As the season draws to a close here in the Himalayas, and groups depart for the upper reaches of the rivers to seek lower water in high canyons, here are my words of advice from my fifth season in Nepal. The best of which is, ‘Go kayaking in Nepal. It’s brilliant!’
When to go
Most people travel to Nepal in the Northern Hemispehere autumn. The monsoon here is finishing up around the start of October. It’s very possible to come in September, but expect it to be raining fairly regularly and the water levels to be high! When the monsoon stops, the weather usually becomes very stable. Expect October to be hot, with water levels starting to drop, but still high at the start of the month. By November a lot of the rivers are still at good flows but more manageable. The weather starts to cool through November and come December its getting cold with lower flows in the rivers. Typically most people go on the larger missions around mid to late November.
At that time of year the climate is generally great for paddlers. Depending on your plans will dictate what gear you want. Personally I find for a lot of the classic runs that are not high up in the mountains a long sleeve cag and a pair of shorts works very well. If you are planning on a larger trip such as the Humla then you’ll need a dry suit. There is a large difference in the temperature of the water up high at the tops of these rivers compared to lower down. A down jacket is great for off the river in the evenings, especially later in the season. Not got one? No worries you can get a lot of cheap but good down products here in Thamel on arrival. I recommend a trip to Everest Hardware – not easy to find, so you will have to ask about.
Food & drink
The classic meal here is dhal bhat. Most Nepalis will eat this three times a day and are sad if it’s anything else! ‘Dhal bhat power, twenty-four hour!’ It’s a plate of rice, a bowl of dhal (lentil soup), mixed curried vegetables and often some lime pickle. You’ll often be offered meat with your dhal bhat if your feeling brave. Typically this will cost you 200-350 NPR. Other classic meals are chow mien (from across the border in China) and not forgetting the ever popular momos (from Tibet), which are not to be missed. Samosas are perfect for snacks, which tend to be a mixed vegetable curry wrapped in a fried pastry, typically 20 NPR. Within the large towns/cities its very possible to enjoy a western diet, but why would you when there are so many good restaurants in Kathmandu and Pokohara? In Kathmandu my faviroute place to eat is the Western Tandoori restaurant and in Pokohara the Asian Tea House, they are both cheap and delicious (especially the Western Tandoori).
Drink bottled water, or bring a filter. If you bring a filter it will save you money on buying bottled water. Check out Lifestraws and other similar products. On the higher rivers, without glacial silt and less effluent from towns, chlorene tabs or iodine will work for drinking water too.
Within Kathmandu there are many, many hotels/hostels ranging from the very cheap to the very pricey. Thamel is the tourist area of Kathmandu and is a handy hub to eat, drink and meet others. Being the dirtbag kayaker that I am, I like the cheaper places. My current favourite is Hotel Hana, located in Thamel. Here you can get a room for 500 NPR per night. Its clean, the staff are nice and they don’t mind you leaving your kayaks. Most cheap rooms tend to be from 800 NPR up. Outside of the bigger towns usually you can find a tea house or family, happy to put you up for a small fee. On the river sleep under your tarp! (For a peaceful night on the river, camp on the opposite bank and out of sight of the nearest town).
You’ll surely find yourself at the bus station soon enough with your kayak. Buses are the main mode of transport but the famous days of bus top surfing are sadly over. No more can you be free of the sardine can down below and feel the wind whistling through your hair as the driver makes the twentieth over take on a blind bend! Depending on where you are getting to will depend on how much it will cost. 80-120 NPR per hour on a bus works quite well as a rough guide to pay! Taxis are quite expensive, try to find a bus to keep costs down. If traveling to Pokohara you can get a tourist bus for roughly 700 NPR. You might have to haggle for the cost of your kayak as extra. Expect the journey to take 8-9 hours.
Bring a couple of straps for tying your boat down. It makes life so much easier! The roof racks can be sharp and are riddled with nasties to create holes in boats. Pad out anything suspect with plastic bottles, cardboard or old tyres. These can usually be found in abundance!
Its not uncommon to spend twelve or more hours on a bus (I just made two thirty hour journeys in the past two weeks). Dealing with this is a skill in itself. Pack anything unnecessary in your boat, so its out of your way. Take onto the bus with you a water bottle, some snacks, down jacket and the magic ingredient, your Thermarest/sleeping mat. You can then pad out anything, or just take to sleeping in the centre isle! You will get laughed at, but everyone will be jealous soon enough! Disposable plastic bottles also work well for pillows! And of course if your stomach allows a book (or Kindle). Sitting at the back is a sure way to be on a bouncy castle ride. The further back, the bigger the air time! Sitting up front with the driver can be a fun experience.
Make the most of pee breaks, they might not come around so often. Travelling with toilet paper is also good plan.
Lastly just remember, it will end … eventually!
There are plenty of raft and kayak outfits who can help you with finding your way around. Sometimes the path is not always obvious or easy for getting to the river. Asking around in Thamel or Pokohara at the rafting operations is always a great start. Often they can give you some helpful information, or might even have a bus thats heading to the river later that day. RST Expeditions is a wonderful company for sorting out flights and other such problematic modes of transport into the more adventures rivers. They are also wonderful people who have helped me when I’ve been sick, or in a sticky situation.
Take a simple cell phone to stay in touch with your team and Nepali friends. Like the western world (sometimes better than the UK!) fairly good mobile phone coverage stretches across Nepal. You can buy a sim card for 150 NPR and top it up as you go. NCELL is a good network. You can also buy a 2 gb data pack that last a month for 1,000 NPR.
Quickfire rules for travelling with a kayak in Nepal:
Rule 1 – the place runs on magic
Just remember that and you will be fine! Things work here that simply would not work in the western world – like this road …
Rule 2 – when its not going to plan, that’s what it’s all about
It’s all part of the Nepal experience, stay with it and it will come good. Getting angry does not help. Stay calm, laugh about what ever the situation is, it will make a good story later.
Rule 3 – get inventive
Often you will be forced to think outside the box – if you need to pad out a roof rack, then cardboard, bottles and old tyres work great.
Rule 4 – learn some Nepali
A little local language gets you a long way, even if it’s just your Ps and Qs! Thank you is Dhanybhad (pronounced a bit like Danny-Bad).
Rule 5 – wash your hands before you eat
With soap and water, to remove bus soots from your hands. Then use the hand gel.
Rule 6 – you will probably get sick
You will also probably get better. Keep that in mind when you’re hugging the toilet. In five Nepali trips, I’ve suffered an upset stomach more times than I care to count, but I always got better.
Rule 7 – bring only what you need
Travelling light weight makes it all easier, from packing for a multi-day, not having to leave belongings in town and keeping track of all your gear on the night bus. And your porters will still want to put your one waterproof duffel bag in a rice sack to carry it. Some good quality dry bags for multi-day trips are very advisable, as is a tarp to sleep under.
A Humla Journey from YourLinesOnline.com on Vimeo.