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Nov
16

Nepal 2007

With Nepal being featured on one of the shiny TV holiday programmes earlier in the year and all the posts on UK Rivers it seems like Nepal was going to open season this year.

There’s more to Nepal than the biggest lump of rock on the planet…

We land at Kathmandu and are met by Ben of Adventure X, our transport awaits and we head for the bus pushing past the local porters each eager to attract our attention and carry our bags in exchange for a few rupes.

We check into the hotel in Thamel, dump our bags and head out into the city. Kathmandu must surely be one of the great cities of the world, the place is an assualt on the senses, sights, smells, noise, taste, there are few places I have been that you can taste but this place is one of them, some pleasant some not.

Each step through Thamel will bring you a different experience, the bright lights stimulate your vision, local Nepali music drifts out of the tightly packed shops combining with the Eric Clapton covers that drift out of the one of the clubs, cocaine with that oh so familiar guitar riff belts out, how many times will I hear that track this trip?

We sit cross legged in the Third Eye restaurant waiting for our food and sink the first of many cold Everest beers. Talk is of the rivers ahead, the Trisuli to start and the Bhote Khosi to finish with a few others in between. it’s been a big, late monsoon year, we have all seen the reports of flooding throughout the region only a few weeks ago.

After eating we head for Tom and Jerry’s where the beer is cold and the music is loud and unpredictable, we see Simon Yates, looking dazed and confused or it could be the beer, he has just returned from a trip somewhere high and looks knackered. England are playing South Africa in the Rugby world cup final, unfortunatley the boys cannot repeat their earlier tournement performances against the French and Australians and we are beaten, we drown our sorrows.

Ben wakes us at 6.30, not enough sleep, I kick the Stuntman, no response, I promplty pass out only to be woken 50 minutes later again by Ben, we are late now, I stagger downstairs into Dave Allardice asking us if a client of his can join us on our Tamur trip, he will throw in a case of rum to keep us going, its all good, Guy Baker is the punters name, a bell rings somewhere near the back of my brain, I know that name.

We leave the now quiet streets of Kathmandu heading for the Trisuli, most of us ignoring the change in scenery as we head out of the city, examining the inside of our eyelids. Breakfast, a roadside cafe and the first of many cups of tea, bowls of noodles and visits to dodgy toilets, a cast iron constitution is required in Nepal and not just for the food.

One of the finer riverside facilities X Pres and I built on the banks of the Marsyandi

The Stuntman – in the making

We are soon getting changed on the roadside above the river and are warming up on the slow moving waters.  The Trisuli is a big river and provides the ideal start to a trip after spending hours travelling and a big night out, we paddled down to our overnight camp at Royal Beach, newly built by Ram one of the local wheeler and dealers, it’s the ideal place to kick back, he needs to chill his beers though.

Clare punching a diagonal in Upset

Within seconds Jo gets back looped on the next diagonal, the girl needs to eat more pies and "Boomba" up

We continue down the River the next day to our take out and transport back to the big city, food, beer and sleep and we are up early for our transfer for a day on the Upper Sun Khosi before we move up to the Last Resort high above the Bhote Khosi, arriving late due to a bus breakdown. 

We sink a cold beer as the driver and his buddy jack up the front of the bus and proceed to hit the steering rack with ever larger random objects, after a good 45 minutes of walloping and sucking air through teeth everything is declared fixed and we are underway.

We head up the Balephi valley the following morning, progress is slow, the road is rough and narrow with few passing places resulting in a couple of dodgy moves you wouldn’t find in the highway code, as the buses tip towards each other on the narrow sections their tyres are three feet apart, their roofs are going to touch, the rooftop passengers use their feet to keep the roofs apart as they "walk" the buse past each other.

Our progress up the valley is eventually halted by a broken down bus blocking the road, it may be fixed in ten minutes or ten hours, we de camp the bus hire a couple of porters and head to the river across the fields, attracting the usual posse of children all eager to see the crazy white people go boating.

