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Different Styles of Rafting trip

Like trekking agencies, commercial operators offer many difference style of rafting trip to suit difference people's idea of a holiday.
Most rafting trips in Nepal are group participatory experiences where everyone paddles the rafts, and pitches in to set up camp and to some extent help cook the meals, and to some extent help cook the means. Most people enjoy participating in the running of their expedition, sharing and learning new outdoor skills.
However, you don't to super active – if you want it, you can buy a quite luxurious raft trip where you are rowed down the river and a full team of staff does everything for you; your tent is put up, you are served drinks as you sit in a camp chair and eat delicious meals off a white tablecloth. Because labour is cheap in Nepal, a 'luxury' safari – style trip like this is not expensive and represents incredible value when compared with other parts of the world.
There are many various on these tow extremes, and it is a matter of personal philosophies and life style which you will prefer.
How Long?

Undoubtedly the best value trips in both terms of the overall experience and value for money are the long multi- day trips such as the Sun Kosi, or Karnali. Rafting trips like these, where you are a way from the highway and 'civilization' for a week or two are immensely uplifting & memorable holidays of a lifetime-talk to anyone who has been on one & they will enthuse for hours & convince you that if you can possibly afford it, you should to book on one of these "world classics".
If your time is limited, then you won't get anything like this "world class" experience on a 3 or 4 day trip-however you will still get most of the rich escapist thrills of a river trips,
You will get the same away-from- it-all feeling, watching the sunrise on a quiet misty beach, the adrenalin buzz of running a big rapid, you will start to become a proficient rafter & will settle into the pleasant routine of camping on the riverside. You will have time to slow down to the pace of the river & to enjoy the natural surroundings. It will also, importantly, give you time to relax & to get to know your guides & fellow rafters.
Vacation time is limited, & for many people these trips do represent a reasonable compromise of time versus holiday experience.
A one or two day trip should be regarded more as a" taster" where you will only get a partial flavors of the full rafting experience.
Mike Sunderland's makes the point that a 3 day; 2-night raft trip doesn't mean 3 days of rafting. It may really be a drive to the river on day one, & an hour of rafting after lunch, 4 hours of rafting on day two, then an hour on the river on the last day prior to a long drive home. This may or may not suit you, but you can see why longer trips are better value & experience.

Who enjoys Rafting?

Women in particular in our experience- for many different reasons, so don't ask us-ask them!
A rafting trip can be a wonderful family holiday & an excellent experience for older children but this obviously depends on your family and how confident they are about water. Most rafting companies rivers such as the Sun Kosi. 7-13 year olds would usually be happier and safer on class 2-3 rivers. Points to note are that camping because are relatively clean, safe and friendly places. Children like to be active and involved so a paddle-rafting trip is better for older kids. An oar rig, and a quieter river like the upper Sun Kosi or the Seti would be better for younger children.
There is no upper age limit for rafting; the nice thing is that it can be as leisurely or as active as you wish. In our experience, older people enjoy the river experience, the natural surrounding and the relaxed peace of camp life

Cat-a-raft. Duckles and Kayaks

Rafts are the usual craft for commercial river trips, but it's worth mentioning that a few companies now have one or tow person cat-a-rafts and 'duckies' (inflatable comes) that they may let you use to paddle the easier rapids – "I got a great buzz out of paddling may own boat!" These are inflatable craft so can be defatted and carried on the main rafts for the more difficult part of the river. Many companies also have kayaks available for rent, but because these are rigid they are difficult to carry on the rafts and you need to be skilled enough to paddle the whole river if you are going to hire one of these.
A recent trend is for Companies to have 'safety boaters' in kayaks to accompany trips on the more difficult and remote rivers. If you have safety kayakers along then this gives better safety cover: it also means that you may get the opportunity to try out this deviant activity at lunch stops, etc. If you get hooked it's now even possible to learn kayaking on specialist 'Kayak Clinic' with top international instructors on rivers like the Seti or lower Kali Gandaki – what better place to learn then the warm blue rivers of Nepal? (Imagine going home and someone asks you where you learnt to kayak!)


Most people's image of white water rafting in one portrayed by films and the media and almost everyone who has not done it imagines is as a horrendously dangerous sport the truth is the reverse: accident record then say mountain biking or skiing.
For something like twenty years Nepal had an enviable record where no western client had died rafting, but in recent years there have been a few fatalities and it's probably no coincidence that these involved low-budget operators.

