Nepal is renowned as the world’s greatest trekking destination, but there are also plenty of fine day hikes, particularly in the Kathmandu Valley and around Bandipur, Tansen and Pokhara. Then there is the world-class rafting, kayaking, canyoning and climbing. Nepal is a great place to learn a new adventure sport.
Planning Your Trek
Nepal is one of the easiest and most exciting places in the world to trek; nowhere else can you comfortably walk for weeks carrying little more than a day pack. The following classic routes offer a spectacular introduction to trekking in Nepal, but for more routes, see Lonely Planet’s Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya.
When to Trek
In general the best trekking time is the dry season from October to May; the worst time is the monsoon period from June to September. However, this generalisation doesn’t allow for the peculiarities of individual treks.
Several festivals enliven the main trekking trails; in particular, the Mani Rimdu festival in October/November brings particularly colourful masked dances at the Everest region’s Tengboche Monastery.
October to November The first two months of the dry season offer the best weather for trekking and the main trails are heaving with trekkers at this time, for good reason. The air is crystal clear, the mountain scenery is superb and the weather is still comfortably warm. Freak winter weather is becoming more frequent in October as global climate patterns change.
December to February Good months for trekking, but the cold can be bitter and dangerous at high altitudes. Getting up to the Everest Base Camp can be a real endurance test, and the Thorung La (Annapurna Circuit) and other high passes are often blocked by snow.
March to April Dry weather and dust means poorer Himalayan views but the compensations are several: fewer crowds, warm weather and spectacular rhododendron blooms. By May it starts to get very hot, dusty and humid at lower altitudes.
June to September Monsoon rains bring landslides, slippery trails and hordes of jukha (leeches). Raging rivers often wash away bridges and stretches of trail. Trekking is difficult but still possible and there are hardly any trekkers on the trails. Good for cultural treks and Trans-Himalayan regions like Mustang, Dolpo and around Jomsom.
What Kind of Trek?
There are many different styles of trekking to suit your budget, fitness level and available time. Most independent trekkers plan to sleep and eat in lodges every night and forgo the complications of camping. This is teahouse trekking.
You can carry your own pack and rely on your own navigation skills and research; or you might find it makes sense to hire a local porter to carry your heavy backpack so that you can enjoy walking with only a daypack. A good guide will certainly enhance the trekking experience, though a bad one will just make life more complicated. Most popular trails are not hard to follow in good weather, so you don’t strictly need a porter or guide for route-finding alone.
To save time, many people organise a trek through a trekking agency, either in Kathmandu or in their home country. Such organised treks can be simple lodge-to-lodge affairs or extravagant expeditions with the full regalia of porters, guides, portable kitchens, dining tents and even toilet tents.
Trekking is physically demanding. Some preparation is recommended, even for shorter treks. You will need stamina and a certain fitness level to tackle the steep ascents and descents that come with trekking in the world's highest mountain range. It makes sense to start on some kind of fitness program at least a month or two before your trek. That said, Nepal’s treks are well within the range of most active people.
On the trail you will begin to realise just how far you are from medical help and the simple comforts that you usually take for granted. For most people isolation is part of the appeal of trekking, but even a twisted ankle or sore knee can become a serious inconvenience if you are several days away from help and your companions need to keep moving.
In October 2014, over 50 trekkers and guides were killed in the Thorung La region after a blizzard descended on the area. In the wake of the tragedy there were calls to make trekking with a guide compulsory, but this is up in the air following the 2015 earthquake. Trekking regulations could change at any time, so check the current situation when planning your trek.
What to Pack
The Himalayan Rescue Association (HRA), Kathmandu Environmental Education Project (KEEP) and Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal (TAAN) offer free, up-to-date information on trekking conditions, health risks and minimising your environmental impact. They are also excellent places to visit and advertise for trekking companions.
Kathmandu Environmental Education Project Has a library, some useful trekkers notebooks, a water refill service, an excellent noticeboard and a small cafe. It also sells iodine tablets (Rs 1000), biodegradable soap and other environmentally friendly equipment. It’s a good place to find a trek partner, donate clothes to or hire a set of clothes for your porter from the Porter’s Clothing Bank (Rs 500, with a Rs 2000 to Rs 5000 deposit). It shifts location frequently, so check before heading out.
