The topographical extreme that gives Nepal the highest mountains in the world also endows the country with the wildest rivers for whitewater rafting.
I remember the first time I tried some white-water action in 2009. A little scared, I chose to sit at the very end of the boat, which unfortunately, turned around when the ride started, putting me at the helm. Today, I canâ€™t think of choosing to sit anywhere but right in the midst of the sheer thrill of it and the responsibility of leadership that comes with the position. Braving the raging waters of Upper Bhotekosi, Sunkosi , Trisuli, and Marsyangdi, I have come a long way since my nervous rafting days.
The topographical extreme that gives Nepal the highest mountains in the world and some of the most spectacular sceneries also endows the country with the wildest rivers for whitewater rafting.
Having experienced the thrill of rafting in Nepal only, I donâ€™t know what it is like elsewhere in the world. Which is why I asked the opinion of one of the worldâ€™s best-known river conservationists, Megh Ale.
â€œWe have the worldâ€™s best white waters for rafting,â€ Megh said with the air of finality, as if the debate was closed. â€œDid you know that Dubai just spent millions of dollars to build an artificial river to create whitewater-like rapids? But we got it all for freeâ€”a gift from nature.â€
I take Meghâ€™s word for it, and from what I have seen of Himalayan rivers I can vouch with some surety that white-water rafting here is truly an out-of-this-world experience.
So much more than just a sport
For the casual observer looking down at rafters on the Trisuli from the Pokhara highway, rafting may look like a bunch of hyperactive people clad in colourful gear screaming fun and fear down a fast-flowing river. While it is all that, rafting is so much more than just an adventure sport. Rafting is team-work that demands synchronicity by those on-board.
Technical finesse is the responsibility of the guide, but team membersâ€™ assistance is equally important. There is bonding, both with those on the raft and with nature. And while the rapids keep the adrenaline high, it is the ice-cold snow-fed water waves, the scenic green ridges that run alongside and the gorges on either side that truly makes the river rendezvous an exciting and memorable experience.
Hydropower versus Tourism
There is an ongoing debate on weather Nepalâ€™s whitewater are best used for whitewater adventures to generate electricity for a country plagued by power cuts. Megh Ale, President of the Nepal River Conservation Trust, passionately believes that some rivers should be left pristine.
â€œExtracting electricity seems like a really important remedy right now, but in the long run, destroying the free flow of rivers with social, ecological, religious and aesthetic significance will only hurt the country,â€ he argues.
â€œThe Madi, Bhotekosi, Tamor and Karnali deserve to be left in their free-flowing natural state, that will likely bring river-based employments and higher economic return than a hydropower plant may rake in. Damming damages a river, and damages to nature are irreversible.â€
Know your rivers
My first rafting trip was in Trisuli closely followed by another on Lower Bhotekosi. Nothing was planned, but it turns out that was really the ideal way to go. If youâ€™re looking for either a scenic float or an adventurous ride, Nepalâ€™s whitewater has plenty to offer. Hereâ€™s a quick guide.
For family rafting:Â The Seti River with its mild Class II and III rapids is perfect for families or groups looking for a scenic float on its blue water, passing through dense forests and sandy white beaches.
For beginners: If youâ€™ve never tried white water rafting, and want to start slow, Trisuli is perfect for you. With its Class III and IV rapids (exciting in monsoons), Trisuli will give you enough time to take a breather in between your rendezvous with bouncy rapids.
For adventurers: If you think youâ€™re ready to take on more challenging whitewater expeditions go for Bhotekosi, Marsyangdi, Kali Gandaki, Tamor and Karnali that hits up to Class V rapids in high flow. Ranging from half a day to an extended 12-day adventure, choose your whitewater challenge as per your needs.
Packing up for a rafting spree
A wet suit (your own or provided by the company). You can choose to wear regular clothes too, but wearing a swimsuit underneath is a good choice since rafting adventures offer swimming and cliff diving options in the river during the ride.
Water shoes, to walk on rocky/sandy shores. Ample amount of sunscreen.
Water-resistant cameras. Most rafting companies provide helmets with go-pro mounts.
No matter how many times you may have gone whitewater rafting, it is still always important to follow safety instructions.
Strike a friendly rapport with your river guide and he will be more open to share extra information and add fun twists to your ride â€” like overturning the raft or sneakily (but safely) throwing out some members into the river.
Make it known to all on board that rafting is safe and fun, because a nervous crew could ruin the experience.
Ask your guide to stop at interesting cliff jumping spots along the river.
By Samriddhi Rai