Basic Safety Guidelines
At the time of writing there were no minimum safety conditions recommended by any official body in Nepal. We have talked to many international Guides and based on their experience, and regulations in other countries, we suggest the following checklist for your guidance.

  1. Minimum of two rafts per trip.
  2. The person in charge of the raft should be a qualified, trained guide with a minimum of 50 days rafting experience.
  3. Raft guides should have at least on previous trip on the river.
  4. The Trip Leader should have a minimum of five previous trips on the river.
  5. All Guides should have a current First Aid Certificate.

Guideline one is a basic rule everyone aggress is good sense, but many companies still feel that this doesn't apply to them! Some of the worst international rafting accidents have occurred where there has only been one raft. Note that many experts accept that one (or preferably two) - safety kayakers could replace the second raft- at times with advantage.
Like all guidelines, there are exceptions, and times when some relaxation can safely be made – but it is important that these are discussed and the implications understood by all concerned - particularly by the customer.

High Water Trips
After the monsoon in September and October, water volumes are huge and all rivers and much more difficult and dangerous. Look at this hydrograph and see how the water volumes haves from September to October and then halves again in November.
In High water conditions the river roars along with few pools and one rapid load straight into another one so there is little, if any, time to recover rafts or rescue people.
Rafting trips as this time exist! If you intend to book such a trip then we suggest that you double check the experience of your proposed company and ensure that your guides have experience of the river in high water. (A river in high water can be completely unrecognizable if you've only seen it in low water).
We suggest that you look for the following extra safety features on a high water trip – particularly for a remote wilderness river.

  • Self – bailing rafts.
  • Expert safety kayakers (to rescue swimmers)
  • Three rafts rather than two
  • Guides have experience of the river at that level
  • Your fellow rafters are strong and have previous rafting experience

Which River?

Your choice of river for a rafting trip will depend on a multitude of factors, any of course personal to you, but here are some ideas to get you started. The river descriptions in the second half of this information should also prove helpful.
Remember that time of year is critical to your choice; in high water conditions, September and October, some rivers are highly dangerous (for example the Marsyandi) and all others are much more difficult. You need to think carefully about this; as own raft guide put it " water levels are critical to people's enjoyment". In low water conditions some rivers, such as the Sun Kosi lose most of their interest, however the upper kali Gandaki and Karnali are always good.

Long multi- day trips
If you have seven days or more, are looking for white water and a really exciting and memorable experience, then the choice is between the Tamor, the Sun Kosi, and the Karnali- these are all World Classics, with excellent white water, stunning scenery, unspoilt villages a way from all roads and beautiful beaches. These surpass all other rafting trips in Nepal!
The Sun Kosi is the cheapest and most popular of these trips because the start is closed to Kathmandu and you can drive to both start and finish points. Described as one of the 'then best rafting trips is the world', it makes an excellent choice for most people and especially for those doing their first river trip in Nepal.
The Karnali is our pick as the best overall trip. The rapids are more challenging then the Sun Kosi, add to it's remote setting, superb canyons and pristine wilderness: finish with a couple of days at the Royal Bardia Wildlife Reserve and you have a rafting trip that is probably 'Best of its kind' anywhere in the world.
The Tamur could be described as mini – Karnali, with a spectacular trek in to the start and lots of white water interest – at the right water level probably more challenging then the above rivers.
If you are looking multi- day trip, but with easier water, then the best are in the Far West; the Seti Karnali, The Bheri, and the Mahakali; all remote and beautifully unspoilt.

Medium length trips

If you still want an exciting multi-day white water raft trip, but your time is more limited, then the obvious choices and the Trisuli and upper Kali Gandaki. The cheapest trip is likely to be on the Trisuli but the main highway that runs alongside most of it spoils this. The upper Kali Gandaki is a much finer river in our opinion and the Arun is an alternative but unfashionable option. For the experienced rafter, this is surpassed by the magnificent whitewater and scenery of the Marsyandi.
If you prefer easier water, then water, then the most accessible option is the lower Kali Gandaki: this offers good scenery, jungle, wildlife and unspoilt beaches.

Short Trips

The Trisuli is the obvious and popular choice for either white water or easier rafting. However we think that if you have 2 days and are looking for an easy trip then top choice must be the Seti, away from roads, and with beautiful scenery. If you only have a day then the upper Sun Kosi is relatively unspoilt and yet close to Kathmandu.
For the experienced crew, the Bhote Kosi offers two days of challenge and continuous adrenaline buzz.