The Balephi spits us out in the Sun Khosi after giving us a blast of run in good water through a narrow valley, well off the beaten track, alpine in feel our warm up rivers are over and its time for the transfer to Biratnagar the following day to start the walk into the Tamur, our main reason for the trip.

We pass through Kathmandu in a blur of unpacking, packing, eating, drinking.  The early morning flight is delayed but this does allow the boys some extra time to make it to meet us at the airport, they have had a 16 hour drive through the night with our boats, paddling kit, raft and 9 days of supplies for the next part of the trip.

We overnight in the hotel Yak in a nondescript village perched on a hillside with spectaular views and big spiders.

 We have met up with Guy Baker earlier in the day and we sit working our way through bowls of noodles and sampling the local brew, the conversation soon turns to paddling, Guy is asked if he has paddled the Zambezi, yup first descent in 1984, ahhh, that would be why I kow the name, Guy has been round a while and has paddled most of the stuff that we would dream or read about, The Indus, the Blue Nile, the Zanskar.

We begin our trek in to Dobhan the following morning, our Nepali guide Shiva has been up and about early doors hiring porters to carry our kit, our boats and most of the kit is already on the trail to the first overnight camp a few hours up the trail.

The trek in to the Tamur is often described as one of the best short treks in Nepal with spectacular views of the mountains including Everest and Makalu, but it’s not to be, despite being post monsoon when we should be afforded the best views the mountains are socked in by cloud, offering only occasionally glimpses of  Kanchenjunga, the worlds third highest peak, the Tamur flows from its flanks creating Nepal’s sixth largest river.

Yaks and Donkeys still bring the goods into these more remote areas

For a non guidebook introduction to the river you should read Whit Deschner’s account in Dave Manby’s Many Rivers to Run, so it seems that Guy has been to Nepal before with the intention of running the Tamur but on learning it had been downgraded to a class 3 went elsewhere in search of his thrills.  Its also worth mentioning at this point after reading Dave’s Introduction to Guy ‘s "Serious Saturday" story in the same book, he still travels with many many bags, although on this occasion he did leave the paraglider at home.

Apart from the lack of snow capped peaks the trek in does not disappoint, we reach 2,980m at one point, camping this high in the cloud is cold and we are all grateful to drop down and warm up.  The walking is pretty easy, nothing too difficult but quite how the porters manage at times, on narrow steep trails, especially the chap carrying the framework for the raft.

We arrive in Dobhan, set camp and inspect the first two rapids of note, as Whit says the Tamur never was and never will be class 3.  Its cold waters move fast and the first rapid of note is just down river about 300metres from our camp, not that it plays on our mind for the next 15 hours before we actually get on the river!

On the walk in we had assured Guy that we would set some interesting lines over the course of the next few days, most of them were taken on this first rapid.  We adopted the scatter gun approach to run the rapid, you won’t find it in any of the instruction manuals but you all know what I mean, despite all knowing the line was hard right, most people went anyway but right.

Just round the corner lies the second of our inspections, we elect to have another quick peak then all run it, hard left, its big water alright, as we all check our line and reherse the moves, thankfully we adopt a more measured approach than the first rapid and we all make the moves and are soon grinning in the eddy at the bottom.

A long rapid entered river right then driving left to avoid three holes is next, Orn, the Stuntman and I are not quite as hard left as we would have liked, I skirt the first hole looking in to see, Orn and Stuntman cartwheeling by each other, I snigger, then drop into hole number two, a couple of end over end moments and I’m out, dropping in to surf number three before clawing my way out and beginning to chase Orn’s boat down.

Day two and its the rafts turn to provide the carnage moment of the trip so far, hitting the diagonal as it entered the rapid the downstream edge heading skyward and the inevitable flip.

Marie, Guy’s girlfriend has never rafted before never mind swum in white water, this is not really the place to start either, downstream a couple of holes and other nasty places await, Marie heads for them all, she disappears into the corner of the pressure wave off the mansion sized rock jutting out on river left, one, two, three, four loooooong seconds she is out of sight then her yelow helmet pops up some considerable way downstream, that cannot have been pleasant, possibly undercut, definatley not a  good place to have ended up.

