Thursday, July 8, 2010

Trisuli Rafting

Nepal is known for its variety of outdoor sports, and rafting being one of my favorites we had been investigating it for some time. So a few weeks back we signed up for a one-day rafting trip with the company Himalayan Encounters (HE) on the Trisuli River, the only river that the Kathmandu-based companies are running right now due to the season. On arrival in Kathmandu we had heard that we should act quickly since the rafting season would end soon, but since then we haven’t heard much talk of the season ending. Our day of rafting went off without a hitch.

Half of the adventure of the day was getting to the put-in. We took a “tourist bus,” (the name, we hoped, would have a minimal rapport with the level of comfort and security but in fact was more geared towards the makeup of the occupants) as scheduled for us by HE just below Lazimpat street at 6:45 in the morning. The bus, surprisingly and happily, left almost on time (see Adama and I’s disastrous experience with buses in Senegal) at shortly after 7:00. Filled with a good mix of locals and tourists, we headed out under a slight drizzle. Climbing into the hills at the edge of the valley we got our first taste of the famous steep, thin, winding, and poorly maintained roads that one finds in this part of the world. Did I mention the thousand foot drops off the side of the road with flimsy stone and wire barriers that the locals take to dismantling? It doesn’t do much good to be scared in such situations so we blocked out the danger and focused as much as possible on the beautiful lush scenery around us. After coming down the mountains into the valley on the other side we finally got our first glimpse of the Trisuli, which we tailed the rest of the way to our put-in. The poverty of the families living on the edge of these roads was stark and it was clear that there was often little they could do to resist the elements. We saw huge boulders which had been carried downstream by the powerful water flow at the height of monsoon season.

At the Trisuli Center, an overnight stop for multi-day trips, we met the group we would be joining which consisted of a mix of 5 British, Australians and Nepali. Amusingly, we had as many “guides” as we did rafters, ostensibly since they are in the process of training several new guides. There were also two trick kayaks that tailed and played around us the whole way, which Coline had read were there to provide safety if anyone fell out of the raft.

When compared to the rafting I have done at Lewis & Clark with College Outdoors this run was a bit of a disappointment. At CO the guides are always very skilled and fun (it also helps that they speak fluent English). They kept swapping out guides form the gear raft to give as many people as possible experience and time on the water. I missed a lot the open, knowledgeable and free-spirited CO staff as conversation was very limited. I know, LC has spoiled me. Any shortcomings in the guides were overshadowed, however, by the beautiful river valley. I had said on the ride through the mountains to our put-in that just the bus trip already seemed worth the money to me, but as always the experience on the river is a totally different one. We didn’t get many large rapids, a couple of 3s and one 4 (the scale they, and most Americans, use goes up to 5 as the highest level of difficulty). Surprisingly they also let me swim the last rapid. This bothers me a bit, not because I felt in any danger (having already done it before) but because I could have not had experience. They didn’t ask me what my experience was or prep me, which I feel was quite risky.

The water, a muddy brown was filled of extremely fine sand which has stuck, even after washing, in my clothes as well as Coline’s. Not that the shirt I chose was in great shape anyway after so much time in Senegal, but now it’s virtually unwearable. On the river we passed under many makeshift over-the-river transportation systems, most of which were hand operated and all of which looked fairly unstable.

As I mentioned, the drive to and from the river was spectacular, and one of the highlights of the day. The views from the steep cliffs are like nothing I have ever seen, and the buses are a fun experience as well. With loud dance music blearing in a gaudily (and yet somehow with a smidgen of taste) decorated interior the excitement reminds me yet again of those good old car rapides. Speaking of which, Coline has noticed that some other vehicles here, in particular the hauling trucks, are decorated in similarly ornate style to car rapides. One of the more popular slogans painted across these machines is “See You”. Interpret that as you will.

On another note, monsoon season is starting to show its face more and more. It is raining harder and more frequently, but so far hasn’t been much worse than what one finds during winter at LC. The main difference is the suddenness with which the weather descends trapping and soaking people outdoors.