The Rivers of Nepal

A Roundup of Himalayan Whitewater
Rivers of Nepal

In Nepal, a river is a goddess: an ever-flowing source of beauty and abundance. And, we might add, of infinite adventure. River running in this mountain kingdom is superb, which shouldn't be surprising. Consider the extreme variations in altitude (the largest of any country in the world), rugged topography and excessive snow melt from the Himalayas and this tiny country, perched between India and Tibet, becomes an obvious choice for river adventure.

Here is a rundown of ten rivers in Nepal that offer a wide range of isolation, trip length, and technical difficulty. They offer a fantastic opportunity for witnessing the countryside, and leaving the crowds thronging Nepali footpaths far behind.

Longer Trips (7+ days)

Karnali— If we had to choose just one river in Nepal, it would be Karnali— the longest and largest river in the country. The Karnali is a true wilderness experience. It takes a two day trek through the Chure Hills just to get to the launch point at Sauli. Then it's seven days through pristine wilderness and steep canyons teaming with wildlife. The entire trip is about 110 miles. Along the way there are plenty of opportunities for R&R and a side hiking. Most of the rapids happen in the first 50 miles or so, but the trip is never dull. Trips down the Karnali end at Chisopani, near Royal Bardia National Park, which is renowned for its wildlife.

Sun Kosi— The Sun Kosi runs a close second to the Karnali for all-around experience. And it's a lot more accessible, with road-access at both ends of the 168-mile trip from Dolalghtat to Chatara. The Sun Kosi wanders through the sublime Mahabharat Range, collecting all the rivers in eastern Nepal along the way. This is the watershed for the highest mountains in the world, and if you go during monsoon season, you'll be running harrowing Class V rapids the entire trip. If that much adrenaline is not your cup of tea, the river is brisk and adventurous when the water is lower. A trip down the Sun Kosi generally takes eight to ten days.

Tamur— Another river for the unfaint-at-heart, the Tamur River delivers over 130 rapids in a 75-mile run. This river drains the Kanchenjunga region, which includes the world's third-tallest mountain. Trips down river include a three-day trek to reach the river. Time on the river usually runs six or seven days. Some parties reach the Tamur via the Arun River , which makes for a slightly more peaceful start.

Bheri— This is more of a float trip, renowned by anglers around the world. To get to the launch point from Kathmandu, you can fly to Nepalgunj or complete the 388-mile journey by road. When you're on the river, you'll find yourself floating through narrow gorges with 300-foot walls, interspersed with open valleys dotted by small villages. Your trip will end on the immense plains of the southern Terai region of Nepal, where you owe it to yourself to visit the Royal Bardia National Park.

Medium Trips (2-6 days)

Trisuli River— This is the most popular river in Nepal, probably because it's so close to Kathmandu and (perhaps too) accessible by road—a highway runs along most of its length. But the Trisuli can be worth the trip, especially at high water levels. The best trip starts at Baireni and finishes three or four days later at Narayanghat. The topography changes dramatically. The Trisuli passes through magnificent gorges cut deep into the 6,500-foot-high Mahabharat Range, and has some exhilarating Class III rapids—ideal for first-time rafters or intermediate kayakers.

Kali Gandaki River— This is the holiest rivers in Nepal. Besides being a great wilderness trip, it's also a terrific chance to explore Nepali culture. The short version, from Kusma to Ramdhighat, is about 56 miles long and takes most parties four days to complete. If you want to extend the trip, you can venture another 60 miles upriver to the confluence of the Trisuli River. The upper section is a rollick of Class III and IV whitewater. The river slows down in the lower reaches, but the country is much more isolated and you'll encounter a plethora of wildlife. Also not to be missed is an ornate, derelict palace near Ranighat.

Seti— The Seti is our number one pick for a beginners trip. The moderate 38-mile length between Damauli and the confluence with the Trisuli River can be paddled in two days. Along the way the rapids are bracing but easy, and the surrounding countryside is isolated and hopping with wildlife. All in all, the Seti makes for an excellent trip.

Marsyandi— One of the world's most beautiful rivers, with stunning mountain views and Class IV rapids, the Marsyandi was recently interrupted by a hydroelectric dam near Mugling. What used to be a longer trip now takes just two rapid-fire days and covers only 17 miles. A shame, but still a worthwhile adventure.

Day Trips

Upper Sun Kosi— A 12-mile run from Khadichour to Dolalgh features long stretches of moderate yet fun rapids. During monsoon season, the rapids escalate to a constant Class V, limiting it to strictly advanced boaters.

Bhote Kosi— Translates as"river of Tibet," at any time of year this is an extreme, one day trip from above Barabise to the dam at Lamosangu covering about 10 miles. You probably won't have time to look at the scenery, but it's there.


Foreigners must obtain permits before engaging in a river trip. A fee must be deposited at the Nepal Rastra Bank, Thapathali, Kathmandu, and a copy of documents needs to be submitted to the Ministry of Tourism, Mountaineering Section, located at Tripureswor behind the Dastrath Stadium. This process can be completed in a day, except on Friday and other half-working days. Normally, your outfitter does this work for you.

All Original Material Copyright © Dan Kaplan. All Rights Reserved.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »