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Rivers of Nepal’s Wild West


Doti, May 19, 2016: Mention the Seti River, and the popular rafting river near Pokhara immediately comes to mind. Tourists often do a short two-day trip on the frothing river that tumbles down from the Annapurnas ending their journey near Chitwan.

But there’s another Seti in western Nepal that is much less crowded, a lot wilder, and just as stunning. Meet the West Seti, a tributary of the great Karnali that flows down from Tibet through western Nepal and into the Ganges in India.

The lower reaches of the Seti as it flows through Doti district is narrow and has rapids with lush banks and pristine white beaches. This makes for an adrenaline-filled ride as rafters try their level best not to be upended by the rocks. Once the Seti meets the Karnali River, however, it widens out and the landscape morphs into stunningly sheer rock cliffs towering over the waters.



The difference between the West Seti and other rafting rivers like the Trisuli or Bhote Kosi is that it flows through sparsely populated valleys. You go for hours at a time before catching sight of settlements. In the dry season, villagers come down from the hills to graze their livestock, and you float past buffaloes submerged nose-deep in the water, cooling off in the heat, and children swimming and fishing in the river.

Cruising down the Seti, the visitor gets a glimpse of a relatively untouched area of Nepal gliding past. Roads have not reached this area and people live like they did generations ago. There are no lodges or teahouses here, and rafting companies have to camp on the beach.

Tourism entrepreneurs hope that with better access by plane and roads, rafting in the Seti, Karnali and Bheri rivers will boom, helping the local economy by encouraging trade between villagers and visitors.Major hydropower projects are planned on all these rivers, so the rivers may not remain this pristine for much longer.



For the moment, though, it is the very remoteness of these mighty Himalayan rivers that protects them. Dipayal is a 24-hour overland bus ride from Kathmandu. Flying to Dhangadi reduces travel time, but it is still a 6-hour journey by bus to Dipayal where the rafting trips start.

“Managing logistics is one of our biggest challenges,” says Kamal Thakuri, a senior rafting guide who runs expeditions on the Seti-Karnali. It would save operating costs to have an outfit in Dipayal run rafting expeditions, but there is currently a lack of expertise and equipment among the locals. At a recent meeting between rafting experts and local businessmen, the head of the Doti chapter of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry promised to position rafts here.



Thakuri, who is also with the Nepal Association of Rafting Agencies (NARA), says the Seti River is a perfect fit for first-time rafters because of its low level of difficulty. “There are enough rapids to keep people excited,” he said, “but they’re not so hard or risky that they’ll be scared.”

Rapids are classified according to their level of danger and difficulty on a scale of I to VI, with VI being the most dangerous. “There used to be some good class III rapids just above Dipayal,” said Thakuri. “But they have already disappeared because of the hydroelectric project.”

With more reservoir projects like the West Seti and Chisapani High Dam planned on the Karnali, it would make sense to raft in Nepal’s wild west before this remote part of Nepal changes forever.

By Yu Wei Liew