Nepal’s biggest and longest river, the Karnali provides perhaps the finest trip of its kind in the world. Way out in the remote far west, it requires a long bus ride to Birendra Nagar (many groups fly to Nepalgunj) and then about three hours’ rough bus ride to the small village of Sauli. From here it is either a 2hr trek to the river or, if the road is in good shape, you can drive onto Dungeshwar right on the Karnali. Most rafting trips last eight days, with challenging, big-water rapids, superb canyons, pristine wilderness and plentiful wildlife. The biggest rapids (Class 4) come in the first three days, with the river gradually mellowing after that. You can raft the Karnali right into Bardia National Park, where wild elephants, tigers, crocodiles and rhinos may sometimes be seen from the river. Pulling into a luxury safari camp and being met with a tray of cold beers makes a magnificent climax to this long river trip; many parties take the opportunity to spend a few extra days watching wildlife in Bardia.
The Karnali is best run at low to medium levels – it’s a particularly good choice in March and April, though the nature of the channel makes it lively at all times outside of high water. There are plentiful driftwood supplies for campfires, so this makes it a popular choice for overseas kayak groups around Christmas. It’s also renowned as Nepal’s premier fishing river, with giant mahseer (a freshwater perch) and catfish. Note that the Upper or Humla Karnali, from Simikot down to the Lower Karnali put-in, is a Class 5 terror for skilled, committed expedition kayakers only.