Summary of the 'Bests'

  • Best long, white water trips, 'World classic' – Karnali, Tamur, and Sunkoshi
  • Best rivers for wildlife and fishing – Babai, Bheri, Karnali, Mahakali
  • Best 3-6 day white water trips – Marsyandi, upper Kali Gandaki, Arun
  • Best 4-12 day easy water trips – lower Kali Gandaki, Bheri.
  • Best 1-3 day white water trips – Trisuli, Bhote Kosi, lower Tamur.
  • Best 1-3 day easy water trips- upper Sun Kosi, Seti, Babai.
  • Best combined trekking & rafting trips – Tamur and Marsyandi.
  • Best budget trips – Sun Kosi, Kali Gandaki, Trisuli.
  • Best Family trips – upper Sun Kosi, Seti.

Travel Arrangements
When planning your rafting trip, try to build this into your other holiday arrangements so that you minimize highway travel. For example fly to Pokhara, trek, then raft down the Seti to Chitwan and then bus backs to Kathmandu. If you just want a taster of white water then try to go rafting on the Trisuli on the way from Kathmandu to Pokhara or vice versa. If, after your river trip, you are traveling on overland to India, Why come back all the way to Kathmandu?
Roads in Nepal are often rough and bus journeys can be slow, uncomfortable and hazardous. Internal air flights are good value and save precious vacation time – these are well worth considering for the more remote rivers and your raft company will be happy to advice on the best onions.

The history of river running in Nepal

Traditionally we Nepalese have always revered and at the same time feared our holy rivers. To ferry across a river in a dugout canoe was dangerous and fearful experience- most Nepalese cannot swim and of course there were no life jackets or quotation. The idea of running rivers, especially white Water Rivers, for 'fun' seized quite crazy to us.
The first 'crazy' river runners arrived in Nepal in the late 1960's. Two French men are said to have descended parts of the Sun Kosi in 1968. Kurt jorguestein from Germany explored the sun Kosi and Trisuli and two Americans, Teri and cholis Beach, also exploring local rivers in 1973 as an alternative to climbing and trekking. He began with an inflatable 'ducky', quickly replaced with a foldboat and then an Avon raft the following season- skip Horner of Sobek helped to design an car frame for this Al read realized the commercial potential and started Himalayan River expediting in 1976- this was the first commercial river rafting company in the Himalayas or in Asia.

An experienced river guide, Mike Yager was brought in from America to manage the company and to train Nepalese Guides- they advertised in the 'Rising Nepal for Raft Guide Trainees' There were over a 100 applicants, most of whom had no idea what was involved in 'rafting' - but being a Guide sounded a glamorous & well paid job. Mike Yager arranged some capsize drill on the Trisuli and when may of them found out what white water really meant, they were horrified 8 never returned!
Mike finally selected eight men and these started a very thorough training programme that included travel to the U.S.A. for training. Mike Yager was so successful that by 1980 he had worked this way out of a job and the former students formal the nucleus of a strong team of professional guides who then went on train others and later to split off and form their own companies.

These imported some of their guide’s excursions from curope so there was a fertilization of international expertise.

At the same time as commercial rafting was developing, 'expeditions' from overhead were arriving: In 1976 Major Bashford Snell led an expedition to conquer the Trisuli and broke his nose in the rapids- now named 'Snell's Nose' in his honors.

Aczech team of Kayakers attempted parts of the Dudh Kosi in 1973 and in 1976 a British team led by Dr. Mike Jones also ran the river. The Arun river was first explored by Mike Yager and Nepalese Guides in 1976 8 an ABC TV program filmed a kayak attempt on the Upper Arun in 1979. The Indian Navy descended the Kali Gandaki in the early 80's.

In 1980 British kayak expedition attempted a descent of the Marsyandi. Bruce Mason led a descent of the Karnali River in 1981
By the early 1980's Nepalese Rafters were recognized as world class professionals and were invited to lead and support expeditions to other countries in the Indian Sub- Continent: Sikkim in 1980, Bhutan in 1981, and Zanskar in 1981 Nepalese teams were also invited to, and attended, International Rafting Rallies: in Switzerland in 1988, in Siberia in 1989, and in the U.S.A. in 1990.
In the years since then, rafting and kayaking in Nepal has really taken off and Nepal has become known as one of the world's premier river running destinations.

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Kayaking in Nepal
What to bring
River Grade
Tirsuli River Rafting
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