Rafting the Sun Kosi in Nepal
David Allardice, owner of New Zealand's Ultimate Descents, knows a good thing when he finds it. That's why the Sun Kosi, meaning "River of Gold," has been the mainstay of his Himalayan commercial rafting operations since he first started running rivers in Nepal in 1984. The river's moniker stems from one of two things: the gold often panned from the river gravel; or, more likely, the river's orange color during monsoon season when it is filled with alluvial silt.
Flowing eastward in Nepal through the giant valley between the Mahabharat Lekh mountains and the Himalayas, the Sun Kosi forms the watershed for the majority of eastern Nepal. Draining the highest mountains in the world, it grows steadily bigger until in joins the mighty Ganges on the northern plains of India.
All this makes the 170-mile section between Dolalghatjust three hours from Kathmanduand Chatra one of the best raft trips in the world. On a six- to ten-day trip, rafters and kayakers will find white sand beaches for camping, warm water, Grand Canyon-scale Class III-IV rapids, and monkeys to listen to your tales around the campfire. Perhaps its best attribute, however, is its isolation. Although you're likely to encounter friendly villagers bowing their heads and offering the welcome greeting, "Namaste," there are no roads or towns along the entire 170 miles, leaving you alone in the meltoff of the Himalayas.
Expect big variations in flow depending on when you go. The river varies from huge post-monsoon run-off in early October to low winter flows in January and February; the flows rise again in May with snowmelt and pre-monsoon rains. The best season for booking a trip, or paddling the river on your own, is from October to December and March through May. Rapid-wise, expect everything you would find on the Grand Canyon with the Himalayas as a backdrop. With most of its rapids formed from side creeks rushing with monsoon rains, the river is for the most part pool-drop, meaning its big-water rapids are followed by calm spells where you can regain your senses. And if you're going back for seconds, don't expect things to be the same. The river's rapids change from year to year, depending on the strength of the most recent monsoons. In 1984, the river's largest rapid, Hakapur 3, was completely washed away; it was quickly replaced, however, with several others, including the "Meatgrinder."
All these attributes aside, one of the Sun Kosi's best qualities is the fact that it starts out mellow and gets progressively harder day by day. This gives you plenty of practice time to get your feetand rest of your bodywet, while still leaving time to enjoy the river's gold.
Difficulty: Class III-IV, with Class V-VI scenery of the Himalayas.
Price Range: Much of Nepal requires permits that cost, and getting there is expensive.
Best time to go: Whenever there aren't any monsoons; usually October through December and March through May.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication