The Karnali Ultimate Nepal Expedition
The Karnali is widely acknowledged as one of the best multi-day river trips available in the world and literally means ‘Holy water from the Sacred mountain’. It is also Nepal’s longest and largest river and with its many tributaries, it drains almost all of the west of Nepal, which, incidentally is also its least inhabited – the “Wild West” as many people call it.
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Vacation Style Holiday TypeRafting
Activity Level Challenging
Group Size Medium Group
The Karnali is widely acknowledged as one of the best multi-day river trips available in the world and literally means ‘Holy water from the Sacred mountain’. It is also Nepal’s longest and largest river and with its many tributaries, it drains almost all of the west of Nepal, which, incidentally is also its least inhabited – the “Wild West” as many people call it. This lower section of the river definitely lives up to that name – the area that it flows through is wild and unpolluted with some of the most pristine jungle scenery in Nepal, and abundant wildlife.
Flowing from near Tibet’s holy Mt. Kailas, the Karnali offers powerful high volume rapids with names like “First Blood”, “God’s House” and “Flip and Strip”, in a setting of wild forests and steep, narrow gorges. After a week of negotiating the Karnali’s upper gorges and pummeling whitewater, we spend two nights at Bardia National Park and another two nights exploring Kathmandu, Thamel and its environs.
For the eight days and 180 kilometers we won’t see a single sign of the modern world making it Nepal’s finest multi day river rafting. The rapids earlier on in the trip are comparatively easy, but as you enter the main canyon, be prepared for a thrill-a-minute adventure. There is a rapid waiting for you every corner.
The Karnali’s headwaters come off of Mount Kailas in Tibet, the center of the universe for both Buddhist and Hindu religions, and then slice through the Himalayas in a series of magnificent and isolated gorges and forests. From easy-going class 3 to continuous and powerful Class 4+/5 rapids, there are miles of beautiful scenery, pristine beaches, and deep gorges. Adventure travelers on the Karnali have seen Langur and Rhesus monkeys, leopards, bear, martins, and giant catfish, as well as freshwater dolphins and Bengal tigers. To sum it up, one of the finest rafting and kayaking trips in the Himalayas. Spectacular, remote, jungle-clad canyons with abundant wildlife. Our guides will run this expedition with our Nepalese partners at Equator Expeditions, run by well known adventurers Mahendra Thapa and Gerry Moffatt.
Airport meeting and transfer to our hotel in the bustling and colorful Thamel district of Kathmandu. Pre-trip meeting at the hotel at 630 PM, preceding a lively welcome dinner.
Kathmandu Resort Hotel, D only
A day to rest from the long journey to Asia and experience the ancient wonders of Kathmandu and the bustling streets of the Thamel district. The morning is free to rest and enjoy the small shrines, temples and shops of this vibrant town. Shopping is particularly tempting, with wonderful jewelry, fabrics, Buddhist religious art and handicrafts.
We regroup for lunch, after which our day continues with a half-day tour of old Kathmandu, focusing on the main temples of the city.
Nepalganj and Bardia
After breakfast we head to the airport for an early hour-long flight to Nepalganj, taking in amazing Himalayan views along the way. In Nepalganj we will meet up with the Indian members of our group arriving by overnight train from Delhi and with the Nepali rafting team. It’s about two hours to our lodge in Bardia National Park from there. If we’re in early enough we will enjoy the first of our wildlife viewing excursions in the park.
We stay at the Bardia Forest Hideaway set on the edge of Bardia National Park. The Forest Hideaway was created to provide the perfect setting from which to explore this pristine conservation area.
With deluxe accommodations and a restaurant offering a wide variety of fine dishes, it provides guests with a relaxed atmosphere in rural surroundings. Built to reflect the local tharu style, the hotel complex consists of timber and clay cottages with traditional grass roofs and decorations plus all the modern conveniences.
Forest Hideaway or similar, all meals
Bardia National Park
Bardia National Park, the largest and most undisturbed park in the lowland region of Terai, is known for its abundance of wilderness. Initially a royal hunting reserve, it was later granted the status of a national park. The purpose was to preserve the ecosystem of the region including all wild species. The park encompasses approximate 300 sq km of sal forests and riverine grasslands. High elephant grass and dense forests provide home to plenty of animals.
We will enjoy an early morning elephant safari (1 hr), a full day walking tour within the sanctuary, outings in 4WD vehicles with the game guides, birdwatching, Tharu cultural activities, and visits to the elephant and/or crocodile breeding centers. We spend the days up close and personal with the game n a variety of ways and at the lodge enjoy an evening cultural program of local Tharu dances too.
Forest Hideaway or similar, all meals
To the river
It’s about a 7 hour drive from Bardia to the put-in spot on the Karnali. We intend to arrive there in the afternoon in time to float less than an hour down to our first campsite on the river.
Camp, all meals
Rafting down the Karnali
This is truly a great experience in whitewater. For the first part of the trip the river challenges our team efforts as we take on some demanding rapids such as First Blood, Human for Lunch and Flip & Strip, while passing through stunning gorges and dense jungle that creep down to the river side. You have an option of paddle or oar boat depending on how involved you want to be.