Camp is set a short while later, some people have clothes to dry out, dry bags not living up to their name.

X Pres exiting the raft flipping rapid.

Fish traps set on a trib to the Tamur

Day three brings more rapids, each blurring into the next, Day four is flat, long and tedious but with a fantastic cunset

 

but day five, oh yes day five. 

Often paddled as a day trip from Mulghat to the confluence with the Sun Khosi at Tribeni the character of the river changes, becoming more pool drop, there’s plenty to keep you occupied ina full day of action, Shiva set some great lines as we threaded our way downstream until the last rapid of the river. 

As we approched the locals are streaming down the hilldside to watch the evenings entertainment.  We were the first trip down from Dobhan this year, of the two previous trips intended this year one flipped their raft early on the first day and the other group changed rivers due to the high levels.  The locals knew entertainment when it was in town and we soon identied where the crux move of the rapid by the number of people sat on a large rock over looking said spot.

We didn’t dissapoint, four of us getting worked in the hole in quick succession, well we like to play to the crowd, those taking alternate lines took their ticket and duly entertained the hordes, this would have been the biggest drama of the trip but more importantly Dave Allardice’s promised case of rum had failed to materialise, we are resigned to an alchohol free last night but Shiva treks up to the local village, what a guy.

The last day is a float down the Sun Khosi to the take out at Chatra, we pass a temple and are asked by the locals to look for a teenage girl that had fallen in the river 30 minutes earlier, they seem calm enough but it certainly gives a couple us the the heebies.

At Chatra we stop on an all but deserted beach and set about drying our kit, it’s another road transfer for the boys, overnight back to Kathmandu and no one fancies opening a bag of wet paddling kit after its been on a bus festering for over a day.  We walk to the local village and have the best plate of Dal Bhat any of us have experienced, freshly cooked we clear plate after plate of rice and veggies.

Our transport to the airport is a Landrover of unknown vinatge, we rattle and shake our way to Biratnagar, time is advancing and we look at our watches, we are due at the airport for a 5.00pm flight and although we know we are close none of us fancies missing the flight and spending a night here, besides the Stuntman has another flight to miss the folowing day.

Our driver stops, his sidekick leaning out of the window asking for directions, we turn round having overshot the airport by a couple of miles, our driver knowing he is against the clock tries to bust the airport check point, they have guns, so we stop, checking of tickets ensues and after a short time we are waved through with a flurry and a reassurance that 20 minutes is ample time to check in for our flight, our western concept of punctuality needs revising.

Suffice to say our flight is delayed, internal flights in Nepal are, that’s the law or so it seems.  We pass through Kathmandu in a blur of unpacking, packing, eating, drinking, this appears to be a theme of this trip.

Sunday and the group goes it’s separate ways, Rob sets off to miss his return flight home, Jo and Claire mull over what to do for the third week and X Pres Orna and I head for the Marsyandi.  I have heard so much about this river from Lew it was on my list if only because I like the name so much.

Marsyandi – Day 1

The Marsyandi does not disappoint.  If you want to paddle what is left you have a couple of years.  Two days paddling has already been lost to the Dam downstream and construction work is well under way on the Dam that will all but destroy this incredibe stretch of world class water.

We paddled for a day above the Dam construction, stopping when the Dam officials ordered us off the river, in  nice way though, they carried our boats up the new steep man made bank.

The following day we put on below the Dam and were treated to more technical contineous rapids, threading our way downstream, avoiding huge stoppers and seemingly small innocent looking pourovers, a closer look reveals huge areas of recirculating water ramping backin, waiting to catch out the unwary boater and give them a good old beating, drop into one of theses and you are going to have your ass handed back to you, bigtime

X Pres with that focused look

The character of the river changes on day three, becoming pool drop in nature, the morning passes in a mixture of floating and frenzied paddling to our take out by a roadbridge where we encounter the biggest hazard the river offers, syringes, the beach is covered in them, bare, used needles lie pointing skywards, the boys are walking round barefoot, we point out the dangers and everyone watches were they walk.

