Easter in Nepal – the Thule Bheri River
One of the things that I like about foreign kayaking trips is that I get to see new places, meet new people, and learn new things. One of the new things that I learnt on this particular trip is the meaning of the phrase “continuous grade 4 paddling”. The educator in this case was the incredible Thule Bheri River, which flows south from the mountain region of Dolpo in Western Nepal to the Terai.
I have paddled continuous grade 4 rivers many times before, Wales has continuous grade 4, the Alps has continuous grade 4, Kyrgyzstan had some incredibly intense continuous rivers. Somehow the Thule Bheri is different, for four days the river provides world class whitewater kayaking that doesn’t let up over it’s 90 km length. Everything about this river is special, from the somewhat sketchy flight over the mountains to the top of the river, to the scenery, the feeling of remoteness, the people you meet, and the whitewater.
The river was first kayaked in the mid nineties by a team including Charlie Munsey and Gerry Moffat and since then has only seen a handful of descents, this is due at least in part to the region being difficult to access in recent years because of Maoist activity. Thankfully, the tensions in Nepal appear to have eased and travelling in Dolpo (as with the rest of Nepal) is now much easier. Hopefully this means that the Thule Bheri river will start to see the sort of attention that befits a river that must surely be one of the best hard multi-day whitewater trips in the World.
I first heard about the river when in India last summer, I bumped into Andy Sommer, a German kayaker living in Nepal who was talking about the river with the sort of enthusiasm that suggested the river was something special. Try talking to a beginner that has just run their first river, or asking a Devon local about the Upper Dart when it’s going through the third arch at New Bridge and you’ll get an idea of what I mean. I’m a sucker for enthusiasm so when I got back to the UK I contacted Andy and started getting things organised for an Easter mission. Andy sorted logistics from the Nepal side and I found two more paddlers that were willing to spend a few weeks in Nepal over Easter.
Andy Sommer on the Thule Bheri
Fast forward to mid-April, and there are four of us, having spent a few days warming up on the Bothe Khosi and Tamba Khosi rivers, crammed into a small Twin Otter Yeti Airlines (yes, really) plane to Juphail glancing of the window at some alarmingly close mountains. After a night spent drinking the beer that made up the rest of the cargo on our flight and watching a snowstorm descend down the valley, we were putting on the Thule Bheri river and heading off downstream. The previous night’s snowfall meant that the river was higher than when Andy had paddled the river previously and the water was a disconcerting grey colour that made spotting a line tricky at times.
Chris Smith on Day 1 on the Thule Bheri
Despite starting as a gentle fast grade 3, the river quickly gorged up and picked up pace, here is where the fun starts, from here the next four days were physically and mentally exhausting. To try and give a description of the river would be futile, suffice to say that it was rarely if ever below grade 4 and often above it. Andy proved to be a godsend both on and off the river, spotting improbable lines, offering reassuring smiles and arranging for us to stay in local houses and negotiating porters to carry our laden boats around a grade 5/6 gorge suing his fluent Nepalese.
My memories of the four days between putting on the Thule Bheri and reaching the confluence with the Sani Bheri are mixed, I remember feeling in turns terrified, more confident in my boating than I’ve ever been, exhausted and constantly amazed by the country and people. At the confluence of the Thule Bheri and Sani Bheri, there were feelings of elation and relief at having reached the end of the river coupled with a feeling of regret that the river had ended.
Giles playboating on the Seti
After a further long day’s flat paddling on the Bheri river and a tortuous bus ride to Pokhara, there was still time to fit in a quick blast down the River Seti in borrowed play boats and spend a few days relaxing, recovering and behaving like regular tourists – gawping at monkeys, taking photos of religious men, wandering around monasteries, watching cremations etc….
Giles was looking a bit rough by the end of the river
To sumarise, if you haven’t been boating in Nepal yet, do it. If you have, go again, and this time do the Thule Bheri.
Thanks to Andy at Shiva Outdoors – if you are after logistics or river leading in Nepal, then get in touch.