Trekking Agencies' Association of Nepal Details trekking regulations and can mediate in disputes with trekking agencies.
Documents & Fees
Nepal faces several environmental problems as a result of, or at least compounded by, tourists’ actions and expectations. These include the depletion of forests for firewood; the build-up of nonbiodegradable waste, especially plastic bottles; and the pollution of waterways. You can help by choosing an environmentally and socially responsible company and being responsible with garbage, water and firewood.
KEEP is a good resource for tips on responsible trekking.
Health & Safety
For the majority of trekkers health problems are likely to be minor, such as stomach upsets and blisters, and commonsense precautions are all that are required to avoid illness.
Make sure you and your teeth are in good health before departing, as there is very little medical or dental attention along the trails.
Earthquake Damaged Trekking Routes
The 2015 earthquakes caused massive landslides and avalanches and destroyed whole villages in the Langtang, Helambu, Manaslu and Rolwaling regions, and buildings collapsed across central Nepal, including on the approach to Everest in villages like Thame.
Locals have shown great resilience in rebuilding lodges as quickly as possible, largely without government support. At the time of writing, trekking was possible on all the main teahouse trekking routes in Nepal, including the Everest, Annapurna, Langtang and Manaslu regions, as well as in eastern and western Nepal. Villagers in places such as Langtang have never needed the support of trekkers more.
Nepal is a playground for lovers of adventure sports and high-adrenaline activities. The country offers some of the best mountain biking and rafting trips in the world, as well as canyoning, bungee jumping, zip wires and rock climbing. The options are almost limitless.
Fat tyres, a soft padded seat and 17 more gears than the average Nepali bike – the mountain bike is an ideal, go-anywhere, versatile machine for exploring Nepal. These attributes make it possible to escape sealed roads, and to ride tracks and ancient walking trails to remote, rarely visited areas of the country. Importantly, they allow a liberating freedom of travel – you can stop whenever you like – and they free you from crowded buses and claustrophobic taxis.
While the heart of the Kathmandu Valley is too hectic and traffic-congested nowadays to truly offer a fun biking experience, the fringes of the valley are another story and they quite possibly offer some of the best and most consistent biking in Nepal, with a dense network of tracks, trails and back roads. A mountain bike really allows you to get off the beaten track and discover idyllic Newari villages that have preserved their traditional lifestyle.
Many trails are narrow, century-old walkways that are not shown on maps, so you need a good sense of direction when venturing out without a guide. To go unguided entails some risks, and you should learn a few important words of Nepali to assist in seeking directions. Bring a map and compass or at least a GPS-enabled smartphone with a map app.
Nepa Maps and Himalayan Maphouse produce the useful maps Mountain Biking the Kathmandu Valley and Biking around Annapurna, though they aren’t to be relied on completely.
A booming number of Nepali companies offer guided mountain-bike trips. They provide high-quality bicycles, local and Western guides, helmets and all the necessary equipment. There is usually a minimum of four cyclists required per trip, although for shorter tours two is often sufficient. For the shorter tours (two to three days) vehicle support is not required, while for longer tours vehicles are provided at an extra cost.
Local group tours range from US$55 to US$65 for a simple day trip with bike rental, such as the loop routes north from Kathmandu to Tinpiple, Tokha and Budhanilkantha, or south to the traditional village of Bungamati. Expect to pay around US$25 a day if you just want a mountain-bike guide.
A faster-paced downhill day trip with vehicle support costs around US$100 per person. Options include driving to Nagarkot and riding down to Sankhu and Bodhnath or Bhaktapur, or driving to Kakani and taking the Scar Rd down through Shivapuri National Park. Dawn Till Dusk and Chhango offer exhilarating downhill runs from the top of Phulchowki and Nagarjun peaks.
