by Surendra Phuyal
Raging yet serene rivers gushing down the Himalayan slopes. Changing landscapes: every thing from deep yet mystic mountain gorges and canyons, to colorful and vibrant and lively ethnic settlements, terraced fields and vegetations, and head-on collisions/interactions with the topography and geology of the world’s highest (and deepest as in Kali Gandaki) region.
Nepal has over 4,000 rivers and rivulets, raging down her gorges and valleys and the flat plains down south.
And a few dozen amongst them are considered more-than-suitable for white-water rafting, kayaking and other related outdoor activities such as sidewalks to explore nature and culture, canyoning and rock-climbing. The government has opened over a dozen Himalayan rivers for white-water rafting and kayaking. The most popular amongst them are the Trishuli, the Bhote Koshi, the Kali Gandaki, the Karnali, the Tamor, the Seti and Marshyangdi.
A British Army officer Col. John Blasford, ODE, is believed to have led the first white-water rafting expedition in Nepal in 1976. Hundreds of thousands have experienced the adrenaline rush and fun of rafting and kayaking on a range of rivers across the length and breadth of Nepal ever since. For real class-five adventure seekers, the Karnali, the Marshyangdi, the Kali Gandaki and the Marshyangdi offer tremendous opportunities.
Having said that one shouldn’t underestimate the Bhote Koshi, northeast of Kathmandu Valley.
On a recent weekend afternoon, our team of about 32 raft-paddlers and a dozen kayakers “ needless to say the world class Nepali river guides, Kathmandu-based expatriates and tourists and local white-water aficionados like myself amongst them “ started off from Borderlands Resort, north of Barhabishe Bazaar in Sindhupalchok, nearly 100 kilometers northeast of the bustling city of Kathmandu.
General safety orientation by our world class Nepali river guides prepared us for the adventure. And following the raging Bhote Koshi currents, with lots of rock hazards and obstacles, we flowed past amazing wonders of the mountains. The sceneries that we enjoyed while flowing in calmer sections were simply stunning. At one point, we saw honey-bee hives on a steep rock face above us that were impossible to hunt even by Sindhupalchok’s most skilled local honey-hunters. And seasonal bamboo bridges created by the local indigenous engineers and interesting human settlements and activities as we sailed past the villages and towns like Barhabishe and Balefi added species to our fun.
All the rapids looked just fine, except that some were really scary. The dreaded ‘Great Wall’ rapid stopped us all and our guides made us to get off the boats so that they could cruise over that on their own. “It’s a technical one Sir,” the great river guide told us. “We will need to struggle with the water and the rock to get our rafts out the narrow but massive flow of white water.” Later, as we saw it, two guides really struggled for nearly 15 minutes to get the raft flowing again. Soon we got on the rafts again, only to be surprised by similar rapids. It was such a good thrill, scary at times, but loads of fun! Thanks god we were all safe in the end!
Minus the growing pollution by the towns of Barhabishe, Balefi etc, Bhote Koshi still looks pristine. “It continues to remain one of Nepal’s world class rivers so close to the capital city,” says Megh Ale, the president of Nepal River Conservation Trust, a non-profit organization dedicated to conserving Nepal’s pristine rivers.
“Another problem is: the dams that the planners are planning without enough homework, proper environment impact assessment and stakeholder participation.”
If rivers like the Bhote Koshi are conserved, experts say, Nepal “ already the Mecca for white-water thrills “ has the potential to attract more and more adventure-seekers from around the world.
All that for several centuries “ and generations “ to come.
Pics by Surendra Phuyal [surendra.phuyal(at)gmail.com]
and Rajesh KC