Thanks to the Himalayas, Nepal has some of the best, most scenic and most varied whitewater on earth. The shorter trips are hugely accessible, even to beginners, while a few of the longer trips are world classics, offering the experience of a lifetime. As well as the tranquillity of being deep in the countryside, away from towns and roads, rafting offers the thrills, laughter and companionship that comes from shooting rapids. Then there’s the sheer escapism of life on the river: camping on white-sand beaches, campfires under the stars, warm water (most rivers in Nepal are at lower, semitropical elevations), jungle-clad slopes, wildlife and birds. Some of the more remote trips, meanwhile, also entail mini-treks through little-visited areas just to get to the put-in point. Almost all rivers in Nepal are clean, and there are barely any nasty biting insects on the beaches (mosquitoes are very rare).
Your choice of where to raft will be largely dictated by what the rafting companies are running during your stay. Within that context, consider what you’re after in a river trip – thrills, scenery, culture, relaxation – as well as how much time and money you’re willing to invest. Consider also when you’re rafting: water levels make a huge difference to a river’s character. And don’t forget that you don’t have to return to base, and that some rafting trips open up parts of Nepal that you might not otherwise visit.
Note that a number of hydroelectric dams and diversions are either proposed or under construction; this may eventually shorten or eliminate some popular routes, and put more pressure on the remaining ones. Roads, on the other hand – which are often built to access new dams – can open up previously un-rafted river sections by creating new put-in and take-out points.
The descriptions that follow in this chapter are given roughly in order of popularity. Note that the stated grades are only a guideline, and river levels – and difficulties, therefore – can fluctuate dramatically at any time of year.