Thursday, 16 October 2014

Kali Gandaki with Paddle Nepal

Travelling around the world with a raft guide has definitely taken me down a few rivers in Nepal, Iceland, Finland and New Zealand. Oh the carnage stories, don't we just love them. Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy rafting but mainly because of the chilled atmosphere on the overnight trips, beautiful beaches and so on. If I happen to be in a funny state of mind and decide to go rafting, for me it definitely isn't about the big whitewater, continuous rapids and full-on action. (Mind you, I have done the epic Karnali river trip in the far western Nepal but I have never been so sick, nervous and excited at the same time!)

So it happened that some time ago I found myself by the put in of Kali Gandaki river. I finally joined a 3 day trip with Paddle Nepal. To be honest, I was supposed to go last year already but I chickened out. This year I definitely wanted to go, just for the great  experience (did I mention those beaches and camping?) and to see the boys working on the river. Never mind the rapids! How wrong was I..

Boys started to load the bus who knows at what time in the morning  and we took off around 7.30. We had a 3 hour drive ahead of us to the put in but with a tea stop on the way and a comfortable new bus it was no problem. 

We all tried to pitch in with packing, pumping and loading the rafts and preparing lunch. Boys put together awesome lunch by the riverside and we were either cooling off in the river or under the tarp. 

Finally it was time to get kitted off! How about that face..Yeah, doesn't look I am too convinced yet about the trip. 

Team GoPro! Some good footage they caught with their cameras. 

Here is Mark styling through his safety talk and demonstration.

I might be biased here but I do like his safety talks! At the end of everybody's got it I hope as actions speak louder than words. 

We obviously had safety kayakers with us even though most of us managed to stay inside the two rafts. Dinesh, Suk and Nanu took good care of us with Rajip and Mark guiding the rafts!  

On the first day we paddled for about 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Our trip was in early October and due to the late monsoon the water level was still quite high. You get almost straight into the action as the biggest commercially rafted rapid Little Brother is waiting for you after only about 15 mins. of paddling! There I was with no choice but to decide to go through with what I had started. We stopped to scout the rapid even though I didn't even want to have a look. Mark convinced me it was going to be fine and I trusted him. It might not look like that on the picture above! 

Believe it or not I was actually the first person to give an excited shout in the middle of the rapid because it was so much fun! The picture above proves it. 
After the Little Brother comes of course nasty looking Big Brother which we portaged around. It went relatively smooth as boys did a great team effort to move the raft across and over the rocks with our minimal help. 

Kali Gandaki, one of the holiest rivers in Nepal, begins its journey from the Tibetan border at the Nhubine Himal Glacier where it flows southwest through the Mustang region and then south cutting through one of the deepest gorges in the world between Dhaulagiri (8167 m) and Annapurna I (8091 m). It is one of the major rivers in Nepal and and a left bank tributary of the Ganges in India. 
The Kali Gandaki gorge is a part of very popular trekking route, Annapurna Circuit

The gorge and its deep walls are truly an amazing sight to admire from the raft. Looking at the bridge in the picture above even I definitely felt more comfortable in the raft than I would be on the bridge! 

We were off the river after 3 pm and this beautiful campsite was to be ours for the next night. You can see the bridge on the background of this photo still, we were told it would be an hours walk at least to reach it from the camp. Frisbee was played, tents and shelters were put up, kitchen was set up and in no time we had hot drinks and snacks waiting for us. 

Here are Dinesh and Suk preparing dinner like true river chefs. 

Simple candle bags illuminated our first nights camp to give a relaxing feeling after the first exciting day on the river. I slept soundly for 9 hours under the tarp listening to the river (the sound of the crickets was deafening at times though). The Good Morning rapid that can be seen on the picture was waiting for us the first thing in the next morning. 

This gray langur was the only one we spotted by the river this time but entire troops are commonly seen on the trips. 

Seems like this bunch was having good time and it was only the second morning. Anybody out there who used to watch TV series Lost? :)
No really, they were a great group of people to raft with for 3 days. 

Besides company safety kayakers we also had some experienced kayakers joining us from Scotland, Germany and Austria. 

Nanu, always smiling and alert should there be any swimmers. 

Like here..Anyone see the hand of God? 

No safety kayaker needed here though. The crew was on it straight away as he went for a swim in the middle of the rapid. Looks like Rajip is a little hesitant though..:)

Upon scouting this rapid we decided to run two lines as the main line had a high chance of some OBE - Outer Boat Experiences! Those of us who wanted to stay in the raft simply avoided the line and the adrenaline seekers went for it. 

This was all that us spectators got, no OBE, just some legs showing off. 

Here is Jange, the man behind the oars in the gear boat. He was making sure our food and other supplies got safely down the river. Mark said if I was to be too nervous during the trip I could jump on the gear boat with Jange but by the second day I had already forgotten this option as I was having too much on the paddle raft. 

Here is Rajip's team, screaming for fun or catching flies? 

After a full day of paddling and lunch between we finally arrived to second night's camp. The same procedures followed as the first evening and soon we were enjoying hot drinks with noodle soup this time.  

On the second camp Ghita, a lady from the local village, comes down to the beach to sell us thirsty rafters cold beers, rum and Coca Colas. She had some chocolate as well but the time I realized this it was already too late. Definitely felt like I would have deserved it. 

The second day we still had some tasty rapids to tackle before the flat section and the paddle out to the dam. By now I was excitedly looking forward to the rapids and was rather disappointed when they ended. 

In my opinion time went way too fast and it would have been fun stay longer even on the flat section of the river as we had lots of games and swimming going on. River still being at medium high level after the monsoon we were soon at the take out. 

Everybody had a chance to try kayaking also during the last hour. 

After couple of hours paddling in the morning and we were off the river carrying equipment to the bus, eating lunch and getting ready for one more adventure: the 5 hours class 5 bus drive back to Pokhara. Want to thank the Paddle Nepal and their team for making it possible for me to join this adventure! After the nervous start I can honestly say I enjoyed myself and would do it again. 

All photo credits belong to Tommy Giordano!