Sights encountered in the queue include lush foliage, decaying relics and statues, the grand “Tiger Temple,” “Mr. Panika’s Shop,” a faux bird market, and the Kali Rapids Expedition Office.
  • In every shop within Anandapur, a portrait of the Royal Couple of Anandapur can be found. This includes Mr. Panika’s Shop in the Kali River Rapid’s queue.
  • If guests look beneath the portrait of the Royal Couple, guests can see the first 100 rupee note that the Kali River Expeditions ever earned.
  • Outside of the Kali River Rapids guests can see supplies that have been packed to be sent down the Chakranadi River.
  • Kali River Rapids was the first whitewater rapids attraction to appear in any Disney theme park. A second such attraction, “Grizzly River Run,” debuted with Disney’s California Adventure on February 8, 2001. Kali River Rapids is superior in thematic aspects; Grizzly River Run is more thrilling.

All photos are property of Dr. Howie DiBlasi, unless otherwise noted.

About the author:

Dr. Howie DiBlasi is a retired educator, business owner, author and an Ed Tech consultant.  He is a life long Disney fan that began in 1959.  He has been blogging about Disney, travel and technology for the past 10 years.

He can be found on twitter HERE  @hdiblasi https://twitter.com/hdiblasi

and @mydisneyclass https://twitter.com/mydisneyclass

His website HERE www.mydisneyclass.com

He is also the host of the My Disney Class Podcast, found HERE


iTunes:    https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/mydisneyclasspodcast/id1055205344?mt=2



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