Multiday trips around the Kathmandu Valley cost around US$55 per day without vehicle backup (US$75 with vehicle support) and range from two to 10 days. Prices include bike hire, a guide, hotel accommodation and meals.
Longer guided trips include the back road route from Kathmandu to Pokhara and a four-day ride from Jomsom to Beni.
Transporting Your Own Bicycle
If you plan to do a mountain-biking trip of more than a day or two, it may be a good idea to bring your own bicycle from home. Your bicycle can be carried as part of your baggage allowance on international flights. You are required to deflate the tyres, turn the handlebars parallel with the frame and remove the pedals. Passage through Nepali customs is quite simple once you reassure airport officers that it is ‘your’ bicycle and it will also be returning with you, though this requirement is never enforced.
On most domestic flights, if you pack your bicycle correctly, removing wheels and pedals, it is possible to load it in the cargo hold. Check with the airline first.
Local buses are useful if you wish to avoid some of the routes that carry heavy traffic. You can place your bicycle on the roof for an additional charge (Rs 50 to Rs 100 depending on the length of the journey and the bus company). Keep in mind that more baggage is likely to be loaded on top once you’re inside. A lock and chain is a wise investment.
Most of the bicycles for rent in Nepal are low-quality, Indian and Chinese mountain bikes, not suitable for the rigours of trail riding. The better operators rent high-quality front-shock, 18-gear mountain bikes made by Giant or Trek for around US$12 to US$15 per day, with discounts for a week’s hire. Any decent rental shop will supply a helmet, lock and basic repair kit.
If you bring your own bicycle, it is essential to bring tools and spare parts, as these are largely unavailable outside of Kathmandu. Established mountain-bike tour operators have mechanics, workshops and a full range of bicycle tools at their offices in Kathmandu.
Nepali roads carry a vast array of vehicles: buses, motorcycles, cars, trucks, tractors, holy cows, wheelbarrows, dogs, wandering children and chickens, all moving at different speeds and in different directions. Traffic generally travels on the left-hand side, though it’s not uncommon to find a vehicle approaching you head-on. In practice, smaller vehicles give way to larger ones, and bicycles are definitely at the bottom of the heap.
A few intrepid mountain bikers have taken bicycles into trekking areas such as the Annapurna Circuit and, more recently, the Mansalu Circuit, hoping to find great riding, but you have to be prepared to carry your bicycle for at least 30% of the time. In addition, there are always trekkers, porters and local people clogging up the trails. Sagarmatha National Park doesn’t allow mountain bikes. Courtesy and care on the trails should be a high priority when cycling.
Nepal has a reputation for being one of the best places in the world for rafting, with outstanding river journeys ranging from steep, adrenaline-charged mountain streams to classic big-volume wilderness expeditions. Warm water, a subtropical climate and huge white sandy beaches that are ideal for camping add further to the appeal.
When to Go
In general the best times for rafting and kayaking are September to early December, and March to early June.
March to May The summer season has long, hot days and lower water flows, which generally means the rapids are a grade lower than they are from September to November. The rivers rise again in May with the pre-monsoon storms and some snowmelt.
June to August Monsoon rains mean the rivers carry 10 times their low-water flows, and can flood with 60 to 80 times the low-water levels, making most rivers insanely difficult. Only parts of the Seti, Upper Sun Kosi and Trisuli are commercially run during the monsoon.
September to early October and May to June Rivers can be extremely high with monsoon run-off. Any expeditions attempted at this time require a very experienced rafting company with an intimate knowledge of the river and strong teams, as times of high flows are potentially the most dangerous times to be on a river.
Mid-October to November One of the most popular times to raft or kayak, with warm, settled weather and exciting runs.
December Many of the rivers become too cold to enjoy unless you have a wetsuit, and the days are short with the start of winter – the time to consider shorter trips.
