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RAFTING THE KARNALI RIVER– The Himalayan X stream

With Bardia Wildlife Reserve
11 Days.    River Distance:  165kms. 
Grade (high water): IV-V
Pre-raft Briefing:  HE Office (Kathmandu Guest House) 5pm on day prior to Day 1.

This is probably the most definitive Himalayan whitewater adventure of all.  Set in the most remote, least explored western region of Nepal, the Karnali is a magnificent river and this expedition is indeed unique and not for the faint-hearted. 

Bardia Wildlife Reserve is situated close to the take-out and to include Bardia is rather like a ‘two-for-the-price-of-one’ adventure combination.  There are ways which make Bardia at least the equal of Chitwan, with herds of wild elephant, more frequent tiger sightings and a lot fewer sightings of homo-sapiens. 

To reach our put-in point requires a two-day road journey from Kathmandu, first down to the Terai and then into the western hills up to Surkhet, before reaching the river through a sal forest on foot. 

Then the river – 40 major rapids in the first four days.  The total whitewater, 165kms, is the distance it takes for the river to make a huge, westerly hairpin bend, finally forging a course through the Himalaya’s middle hills.  The surroundings are almost sheer wilderness with the wildlife – mainly monkeys, deer and colourful birds – creating an awe-inspiring sense of genesis.

Beyond Surkhet the rough road ends and porters sweat the expedition equipment, including our 80kgs rafts, the few hours to our put-in point.  It is a hike of extraordinary beauty through forest and along the ridge top before descending from Danigad to the Swat Khola, our put-in point for some of the best whitewater in the entire Himalaya.

Then six adrenaline pumping days of rafting the ‘Wild Water of the West’.  The river begins with fun Class II-III rapids on every corner until, before you know it, the challenge of bigger and more complex Class IV rapids in the section known as ‘Jungle Ghat’ leading us into some of the big stuff:  ‘Human for Lunch’ and ‘Jailhouse Rock’.  River-Day 2 offers more ambitious Class IV-V rapids with many large holes.  The river lets up just before entering a steep, high canyon where we scout ‘Captivity’, a Class V rapid aptly named.  The day culminates with ‘God’s House’, an awe-inspiring Class V hole.  By River-Day 3, sore arms testify to the hard work being done at the paddle – skills will be tested once more on ‘Flit and Strip’. ‘Lost Mutf’, and many more Class III rapids.

River-Day 4 is ‘Red Rock Canyon’ (also aptly named) and there follows less turbulent but nonetheless Grade III progress.  By River-Day 5, most of the unforgiving rapids are behind us – more time now to value the scenery and the silent sense of remoteness.  By the time the Bheri River joins the Karnali from the east, the river has become a huge fast flowing tributary of the Ganges and our last day’s rafting relies as much on our paddle power as it does on the river flow.  It’s with feelings of achievement that we reach the take-out point at the suspension bridge on the east/west highway at Chisapani.  And so to Nature’s very own ‘chill-out’ at Bardia.

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