Camping on the Karnali trip is awesome. The massive floods of the monsoon deposit huge tracks of pure white sand, creating great beaches to camp on. Occasionally we might get visited by a local villager out hunting. Village kids also wander down to take a peep at the colorful rafts and safety kayaks and the people who are on them! We will have a lay-over day on the trip, depending on weather and such, which will give us some time to get into some beach volleyball action or go for a hike and explore a small village higher up. Maybe you would like to try your hand at kayaking by asking one of our friendly safety kayakers for a lesson. Or just relax with a great book and take in the sun and replenish the energy stocks!
Lots of whitewater and some great gorges to float and paddle through makes the Karnali one of the top 10 multi-day white water trips in Asia or even the world.
When we reach the confluence with the Seti River on about Day 10 we’re past the major rapids on the Karnali. The lower section of the river is home to fresh water dolphins, marsh mugger crocodiles and gaurials, the giant fish eating crocodiles with the long, graceful jaws, so there is are some good chances of spotting wildlife. The jungle and riverine forest scenery is entrancing.
Camp, all meals
After a short day on the river, we take out and enjoy a simple meal at a local spot. From there it is a two hour drive to Nepalganj where we’ll catch our return flight to Kathmandu. We’ll share a festive farewell dinner in Kathmandu, swapping stories of our adventures on the Karnali and preparing for the transition back home
Kathmandu Resort Hotel, all meals
After breakfast, transfer to the airport for your trip home or head on to your next adventure.
Note: Flights from Kathmandu to Delhi should be booked asap in order to get better fares. Let us know if you need us to make a booking for your return flight.
We believe that along with the privilege of adventure in the Himalaya comes a serious responsibility, the responsibility to protect and contribute to its ecology, cultures and its tremendous beauty. The “Leave No Trace” philosophy is followed to the letter and we work to minimize the environmental impact of our trips. We are scrupulous in our camping, cooking and sanitation practices; we limit the number of trekkers we allow to join us on our trips and the number of trips we lead in a given area.
In wilderness, commercial agreements between service provider and client require a depth of understanding that is more than what is routinely attached to similar agreements elsewhere. In the outdoors, we have to balance pursuit of stated objective and risk. We try to overcome risk and deliver the objective promised in the agreement between client and service provider. But that does not mean that we ignore risk altogether to chase an objective. We wish you to be informed on what makes a trip safe for you and everyone else.
Please take a few minutes to read the following:
The nature of wilderness
By definition wilderness implies remoteness. It means that response to any accident or mishap takes time. Timely intervention is a life saver. Working back from this, it becomes imperative that any commercial adventure in wilderness be conservative in terms of the risk it courts. Yet adventure means there will be risk. The way out is to manage the risk involved in such a fashion that a safe experience is provided. There are a few things that the client can do.
Prepare in advance
Commercial expeditions entail strain even if others are carrying your load and doing the team’s work. Prior physical conditioning – particularly of the cardiovascular sort contributing to improved endurance – helps. Please invest time and effort for that before embarking on the trip. It will help you in the field.
Be honest, speak up
We encourage clients to be honest about how they are feeling on expedition days; voice any personal difficulties they may be experiencing. This helps the team make relevant decisions for clients’ well being, something crucial when venturing into altitude. Not all of us are meant for altitude. If your physiology rebels, there is nothing to be ashamed of it. Speak up. Make sure that your disclosures about self are not biased by an objective you are feverishly trying to achieve like getting to the summit of a peak or crossing a high pass at any cost. Don’t let summit fever and similar instances of extreme personal ambition, consume you. It puts you and your support team at risk. Stay with the team’s assessment of risk. Go with the resultant decisions. If you think you have a point to make by all means do so. We will hear you out. But risk assessment and decisions, will be by the team leaders as the onus of a safe expedition primarily rests with them.
Let the leaders work
You may be familiar with rivers, mountains and altitude. We don’t wish to question that. But there are reasons why many of us choose to go as clients. One of them is that our primary vocation is something else, while those working in the mountains as guides have chosen to make that their primary vocation or at the very least, dedicate time to it. More than us, they are in the mountains. They are alive to it. That’s why we entrust our passage to them. So, please let them work free of interference. Please don’t influence their judgement. Your expedition needs their best work and best judgement. In any expedition, leadership style will vary with the risk being tackled in a given situation. There will be times when we can travel easy in a very consultative fashion. There will be times when that is not advisable and a more directive style may be adopted by your guides. Please comply.
Be open to alternatives
We can set up the best safety systems possible, checking and double checking to make sure that nothing is left to chance. But we don’t control or totally overcome variables like weather and terrain / river conditions. They impact expedition’s progress. If team leaders review / alter plan citing concerns on any front, we request that it be respected and not viewed as money’s worth denied even if it dims prospects for achieving an expedition’s original goal. Such challenges are frequent in the outdoors. Seasoned trekkers and climbers, when they realize that a particular objective does not seem achievable on a given trip, learn to be happy with other pursuits to compensate – like staying camped and enjoying the mountain environment or attempting more doable hikes from wherever they are. We request you to stay aware of these possibilities. Be open to them. Decades ago when exploration and first ascents were happening in the Himalaya, the explorers / mountaineers / hikers devoted months to their work. Committed outdoorsmen still do. They wait out unfavourable circumstances by having a lot of time and patience. Time is what the modern world does not have even as the mountains remain the same, posing the same challenges; the same risk, the same unpredictable circumstances. An exceptionally lucky circumstance may deliver success. But luck isn’t commonplace. We should be mentally prepared for the above mentioned alternatives.
