If you dont fancy reading my ramblings cut to the chase, scroll down the post and watch the 4 minute 20 second photo slide show with music at the end of the post
What a fantastic couple of weeks. Obviously I was expecting to have a great trip, you dont go for 2 weeks in Nepal expecting it to be a bit crap now do you, but some how it exceeded my wildest expectations.
It has been over 10 years since the last time I was there. I did 2 post monsoon seasons safety kayaking in 1999 and 2000. A combination of things caused this gap including political instability and the Maoist insurgency plus other trips and full time jobs getting in the way.
Now I’m working in the UAE and Nepal is just a 1200aed (200 quid), 5 hr budget flight away. A morning flight lands you there for lunch and an evening return flight is back in time to get a reasonable nights sleep. With less that 2hrs time difference there is no jetlag to speak of either. The country is reasonably stable with a funtioning democracy of sorts and the Maoists have been brought into the fold. All the excuses just evaporate.
By putting my previous knowledge of Nepalese kayaking together with some help from some great people I put together a bit of a plan. 4 of us (Ian Yeti, Lee, Benn and myself) boarded flights on the 1st of April to action the plan (there was also a random element we picked up in Kathmandu!!).
The aim was to pick off a few of the 2 and 3 day trips. We’d travel as light as possible living out of the kayaks for about 10 days at least. We’d use mostly local transport and sort accommodation when there wasnt a river side sandy beach to sleep on. For a couple of weeks we’d become dirtbag boater river flotsam: unshowered, unshaven and found collecting in eddies with the various other detritus found there in Nepalese rivers (plastic bottles, lumps of polystrene and the odd dead goat). It proved to be a damn good plan and I’m really missing the simplicity of the existance we enjoyed for the past 2 weeks.
We landed and spent enough time in Kathmandu to sort / pack boats and have a few beers with some other self supporting boaters. Early next day we shared transport out to the Trisuli. 2 days here eased us into paddling again and plenty of opportunity to boat faff while we settled into the river’s pattern of life.
A roof top bus ride on to Pokhara had me grinning from ear to ear, GAWD DAMN it was good to be back, even the bus rides are cool as hell!
We had a full day in Pokhara to sort ourselves out. On the Kali Gandaki there was unlikely to be any tea houses so we had to sort basic food for self supporting. This lent itself nicely to a couple of evenings out and about, the highlight of which was a band called the Oviraptors playing at the Busy Bee. Man these guys rocked!!! Raw energy and enthusiasm combined with musical talent and the best rock outs I think I’ve ever seen. Brilliant headbanging genius that made us rock out with our fists in the air. We staggered back to the hotel……
We’d organised early transport out to the river and there were sore heads loading the jeep. It took a while to get out to the river and a bit longer faffing with boats and kit before we set of down stream.
It was my first time on the Kali Gandaki and its a great river. A stunning valley dotted with temples and shrines along with some great boating. It was slightly up,grade wise, on the Trisuli but with lots of space between rapids to make life easy still. It was three days of great paddling in a stunning location.
With the new dam the Kali Gandaki has been a three day trip for a long time now. The flat water starts at Seti Beni. We were hoping to be able to get a jeep out from there but it seems that the road is not in good enough condition. Fortunately we were there early enough to catch the ferry to the dam (leaves Seti Beni at 0900hrs). This saved us quite a bit of extremely dull flat water. When we told the other team over a beer in Kathmandu Steve’s face was a picture! The realisation that there may have been a way round the grind of the boring dog water obviously hurt him to his core :-)
At the dam we met the jeep that we’d organised through the accommodation in Pokhara. Once back in town we had chance to rejigg ourselves over night before heading out to the Marshyangdi. I actually had a quick dose of the Kathmandu Kwick Step that laid me up for a few hours. Lee and Ian thoroughly rejigged themselves in the Busy Bee and had near death experiences with hangovers from hell on the bus ride to Beshi Sahar. My 18hrs of sleep meant I was feeling pretty skippy but Benn was just starting his ‘dose’ so we left him to wallow in his self pity, with the trips random element, in Pokhara for a couple of days.
The Marshyangdi has been on paddlers top river trips in the world for decades now. Unfortunately the old 4 day trip is now broken by a damed section that has swamped the 3rd day. We decided to do the day below the dam first (Paundi to Tuture) and then head up to the top section (Bhule Bule to Beshi Sahar and then onto towards the dam where there is a really easy get out.)
The first day below the dam was again a step up in difficulty. A bit more volume of water, more consistently hard rapids and shorter gaps between them. However there was still plenty of time to keep things calm and relaxed. We were all rediscovering and getting into our paddling groove, dormant after a couple of years hanging out in the desert.
