When I say Nepal, I bet you immediately picture snow-capped mountains and sherpas trekking up narrow pathways, right? I bet not even one person’s first thought would be White Water Rafting! Little did I know, there is amazing river rafting in Nepal. There are opportunities to raft on several rivers and I was lucky enough to enjoy a two-day experience on the Trisuli River in Kathmandu Valley. Despite my initial apprehensions, it was one of the highlights of my trip!
The Drive to Trisuli River
I’ll admit, I was apprehensive about White Water Rafting in Nepal. The last time I did white water rafting was class 4 rapids in Jarabacoa, the Dominican Republic after a hurricane. While it was a helluva time, it also came with a sore back, a few waterfall drops and being flipped out of the boat under a waterfall. While I enjoyed it, for the most part, I always wondered if I could do it again. I wasn’t a fan of being flipped out of the boat and caught underneath the pressure of a waterfall for a few seconds before being spit back up to the top. It scared me and I’ve never forgotten it.
I didn’t know what to expect for rafting in Nepal, but there was an option to sit the activity out, so I was safe. If I wimped out, I could sit out. Phew! That was enough of a safety net for me that I didn’t panic over being forced to do it. After our briefing with our guide though, it was clear that the rafting would be relatively tame in comparison to what I had done before. We’d be bopping along on class one and two rapids for a few hours, each of two days. And if we did it on one day and didn’t want to the second day, we could travel in the van (equally bumpy, by the way … just less wet!), to our next spot.
We drove about 60 kms from Kathmandu to Trisuli River, taking us about three hours to get there. Once outside of the city, the highway is not at all what highways are in Canada. It’s barely a two-lane road, in various states of disrepair. This is the only road heading to the west, to Pokhara. It eventually splits where you can head to the south to Chitwan National Park and the Indian border, or there are a couple of branches off the main road to go to other cities or countryside areas. It is a very limited road network in general.
Being the only road between two of the major cities, Kathmandu and Pokhara, as well as connecting all of the other areas in the south and west to those two cities, as you can imagine, it is packed with traffic; buses carrying local people to the bigger cities, transport trucks carrying cargo, ambulances carrying patients to Kathmandu, locals going from home to work, or from one community to the next, tourists packed on buses and then us, tourists in a private van. Everyone uses this one road. There are no other options.
I can’t tell you how thankful I was for our stealthy, alert, non-risk-taking and skilled driver who kept us safe the entire trip. We were safely tucked into our clean van with an extra seat or two for space. Our luggage was all inside, not piled on top like on many buses. We had air conditioning, no crying babies and washroom stops. We could even request one if we needed it. You can’t do that on the public bus! The public buses, were standing room only, falling apart, dirty and dangerous. I can’t count the times they passed in precarious locations and the bus leaned so hard to one side that I thought it was just going to roll on over!
On one side of the road, the vehicle would be hugging the rock wall or dusty vegetation, which was only a foot from the window, separated from the road by a makeshift drainage system to keep the roads from flooding. The small drainage ditch had no recourse against mudslides though, which happen frequently during summer monsoon season, often creating damage so bad that it takes months to fix. On the other side were many sheer drops, only occasionally protected by cement block guard rails. Always, we were being overtaken by various trucks, buses and motorbikes weaving their way in and out through traffic, passing in the most precarious of locations with blind S curves ahead and patches of loose gravel everywhere. The buses and trucks have a way of communicating through beeps and blinker flashes to tell one another when it is ok to pass, but even still, it’s a dangerous situation. One of the only saving graces was that the roads were so narrow and bumpy that getting to above 60 kms an hour was near impossible.
We climbed up, up, up into the hills (they only felt like mountains) and started snaking our way through the S turns and switchbacks up, down and around the hills. The scenery was beautiful with its small communities perched high atop the mountains and intricately terraced rice fields spilling down over the sides of the hills.
We got stuck in a couple of traffic jams where it seemed like we might never move, but eventually, the long line of traffic would crawl over the narrow bridge carefully or past a broken down vehicle, completely blocking one lane of the barely two-lane road. Heavy trucks and buses struggled to slowly climb the hills, but most seemed to make it, eventually.
We passed through various communities and saw lots of rest stops, restaurants and washroom facilities along the way. Some looked better than others. At the halfway mark we made a pit stop for coffee, snacks and washrooms. While the washrooms weren’t sparkling, they did have one Western toilet and three squatter toilets. There was no toilet paper, but there were sinks with soap and running water. There was a coffee shop, chips, chocolate bars and local rum, which many of our group purchased to share around camp that evening.
As we passed the halfway point, the road levelled out and while still full of twists and turns, it was considerably flatter, as it travelled along the banks of the river. This made for beautiful views of the rushing waters, large boulders and suspension bridges stretching from bank to bank.
About three hours into the drive, we took a sharp turn in a town and headed down a very steep road, onto a dirt road facing the river. We piled out, gathered our essentials for a day of rafting and got ready for the next part of our adventure.
White Water Rafting
Knowing the Trisuli River was fed by glacial waters, I struggled my way into a full-length wet suit with no sleeves. While the guide told us we weren’t going swimming, he said it cheekily and it was always questionable whether he intended to tip us or not. At this point, I still didn’t know what to expect for how big the rapids would be, so I decided a wet suit was the way to go. A couple of people in our group braved the trip without thought and they survived just fine.
November is the peak season for tourism as the weather throughout the country is nice. In the Kathmandu Valley, we had warm, sunny days of about 20 – 25 degrees most of the time. For the most part, swim suit, T-shirt and shorts were fine for rafting, but it did get a little chilly if you were wet and in the shade, so the wet suits were a good decision!