If you don’t achieve your objective it isn’t the end of the world. Be patient, another chance will emerge. There is a simple reminder, climbers often tell their colleagues leaving for a summit: “ the mountain will always be there; make sure you are there.’’
In other words – be safe.
Our expedition trips are designed for energetic and flexible people who have the spirit of adventure and a positive attitude. Previous experience in the outdoors and camping helps, though is not a must. These trips are participatory in nature, and everyone is expected to pitch in, set up and break down their own tent, clean their own dishes. Look up our trip grading before you sign up.
Grading of Trips
We have graded our trips in four different categories and you should choose one that suits you the most. Grading of each trip has been done keeping in mind a lot of factors like the trip duration, the altitude, the terrain, the no. of hours of activity everyday, temperatures and conditions encountered, and the level of fitness needed. Any kind of exercise which gets you fitter before this trip is advisable, as it will enable you to enjoy the region more.
- Easy : Most of our camp based trips, with easy activities, that are optional and involve fairly easy travel. Trips may include short hikes of two to three hours or optional walks at low elevations. Includes less demanding whitewater trips with easy support and myriad options.
- Moderate : Active trips involving hiking over reasonable terrain, within vehicular access, upto elevations less than 4000 meters, or trips with long walking days, multiple rafting days, wilderness camping. Includes more demanding whitewater trips with Class III rapids.
- Demanding : Hiking and trekking to elevations exceeding 4000-5000 meters, away from vehicular access, over multiple days. Encompasses demanding whitewater with Class IV rapids.
- Challenging : Our most demanding trips include climbing at high elevations in excess of 5000 meters, in remote and extreme conditions with no access to roads; trips to remote, extreme wilderness; mountaineering trips, and demanding whitewater trips with Class IV-V rapids.
The Next Step
Ready to go? Email us at [email protected] to book your place and we will guide you through the booking process. Please sign and scan/email us your booking form and inform us about the status of your payments at the time of confirming the trip (Booking form and Payment details below).
Why travel with Aquaterra Adventures?
We are a pioneer in active adventure travel, and run the most number of rivers in India, having opened them up over the past several years. We set the standard and have a strong reputation for excellence. We have a lot to live up to and we ensure we provide the safest, quality trips for our guests.
Should you wish to contact any of our past guests for a trip reference, write to us.
In remote regions, we often use local suppliers who provide services that may include vehicles for transportation, equipment, logistical support, hotels, guest houses etc. We do not own or operate these independent services or suppliers. We work with them as they share our commitment to service and quality.
All arrangements for staying and camping while on the trip, internal flights, accommodation on twin share basis in tents / rest houses / hotels, all transfers, all meals while on river, breakfast at Kathmandu, Bardia Park fee, professional guide fee, all rafting, kayaking and safety equipment, camp staff, cook etc
Airport transfers in Delhi, any stay and meals in Delhi, bottled water / alcoholic beverages at Kathmandu / Bardia hotels, lunches and dinners at Kathmandu hotel, sleeping bag, items of personal clothing, expenses of a personal nature like laundry, phone calls, alcohol, cigarettes, basic medical and evacuation insurance; any costs arising out of unforeseen circumstances such as bad weather, landslides, road conditions and any other circumstances beyond our control.
Rates quoted are on twin share. If you prefer single accommodation, the single supplement is Rs. 12,500.
Booking conditions: All bookings are subject to availability of space at Camp. We book space on a 100% advance. All payments by wire transfer, cash or cheque/draft in favor of “Aquaterra Adventures (I) Pvt. Ltd.”
Tips & Gratuities: Our recommendation is a minimum 5-10% of your trip cost for tips to be distributed amongst the team that makes your adventure safe and successful. This includes drivers, guides, cook, kitchen team, porters and horsemen. Of course, this remains a personal choice.
If it becomes necessary to cancel your tour, you must notify Aquaterra Adventures India Pvt. Ltd. immediately in writing. Once we receive your notice, cancellation will take effect. Please note that the following charges will apply on cancellation:
- if cancellation takes place more than 45 days prior to departure, your full deposit
- will be returned except a processing charge of Rs. 5000 or US$ 77 ; (60 days for Brahmaputra trip)
- if cancellation takes place between 45 and 30 days prior to departure, 50% of the
- tour price will be forfeited (between 60 and 30 days for Brahmaputra trip); and
- if cancellation takes place less than 30 days prior to departure, 100% of the tour price will be forfeited.
Some trips attract a minimum processing charge – please check.
The tour price is quoted as a package. No partial refunds or credit will be given for services not used. We recommend that you obtain travel insurance upon booking.