This past October, as hard as it was to leave the southeast in the fall (one of my favorite places at my favorite time) I decided to take a journey about as far away as possible. The trip was to Nepal and I was excited to see a totally new culture and new rivers with the backdrop of the world's highest mountains.
Gareth Tate had been teaching wilderness medicine all September in India so it worked perfect to meet up with him there and cruise together off to Nepal to find some rivers to tackle. Before leaving India however, we took the time to get into a few adventures, most notably visiting the Taj Mahal during a festival time where they love to cover themselves (and especially the tourists!) in colorful flour product.
Upon arriving into Nepal we quickly headed to Pokhara, what we had been told was the best boating town during that time of year and immediately found some other boaters and started knocking some runs off of our list. We warmed up with a local classic the Upper Setti, just 45 min. outside of Pokhara.
Next up was a trip to the Kali Gandaki, a very commonly rafted river which involved mostly class three rapids, but we were surprised (and delighted) to find a pretty huge rapid right off the start with one of the bigger wave features I've seen in a while. Later we found out that a landslide had caused the rapid just two days before we ran it, so we were one of the firsts to see this new feature. We did the run as a two-day and spent time stopping along the way to visit with the locals and enjoy the scenery.
The most epic part of the Kali Gandaki experience however was the ride home. After spending a good bit of time trying to figure out when a bus might be by to pick us up, we finally got a bus, however the only spot available was on the roof. And being a festival time there were tons of people trying to travel, so we were not on the roof alone. The ride ultimately ended up taking around seven hours because of all the stops they made. At one point we had to load a desk and dresser to the roof with us. It was crowded. And started to rain. Little did I know that was just the first of many roof top rides I would take in Nepal.
After the Kali Gandaki we were ready for something a little more difficult and higher up in the watershed. However, because we were the first kayakers to come through the area that year, we were the first to go out and find out about water levels. We knew we were a bit early in the season and might find some high water, but with not much time to waste, we decided to go see what else we could find. After having experienced how long and epic bus rides in Nepal can be, we decided to pack only what we could fit in our kayaks and go from river to river, without returning to Pokhara in between, in order to minimize the time we spent on the bus and maximize our time on the water.
First we headed to the Madi Khola. Our plan had been to camp out at the put in and put on the next morning. We had a bit of an epic trying to find a spot to camp and put in due to a misconception as to where exactly the park boundary started (and consequently where you were expected to pay a permit fee). After some arguing, we were forced to carry our boats down to a location with no camping and no access to the river in the dark. Fortunately our jeep driver came back and helped us get to what turned out to be a pretty nice campsite.
The Madi Khola was a bit high as we expected, but still very good to go with some solid rapids near the top and turning into fun class three until the spot where we took out. After lots of broken English conversations, we finally figured out that there was a bus going leaving at 6am the following morning to our next destination. We woke up early to load up on what was probably the craziest bus ride I have ever been on. The buses there are four wheel drive machines and go where most other vehicles can't or won't. It was not driving on any road on a map, but rather on what was once a trail that eventually got wide enough for a bus. Eventually however we got to the next town and started our journey to the Marsayandi River.
Here we met up with Julian, a Swiss boater, who was keen to explore the Marsayandi area as well. We started off journeying up a tributary we had noticed riding in. With not much beta on what the trib was like or how high up it we could go, we made the call to rent a tractor (no other vehicles could make it up the road) and see what we could find.
We ended up finding that the tractor really couldn't go very far up the river and ultimately got dropped off in this little village on the hill above the river right as it was starting to rain. With little food and Julian without a tent, we asked around in the village to see if anyone would be interested in putting us up for the night and making us some food. Only one person in the village spoke English, and after finally convincing the guy we were not looking for a hotel or a restaurant, simply a sheltered place to throw down our sleeping pads and some Dal Bhat (local dish of rice and lentils eaten three meals a day by locals), he welcomed us into his home. It was an awesome experience and probably the most cultural one we had all trip. We drank yak milk by the fire, helped the children with their English homework and simply enjoyed the peaceful simplicity of their lives.
While not as long as we'd hoped, the tributary turned out to be fun creeky water and dropped us right into the Marsayandi. The Marsayandi was high as well and definitely got two low water Southeastern boaters' hearts beating a bit. Big waves and large, but easily avoidable holes, made up the entire run. We took out at a local temple where we took a moment to say Namaste.
Our final big adventure in Nepal involved doing the river that we had heard was one of the best in Nepal, the Modi Khola. The Modi Khola runs off of the glacier of Annapurna (the tenth highest mountain in the world) and runs along a popular trekking route. Gareth and I decided it would be an awesome adventure to first hike to the river's source (the Annapurna base camp) then continuing down the river once it became paddleable.
We started off doing something that was hard for the both of us- hiring porters to carry our kayaks. Being people who generally carry our loaded boats for ourselves, it was tough to have someone else do it for us, but we ultimately decided that it made more sense to support the local culture and it would also save us some time (when in Rome...). So we got the porters to carry the boats for what was probably around ten miles up the river to where we planned to put on and locked them up at a teahouse. We then pushed onwards towards the Annapurna glacier carrying only small packs, which we would later be able to put in the back of our boats when it was time to paddle downstream.
After two days of hiking alongside the river with epic Himalayan views around every corner, we finally arrived at the source of the Modi Khola. It was pretty interesting to hike next to the river for so long, simply watching it get smaller and smaller right up until the spot where it actually started.
From here, we were just a 20 min. walk from the Annapurna base camp where we decided to spend the afternoon and evening in order to watch the sun rise on this amazing mountain range the next morning. We enjoyed an evening at 14,000 feet drinking Chai and eating overpriced Dal Bhat. There was also a little high altitude Frisbee action going on.
The next afternoon we started our descent back to our kayaks. At this point we were anxious to get to the boats and get on the river. We did stop to enjoy the views along the way and admire the some of the crazy loads the porters were carrying. This guy below actually had about 30 chickens in that coupe.
The river ended up being just as sweet as everyone told us it would be. The day was filled with fun continuous rapids all the way down. After getting to the take out we quickly loaded up and hopped on a bus in order to make it back to Pokhara that evening. In typical Nepal fashion we rode home on the roof of the bus as the sun was setting over the surrounding peaks.
We decided to end the Nepal adventure with a three-day trip to the jungle in the Chitwan National Park. Notable moments included almost being charged by a rhino, searching for tigers in the night and of course, the "elephant bathing" or in reality the "elephant rodeo" experience!
After getting back I had two days before it was time for the greatest show on earth- the Green race! It wasn't my best showing ever, but it was a lot of fun and not bad for not having trained at all.
Stay tuned for a 7 Finger Media Video of our Nepal trip coming out in the near future!