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.Read More
Below is a summary of the international classification system of rafting river difficulty.
Class 1 Easy. Moving water with occasional small rapids. Few or no obstacles.
Class 2 Moderate. Small rapids with regular waves. Some manoeuvring required, but easy to navigate.
Class 3 Difficult. Rapids with irregular waves and hazards that need avoiding. More difficult manoeuvring required but routes are normally obvious. Scouting from the shore is occasionally necessary.
Class 4 Very difficult. Large rapids that require careful manoeuvring. Dangerous hazards. Scouting from the shore is often necessary and rescue is usually difficult. Kayakers should be able to roll. Turbulent water and large irregular waves may flip rafts. In the event of a mishap, there is significant risk of loss, damage and/or injury.
Class 5 Extremely difficult. Long and very violent rapids with severe hazards. Continuous, powerful, confused water makes route-finding difficult, and scouting from the shore is essential. Precise manoeuvring is critical and for kayakers rolling ability needs to be 100 percent. Rescue is very difficult or impossible, and in the event of a mishap there is a significant hazard to life.
Class 6 Nearly impossible. Might possibly (but not probably) be run by a team of experts at the right water level, in the right conditions, with all possible safety precautions, but still with considerable hazard to life.
Nepal has taken off as one of the world’s leading destinations for recreational kayaking, and is recognized as one of the best countries for whitewater multi-day trips. There are rivers for all abilities, including beginners.
Most visiting kayakers start by booking on a rafting trip for a warm-up – often on the Sun Koshi or Kali Gandaki rivers. If you book on as a kayaker, the rafting company will normally provide you free use of a kayak as part of the deal, or give you a discount of around $10 a day if you have your own boat. If you’re thinking of bringing your own kayak, talk to others who’ve visited Nepal recently, as some have ended up paying high excess-baggage charges on the way back. There’s a wide selection of modern kayaks available for rent at around $25 a day in both Kathmandu and Pokhara – the latter has become quite a thriving centre for kayakers, with an excellent rental outlet, Ganesh Kayak Shop. You’ll need to leave a passport or a significant cash deposit. Kayak guides can be hired for around $20 a day. It’s worth bringing all your own kayaking gear with you, but this is also available for rent if necessary.
Kayak schools are a recent development in Nepal, mostly operating out of Pokhara and offering a half-day introduction on Phewa Tal and another four-days’ practice and paddling on the nearby Seti, with rafting support. The Seti is warmed by geothermal springs, making it a very pleasant place to practice rolling. Other kayak schools operate out of the riverside resorts on the Bhote Koshi and Upper Sun Koshi rivers, not far from Kathmandu. Typical prices for a five-day course start at around $300, which includes tuition, gear, food, transport, raft support and camping – that’s great value.
While not so popular, another conveyance for enjoying Nepal’s whitewater is the hydrospeed, a sort of boogie board for swimming down rivers. Pokhara’s Ganesh Kayak Shop rents out hydrospeeds with wetsuits and helmets for $20 a day. It also rents out inflatable canoes (known as “duckies”) and catarafts for those planning a do-it-yourself trip.
This chapter was updated with the assistance of David Allardice.
Nepal’s rivers at a glance
Nepal’s rivers at a glance
River Class Volume Total days River days Scenery/wildlife rating Overall rating Elevation (start/finish) Trisuli 3+ Big 1–4 1–4 * ** 330m/170m Upper Kali Gandaki 4- Med 4 3 ** ** 750m/500m Seti 3- Small 3 2 ** ** 345m/190m Upper Seti 3+ Small 2 ½ ** ** 1050m/980m Bhote Koshi 4+ Med 2 1–2 ** *** 1020m/760m Upper Sun Koshi/Lower Bhote Koshi 3 Med 2 1 * ** 730m/650m Marsyangdi 4+ Med 6 4 *** ** 850m/370m Sun Koshi 4- Huge 8–10 6–8 ** *** 625m/105m Karnali 4 Huge 10 8 *** *** 560m/195m Tamur 4 Med 11 6 ** *** 635m/105m Bheri 3+ Med 8–10 6–8 *** ** 770m/195m Lower Kali Gandaki 2 Med 5 4 ** ** 370m/170m
Volume Relative volumes are given – the actual flows vary enormously according to season.
Total days Days from Kathmandu or Pokhara and back.
Overall rating This is a subjective score of the river as a rafting trip, taking into account whitewater, scenery, logistics and cost:
*** = Highly recommended
** = Recommended
* = Specialist interest