Destination: Nepal - Sun Koshi River
The ‘River of Gold’, named after the gold that is panned from its banks and the colour of the water, the Sun Koshi offers world class rafting expeditions! There aren’t many rivers where you can spend 8 days rafting the same river. Through your journey you’ll paddle between the towering peaks of the Himalayan foothills, through raging rapids, jungle corridors and finally emerging into the Teri lowlands on the Indian boarder. The Sun Koshi has been mentioned in both, The National Geographic’s and Lonely Planet’s lists of the Top 10 places to raft in the world! So if you’re looking for a unique, expedition packed full of Whitewater, the Sun Koshi is where you need to be going!
Put in: Dolalghat
Take out: Chattra
Camp: Any of the numerous beaches along the river’s bank
The rafting section of this river starts in the centre of Nepal, and you’ll follow the river east until it reaches the boarder with India in the far south east of the country. Over the 8 days you’ll travel a whopping 260km! This is a large volume river. It has one of the largest drainage basins within Nepal, collecting virtually all the water from Eastern Nepal and from the highest mountains on earth, the Himalaya’s. This means that even though the put in point could be 100 cumecs the main rapids a few days downstream could be 400cumecs (approx. 11,000 cfs) and the take out up to 800cumecs – and this is in November, not even flood season!
The Sun Kosi has lots (and lots) of flat sections, but also has some great rapids spread throughout its journey. This is one of the reasons that makes it such an amazing rafting trip. It allows for lots of time to try out guiding the raft, paddle a safety kayak, time to soak in the scenery as well as riding the rapids. The closer to the Monsoon you are the bigger and scarier the rapids get. Only with the right crew could the Sun Koshi be attempted with during the Monsoon season, right up to September. It’s definitely not for beginners during monsoon season! The winter season December through to March will be very disappointing for those after good rapids. The river loses a lot of its volume and the white-water aspects that gives it its notoriety become unimpressive. April and May bring meltwater to rise levels again but they will still be pretty mellow So to make the most of it, get to the river September – December for good rapids and good times!
After an early start and a 3-hour drive from Kathmandu you’ll find yourself at Dolaghat, the put on for the Sun Koshi. Unpack the bus, have lunch, and kit up for the river. The Sun Koshi starts mellow with some grade 2, great for warming up on and taking in the scenery. Watch the banks for temples and offerings, the guides may hop out to bless your trip before it begins! At the beginning of this mightly river you’ll follow the new highway that joins the river on the right bank. This is a busy highway bringing traffic from the east of Nepal to Kathmandu. It joins the river for about 30km and will leave again when you reach Chainpur. So don’t worry, the noise of the passing traffic will be a faint memory the more you paddle.
Over the next few days the river will gain in volume and you’ll pass through some notable rapids such as ‘No Exit’ (grade 3), ‘Meat Grinder’ (grade 4), Punch (grade 4) and Judy (grade 3). Due to its volume, the rapids on the Sun Kosi are mostly big waves and bigger holes. On the third day the Liku Khola joins and creates the Anxiety series of rapids: Pre, Post and High Anxiety. These are a series of grade 3 and 4 rapids. The class rapids are fairly short but the grade 4 is long and you need to be on the lookout for stoppers!
Keep an eye out for a long suspension bridge (longer than all the others) as this marks the approach to Harkapur, the most notorious and largest set of rapids on the river. Harkapur is made up of two sections – Harkapur 1 (grade 5) and Harkapur 2 (grade 4). Harkapur 1 is made up of three huge, almost river wide, holes and a nasty re-circulating undercut on the right which you need to stay away from. This is a classic raft-flip rapid and many choose to portage. It is not a nice place to swim and there have been several fatalities over the years. So make sure you have a good scout, listen to your guides and pay attention to further instructions. There are many rapids still to come so if you are in doubt then portage. After this there is a good bit of flat water where you can pick things up before taking on Harkapur 2. This rapid is very intimidating but fairly simple. Effectively it’s a massive wave train, keep pointing forwards and paddle hard!
A classic place to camp is just before the start of Harkapur on the obvious river left. This gives you chance to thoroughly scout the main rapid and build up your nerves for the following day! Beaching up also means, unpacking! More specifically, the kit raft. You’ll be happy to do this when it makes it easier to portage in the morning. The kit raft almost always portages – no one wants to lose the precious beer (or dry clothes)! Especially when you’re not going to come by a village for another day or two!
Over the next few days you’ll travel over 120km on the Sun Koshi. Filled with beaches to camp on, flat water to chill out and float along on and white-water rapids to have some fun in. Some of the most notable rapids are ‘Jaws’, ‘Dead man’s eddy’, ‘Rhino Rock’, and the ‘Jungle Corridor’. The monsoon often effects the rapids on the Sun Koshi, changing them year by year – Harkapur used to have 3 sections but now only has two for example. The rapids should always be taken with a bit of caution as they are characterised by big holes and bigger waves designed to simply flip rafts.
The Big Dipper is the last big rapid on the Sun Koshi. It’s a set of massive standing waves, a great way to finish your trip! After the Big Dipper you’ll quickly come to the confluence of the Arun and Tamur. This place is called Tribeni and is the classic place to set up camp. This is a holy confluence and there is a small temple on the track up the Arun valley where you can go and thank the river gods for a safe passage. Alternatively, you can head up the Tamur valley trail and get to the village of Tribeni where you’ll find a healthy selection of cold beers and plenty of Chiya!
You will only travel about 10km on your final day. As the Sun Koshi, Arun and Tamur join they become the Sapta Koshi. Let the river sweep you downstream and notice the land around you. Once towering mountains are now big flat open plains to the Terai. The river widens here almost like a lake! Keep to the left to make sure you don’t miss the get-out point at Chatra.
One of my best memories of the Sun Koshi was at Harkapur. One of my fellow kayakers, Anton, had left his underwear out on top of his kayak to dry in the morning sun. It was all hands-on-deck after breakfast as we had to portage the Kit-raft and all the kit to go in it around Harkapur 1. When we finally finished and got back to the kayaks Anton swore as he realised his mistake. His lovely dry underwear for that evening were still on top of his kayak – not stored away in his drybag on the kit raft… He decided to stow them in his Kayak, dry them again at lunch time and then put them back in his dry bag on the raft. I paddled down Harkapur successfully and broke out waiting for Anton. To my horror he capsized halfway down and swam. He came out the bottom ok and we swiftly went to his aid. We gathered all his kit – everything but his underwear which had subsequently disappeared out of his kayak. We all had a good joke about it before it left our minds. Two days later Anton was bobbing along in his kayak when some fabric floating in the water caught his eye. It was his lost underwear! Needless to say, from that point on they became his favourite and luckiest set of underwear he had!