After our safety briefing, we broke into two teams and hopped into our sturdy rafts. We practiced a few commands from our guide on the flat, calm waters and then we were off through our first-class one rapids, smiling and bumping along, getting splashed with the chilly, refreshing glacial waters all along the way.
We chatted amongst ourselves, laughed, shared stories, admired the beautiful hills, terraces and precarious suspension bridges. We rode the relatively mild rapids on and off for a couple of hours until lunch.
Here’s where my next big surprise came in. Our guide navigated us to the side of the river where we hopped off the boat and stepped onto a beautiful, soft, sandy beach. I was absolutely enamoured by it. Who knew there were beaches in Nepal? It was clean, soft and beautiful! The perfect little rest stop for us to refuel before our afternoon rafting.
Our guides and support rafters quickly busied themselves setting up tables, unpacking plates, cutlery and drinks. Then they whipped up lunch in a flash. There was no shortage of food: Croissants and bread with peanut butter or jams, potato salad, corn salad, salami and samosas. We sat in a circle in camp chairs and stuffed our faces, gathering energy for the afternoon’s ride.
The guides and support rafters packed up all the bits and bobs as quickly as they had gotten ready and once again we were ready to take on the river. In the afternoon we had a couple of stronger rapids, one big ‘get down’ moment where we all hopped into the centre of the boat and held on while the water washed over us and then we leisurely floated our way to camp for the night, arriving mid-afternoon.
Our guides and support staff were super friendly and clearly were having a fantastic time on the river as well. It was interesting to learn that many of them travel to other countries, such as Japan to train and learn on different rivers. One of our guides was from Japan, practicing in Nepal, getting different experiences around the world!
River Life Camp
Our guide had done his due diligence in preparing us for our accommodations for the evening to be basic. We’d be sleeping in tents on the river side, so we shouldn’t expect any luxuries. Much to our surprise though, we hopped off at another lovely river-side, sandy beach and were immediately greeted by friendly staff and the lovable camp dog, Jerry. We peeled off our wet suits and safety gear, hanging it on the line, hoping to be dry by morning and gathered by the riverside for tea, coffee, hot chocolate and popcorn to keep us going until dinner.
We were shown to our nearby tents which were much larger than I had expected. They had a cement floor, a wooden base for the bed, a thin, but sufficient mattress, electricity and a plug-in to charge your phone or camera batteries. For a basic camp, it was looking pretty good. Of course, there were shared bathrooms, but they were nearby, clean, had toilet paper and western toilets. The shower left a little to be desired with only cold water, but after all, it was a camp, not a hotel.
The sun went down early as we were hidden in a valley behind some hills, so everyone gathered near the camp fire and they fed us more popcorn, some papadam (local bread), bbq chicken and french fries. It likely would have been enough food for dinner, but they had a whole other meal prepared for us!
Next up, the locals from a nearby village came to treat us to a small party as it was the end of one of their festivals. There was singing, dancing, lots of hot rum punch and blessings on us all! The red symbol on our forehead is a blessing. It’s made from rice, yogurt and red colouring. It’s quite common to see people all around Nepal with this on their forehead.
Around 6 pm we moved from the riverside to the main dining tent where there was a feast of spaghetti, garlic bread and several side dishes. Unfortunately, I wasn’t feeling well by this time, so I didn’t eat much and went to bed early. I tucked into bed for the night with warm pyjamas and a sweater, hoody and all! It wasn’t really that cold, but it was very damp as the valley we were in was humid and the sun didn’t really reach it for long each day to dry things out.
Day two rafting
We had a leisurely morning. Some of my fellow group members did yoga, stretching and read on the beach. I wandered around and took a few photos. Then we were served up breakfast of pancakes, porridge, eggs and sausage before suiting up for another day on the water.
After we wiggled our way into our semi-damp wet suits, put on our wind-resistant jackets and life jackets, we piled into our boats and off we floated! We passed through a couple of fun class one and two rapids and then our guide directed us to a rocky shore where we had to clamour up over some rocks and boulders around a class four rapid. While they did not take us through it, the expert kayakers and supply raft made their way through with ease. Nonetheless, it looked pretty crazy from the shore and I was glad not to be taking a chance with flipping out of the boat in the cold waters and being tossed around by the rapids.
We climbed back into our rafts on the other side of the big rapids and meandered our way along the river, having a few good water fights between our boats along the way and riding some pretty good rapids! Along the way, we stopped at a hidden waterfall, enjoyed the great scenery, had lots of laughs and played a dizzying game with our paddles on the beach.
We also had the chance to hop in the water and float several hundred meters down the river. Three people from the other boat were first in, then my roommate, Susan. A few minutes later I decided that I’d probably never get to do this again, so overboard I went and I came up gasping for air. Holy! Cold! Somehow in my debate in my head on whether or not to jump in, I had forgotten to weigh in the fact that it was a glacial river, so it was ch-ch-chilly … even in a wet suit. I stayed in for 5 or 10 minutes, whereas the others stayed in for longer. You did get used to it and it wasn’t unbearable, just shocking!
We bobbed through our last couple of rapids early in the afternoon to our final stop where we had lunch and changed into dry clothes.
In the beginning, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to partake in the rafting as I wasn’t sure what to expect. Even after the guides explained that they were small rapids and it would be unlikely to fall out, I was still skeptical. In the end though, even though I wasn’t feeling well throughout the two days, I am glad that I chose to participate. It was fun and relaxing. It was a totally different experience to have in Nepal than what I expected and I got to float in the glacial waters of the Trisuli River!
NOTE: Many of the photos throughout this post were provided by the Rafting Company who photographed and videoed all of our antics for the two days. Thanks, Adventure Aves for the photo-memories!