Why You’ll Want to Go White-Water Rafting in Nepal
I have never been a sporty person: I never enjoyed PE at school, was never on any weekend sports teams, and only started to force myself to exercise regularly in my late 20s. So it came as a surprise to myself, as well as my friends and family, when I signed up for an eight-day white-water rafting trip in Nepal this November.
To be honest, this didn’t come completely out of the blue. In January 2015, while on Pink Pangea’s writing retreat in Costa Rica, I tried white-water rafting for the first time. I was nervous, because I didn’t think I was up to it. I thought I wouldn’t be able to paddle hard enough, or that I would fall overboard and be swept away, or injure myself on a rock. I’m not generally a nervous traveller, but I don’t have much confidence in my own physical abilities. Clearly, I didn’t really understand what white-water rafting entailed: it’s not that demanding, and it’s a whole lot of fun.
As long as you can swim, have two functioning arms and don’t have any serious health issues (such as a bad back), you can raft. And you should, because it’s some of the most fun I’ve ever had, paddling down jungly canyons, bouncing and laughing over rapids that didn’t quite manage to fling me overboard, floating on my back in the river and listening to the sounds of the water and birds in the surrounding vegetation.
In Costa Rica, the rafting had been for one day. In Nepal, however, it was for eight. Nepal is an up-and-coming rafting and kayaking destination, although it has been on the radar of serious kayakers for many years. I joined a combined kayaking and rafting trip, but I chose to stay on the raft this time, not having had much experience with kayaking. The river that we travelled down, the Sun Kosi, is said to be one of the world’s top-ten rafting rivers, and it is the most popular of the longer trips in Nepal.
We camped on white sand beaches every night, each more beautiful than the last, with views of hills and jungle as we progressed from the foothills of the Himalayas to the flat plains bordering India. For a landlocked country, Nepal has beaches that rival any sea beach in more famous ‘beach’ destinations. Despite the Sun Kosi’s nickname as ‘the river of gold,’ its sand sparkles a metallic shade somewhere between silver and bronze, due to its rock and mineral composition. It’s a good thing it’s pretty, because after a couple of days camping in it, it coats everything, from pillows to armpits.
It’s some of the most fun I’ve ever had, paddling down jungly canyons, bouncing and laughing over rapids that didn’t quite manage to fling me overboard, floating on my back in the river and listening to the sounds of the water and birds in the surrounding vegetation.
Most of the eight days on the river included several hours spent paddling, but the rapids were comfortably spread out. Many stretches were calm, and we could just drift along, enjoying the views and taking the occasional swim. Nepal’s rivers, mostly originating high in the mountains, are not as warm as those of Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, but they’re not so cold that you need a wetsuit. Long stretches of flat water gave our Nepali guides the excuse to try to push us in, or play games, such a running around the outside of the raft while trying not to fall in (which of course I did).
Despite this messing around, safety considerations were taken vary seriously. The guides never let us go near the water without wearing life jackets—although they were keen to ‘help’ us go for a swim when we were fully kitted out!—and when the kayakers in the group fell out in the more challenging rapids, there were also plenty of safety kayakers quickly on the scene.
Being a solo female traveller, a different kind of safety consideration was also in the forefront of my mind. Nepal is a relatively safe destination, and solo female travellers rarely have problems here because the Nepali people are helpful and unobtrusive. Going on a ‘wilderness’ adventure in Nepal though, where the staff are 100% male and the only privacy comes in the form of a thin tent wall, might be a concern for some female travellers. However, it shouldn’t be if you choose a reputable company.
I went with Kathmandu-based GRG’s Adventure Kayaking, and I also heard from experienced kayakers that Pokhara-based Paddle Nepal is good. The majority of clients on such trips are male, but about a third of my trip was female. Some were with their friends, but on my trip, another young New Zealander and I were travelling solo.
All of the Nepali guides on the river were professional and respectful, and extremely good at their jobs: everything from making our meals to digging our toilet and packing and unpacking the gear raft were done efficiently and well. Plus, there were enough of them that we always felt safe on the river and at camp.
Another consideration for some travellers is that bathing facilities are limited on the river. This should not put you off! But you should know what you’re getting yourself into. On the sixth day of the trip, we got the chance to shower in a small but powerful waterfall, and it felt so good to scrub the sand out of my scalp, as pretty as it was. However, the river water is cool enough that going for a daily swim is refreshing. Toilets are made at each campsite by digging a pit in the sand and screening it off behind a tarpaulin.
If you’ve never tried camping closer to home, or know you don’t enjoy it, you probably wouldn’t enjoy a multi-day river trip in Nepal. But if you’re more adventurous—or just fancy pushing your limits, like I did, to see how far they will go—you won’t forget the beauty, ruggedness and relaxation of Nepal’s rivers anytime soon.
White-water rafting in Nepal