We pulled over at a beach below a temple and suspension bridge to take 5. Five turned into a lot more as we chillaxed. I woke up and wondered over to chat with Ian Yeti who was talking to a couple of young guys who’d wandered down from the bridge. Turned out they both lived with their families in the small village on the other side of the river. Time slipped simply by as we shared stories, jokes and learned about our different cultures. One of the guys invited us back to his family home for the evening meal. We ummed and arred not wanting to impose on a family’s generosity but after polite but firm persuasion we accepted. The evening that ensued was one that I’ll remember for a long time. I don’t have any photos but the memories of the kind, generous hospitality shown to us for absolutely no reason what so ever are the kind of memories that have left the Nepalese with their reputation for beautiful, uncluttered, open generosity and humour that has kept drawing travellers to their land for what is now generations.
The next day we hauled our boats up to the road and caught local transport all the way up to Bhule Bule. That last sentence sounds so easy doesnt it!! What it actually is hiding is a really faffy day that left us a bit late getting on the river. This higher section was again a step up in grade with more gradient causing more powerful rapids with much less space between them. Because we had gradually ramped up the difficulty through the trip so far everyone was ready for reading and running with very few instances where we needed to leave the comfort of our boats to quickly scout rapids. If felt fun and efficient to be moving like this and we made the outskirts of Besi Sahar just before it got dark. Hiding the boats on a rocky beach we wandered through some small field and a steep path up into town for Dhal Bhat and a night in a hostel.
The last day on the river started relatively early and efficient river running ate up the clicks to the start of the damned section and our easy get out. We had enough time to dry kit before catching the series of buses we needed to get back to Kathmandu with plenty of time to hook back up with Benn and for a shower and a beer.
We had originally planned on a rest day in Kathmandu but it turned out Daz’s team who we’d shared transport out to the Trisuli with to start with were heading out to the Bhote Kosi. Not being daft enough to miss out on sharing our kayakers stories of the trip so far as well as dead easy logistics we skipped the rest day and went boating instead.
The Bhote Kosi is just 3 hours outside of Kathmandu and is really the source of the mighty Sun Kosi. At this time of year it was technical and rocky. I’d been paddling a composite prototype Loki (briliant boat) and each crunch that came with each rock I hit was like a physical pain. Its a testament to the craftsmen who build the prototypes (same guys who built the original Dudh Kosi boats I believe) just how well it stood up to the abuse I gave it.
Over the next few days we worked our way higher and higher up the river, up into steeper and deeper canyons. Our progress culminated in the section below Last Resort and down to Borderlands. The canyon is deep and feels committing while rapids like “Gerbil in the Plumbing” need scouting and often portaging. Its fantastic kayaking with sustained continuous rapids in an awe-inspiring setting.
In the end I just paddled myself out, my arms where shot. Out of 14 full days in country we spent 12 on the river. We scrounged a lift with a rafting group heading back to Kathmandu and had a day and a half to rest, shop for friends presents and do the temple thing.
Boudanath, the Tibetan stupa that is the centre for the Tibetan refugee population in Kathmandu is a fantastic place and somewhere I always enjoy visiting. Top tip- after exploring the stupa itself, the several Tibetan monasteries around and the interesting little shops, book-stores and café’s make sure you stay around for the run up to sunset. It seems like the whole Tibetan community comes out and walks together the clockwise path around the Stupa. Its people watching paradise but also has always left me with a powerful sense of community not found in many parts of the modern world anymore.
For what happened on the last night I blame Beth, she was the one who brought the first round of tequila’s. The memories are vague but there was very enthusiastic dancing at the Fire Club, more tequila, riding rickshaws, some kind or argument over family snap and the floor at Tusc’s place I woke up on.
If you’ve got this far make yourself a brew or pour yourself a glass of wine and spend the next 4 minutes and 20 seconds watching some more photos in this slide show with a TUNE
If you fancy experiencing Nepals rivers as either a kayaker or as a rafter then you should consider the Sun Kosi journey at the top of your list. Its one of the worlds absolute best river journeys. Prime time to run it is in October as the monsoon waters die back to more manageable flows. Join us , www.purelandexpeditions.com, on one of our trips organised and led by Daz Clarkson, the only person to have paddled all the rivers that flow off Everest and author of the forth coming new White Water Nepal Guide. You’ll find full details on the website.
For other posts about this trip on this blog goto http://ianganderton.wordpress.com/category/nepal/