River Trips in Nepal
Note that in the ‘Season/Grade’ column, the number in brackets refers to the grade when the high river flows, which is normally at the beginning and end of the season.
|River||Trip Duration (Days)||Approximate Cost (US$)||Transport||Season/Grade||Add-ons|
|Bhote Kosi||1||60||3hr from Kathmandu||late Oct-May/4 (5-)||bungee jumping, canyoning, kayak clinics, day trips possible|
|Upper Sun Kosi||2||140||2hr from Kathmandu||Oct-May/3 (4), Jun-Sep/4 (4+)|
|Trisuli||2||110||2hr from Kathmandu||Oct-May/3 (4), Jun-Sep/4 (4+)||excursions to Bandipur or Pokhara, day trips possible|
|Seti||2-3||110-130||1½hr from Pokhara||Sep-May/2 (3+)||kayak clinics are popular here|
|Kali Gandaki||3||180||2hr from Pokhara||late Sep-May/3 (4)||Chitwan National Park|
|Marsyangdi||4||280||5hr from Kathmandu||late Oct-Apr/4 (5-)||Annapurna Circuit Trek|
|Sun Kosi||8-9||630||3hr from Kathmandu, then 16hr bus back to Kathmandu, or fly from Biratnagar||Sep-Nov/3+ (4+), Dec-Apr/3 (4)||Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve or continue on to Darjeeling in India|
|Karnali||10||800-950||16hr bus ride from Kathmandu, or flight and 4hr bus ride||late Sep-May/3 (4+)||Bardia National Park|
|Tamur||12||920-1300||18hr bus ride from Kathmandu, or flight then three-day trek; flight or 16hr bus back (six days of rafting in total)||Oct-Dec/4 (5-)||trek to Kanchenjunga|
What to Bring
If you go on an organised rafting or kayaking trip, all specialised equipment is supplied, as well as tents. Roll-top dry bags keep your gear dry even if the vessel flips.
Usually you will only need light clothing, with a warmer change for cool nights. A swimsuit, a towel, a sunhat, insect repellent, sunscreen and light tennis shoes or sandals (that will stay on your feet) are all necessary. In winter you will need thermal clothing, especially on rivers like the Bhote Kosi. Check if companies provide paddle jackets and wetsuits.
Waterproof camera containers are useful to take photos along the river – ask your company if they have any for hire or, better, bring your own.
Anyone who is seriously interested in rafting and kayaking should get White Water Nepal by Peter Knowles. It has very detailed information on river trips, with 60 maps, river profiles and hydrographs, plus advice on equipment and health. Check out www.riverspublishing.co.uk or get a copy of the book in Kathmandu.
Himalayan Maphouse and Peter Knowles have produced three river maps for kayakers and rafters: Whitewater Rafting and Kayaking for Western Nepal, Central Nepal and Eastern Nepal.
The website of the Nepal Association of Rafting Agencies (www.raftingassociation.org.np) has listings of rafting companies, overviews of river routes and information on the annual Himalayan Whitewater Challenge.
The Nepal River Conservation Trust (www.nrct.org.np) is a worthy organisation that lobbies to protect Nepal's rivers. Its campaigns include protection of the Karnali, Nepal's last free-flowing river, and clean-up campaigns of Kathmandu's Bagmati River.
Choosing a River
Before you decide on a river, you need to decide what it is that you want out of your trip. There are trips available from two to 12 days on different rivers, all offering dramatically different experiences.
First, don’t believe that just because it’s a river it’s going to be wet ‘n’ wild. Some rivers, such as the Sun Kosi, which is a full-on white-water trip in September and October, are basically flat in the low water of early spring. On the flip side, early spring can be a superb time to raft rivers such as the Marsyangdi, which would be suicidal during high flows. The Karnali is probably the only river that offers continually challenging white water at all flows, though during the high-water months of September and May it’s significantly more challenging than in the low-water months.
Longer trips such as the Sun Kosi (in the autumn), the Karnali and the Tamur offer some real heart-thumping white water with the sense of journey inherent in a long river trip. With more time on the river, things are more relaxed, relationships progress at a more natural pace, and memories become entrenched for a lifetime. River trips are much more than gravity-powered roller-coaster rides; they’re liquid journeys traversed on very special highways.
For a shorter float combined with some premier wildlife-watching, consider also the two- to three-day raft from Mugling to Chitwan National Park and a day raft on the Geruwa River near Bardia National Park.