Fishing on the banks of the Marsyandi, not quite the "sport" our riverbank friends pursue here, a car battery and a couple of electrodes is all it takes to stun nearby fish who then float to the surface to be netted.

The Bhote Khosi awaits for our last two days of paddling, we get there via Kathmandu in the now familiar blur, we are well practised at this.

Having seen the Bhote Khosi the first week of our trip all of our spidy senses told us that the river could be a challenge, in the well recognised grading syatem in our circle it could officially be termed as humping.  Thankfully two weeks in the Himalaya allows plenty of time for levels to reduce to just plain old high.

We put on below Frog in the Blender, we have driven up the road, craning our necks to see what lies below, sometimes its best not to see what you have ahead of you and just deal with the issues as they arrive.

The issues certainly arrive on this river and in quick succession so you had better get your mojo working and fast.  No time for introductions and pleasantries it’s wham bam thank you mam, into the maw from the off.  The river disappears like an escaltor, smaller than the Marsyandi, more contineous and with less thinking time.

The guidebook describes individual rapids but it’s fair to say the river is one big rapid, the first hour is relentless.  The river mellows at Bahrabise but there is still plenty of action before the take out at Riverside.

Shiva and X Pres in the midst of Liquid Bliss

Day two Shiva and X Pres get off the bus above Frog, Orn and I have discussed it over breakfast and we are more than happy to start at yesterday’s get in, for me paddling the disco in solid contineous class 5 is a no brainer, disco’s are brilliant boats but there have been times this trip when a bit more speed would have helped, it had corked under some big holes but those that lie in Frog are of a more serious nature.

When Orn and I see that the raft monkeys are staying on the bus and not putting on we know if ever a decision had been vindicated then that what it, we snigger.

On arrival at Frog Shiva speculates it’s running at 5+ and elects to walk, but kindly offers to put some saftey on if X Pres wants to run it!  They walk!  When I ask X pres what it was like he just shakes his head and laughs.

The river is up from yesterday’s level, not that much but we all notice it.  it’s a bit pushier, less time to get your moves in and a bit more of a wallop if you don’t quite make it.

This section of river goes straight to the top of my list for favourite paddles, its not difficult to see why so many people had said, "you’ll enjoy it"  X Pres comments on the second time of paddling that "knowledge is power" while Orn believes "ignorance is bliss"

Shiva looked after us for the three weeks we were there, our guide / blind probe on the river, our chef, barman, haggler, negotiator and philosopher off the river.

You can go to Nepal and organise the paddling once you are there but for us, wanting to max our river time going through Adventure X we maxed out on the rivers, time to start planning a return visit….. where did I put that guide book?

Of all the moments we had during the trip, our biggest were travelling too and from the rivers.  Although a driving licence may not be an essential requirement to getting a job as a driver being able to toot a horn is, the driver will usually don a baseball cap, NY is a popular choice, T shirt, baggy jeabs with the crotch hanging round the knee and a pair of slip on slippers.

The horn is used to say helo, goodbye, I’m here, I’m leaving, I’m overtaking, I’m being overtaken, I’m being passed by a vehicle going the other way, when going round corners, when driving down a straight bit of road and to alleviate boredom. During one ten minute session I counted the number of seconds between toots, 24 was the longest period of time with less than 10 seconds being the norm.

Do not be under the misapprehansion that the driver will use the horn as we might in the West, to warn of danger, he has no regard for his own safety never mind that of his passengers, overtaking on blind bends is common place as are crashes, we saw a number of roadside wrecks of varying intensity over our three weeks.

The driver typically has a stooge, perhaps even two, stooge one is responsible for whistling and tapping the side of the truck when the alternative might be falling off the road to plummet to your destiny below. Stooge two usually carries the wallet and pays off the officials that seem to line the road at times exacting taxes from vehicles as they stray into foreign territory. A vehicle is licensed for an area in Nepal, stray outside that area and you pay the locals a tax.

Go to Nepal, if not for the rivers but for the Grade 5 driving!

You don’t get to this age by driving a truck in these parts