Dam construction is having a big impact on the quality of rafting on many rivers in Nepal. Check locally to see how this has affected runs before booking a trip.
There are dozens of companies in Kathmandu claiming to be rafting and kayaking operators. A few are well-established companies with good reputations, and the rest are newer companies, often formed by guides breaking away and starting their own operations. Although these new companies can be enthusiastic and good, they can also be shoestring operations that may not have adequate equipment and staff. Most of the small travel agencies simply sell trips on commission; often they have no real idea about the details of what they are selling and are only interested in getting bums on seats.
If a group has recently returned from a trip, speak to its members. This will give you reliable information about the quality of equipment, the guides, the food and the transportation. Question the company about things such as how groups get to and from the river, the number of hours spent paddling or rowing, where the camps are set up, what food is provided (rafting promotes a very healthy appetite), who does the cooking and work around the camp, the cooking fuel used (wood isn’t convenient or responsible), what happens to rubbish, hygiene precautions and night-time activities. Check how many people have booked and paid for a trip, as well as the maximum number that will be taken.
Shorter trips depart every few days, but the longer rafting trips only depart every week or so, so it’s worth contacting a company in advance to see when they are planning a trip. The best companies will refer you to a friendly competitor if they don’t have any suitable dates.
Generally you’ll be rafting or kayaking for around five to six hours a day, and you can expect to be running rapids about 30% of the time depending on the river. The first and last days will most likely be half days. Longer trips of a week or more will probably have one rest day when you can relax or explore the surroundings.
Trips booked in Nepal range in price from US$60 to US$120 a day, depending on the standard of service, number of people on the trip, and the river. Generally you get what you pay for. It is better to pay a bit more and have a good, safe trip than to save US$100 and have a lousy, dangerous trip.
With the constant change in rafting and kayaking companies it’s difficult to make individual recommendations; the fact that a company is not recommended here does not necessarily mean it will not deliver an excellent trip. Nonetheless, a number of companies have been recommended for their professionalism.
Adrenaline Rush Trisuli rafting and kayaking trips, including tubing and ‘ducky’ (inflatable kayak) trips, from a simple camp at Kuringhat on the Trisuli. Shares an office with Chhango.
Adventure Aves Thamel-based Nepali-British operation focused on rafting and kayaking, with a camp on the Trisuli River. Contact Dil Bahadur Gurung.
Drift Nepal All the major rivers are represented, as well as kayak clinics and treks. Based in Thamel. Contact Sanjay Gurung.
Equator Expeditions This company specialises in long participatory rafting/kayaking trips and kayak instruction at the Sukute Beach Resort on the Bhote Khosi.
GRG Adventure Kayaking Run by Nepal’s best kayaker. Operates rafting and kayaking trips and a four-day kayak clinic at a tented camp close to Fishling, near Kuringhat. Also rents kayaks.
Paddle Nepal As well as several white-water rafting options, there are beginner kayak clinics and combined canyoning/rafting expeditions at this Pokhara-based operation.
Rapidrunner Expeditions Offers kayak clinics and ‘ducky trips’ (gentle paddles in small rafts), in addition to serious white-water rafting trips. Pokhara based.
Ultimate Descents Nepal Near Northfield Cafe in Thamel and part of the Borderlands group; it also has an office in Pokhara. Specialises in long participatory rafting trips as well as kayak instruction and clinics on the Seti River or at its Sun Koshi Beach Camp.
Ultimate Rivers Associated with the New Zealand company Ultimate Descents International. The Kathmandu office is shared with Last Resort.
Safety is the most important part of any river trip. Unfortunately, there are no minimum safety conditions enforced by any official body in Nepal. This makes it very important to choose a professional rafting and kayaking company. Your guide should give you a comprehensive safety talk and paddle training before you launch off downstream. If you don’t get this, it is probably cause for concern.
- Modern self-bailing rafts, good life jackets and helmets are essential.
- There should be a minimum of two rafts per trip. In higher water, three rafts are safer than two.
- Good safety kayakers are invaluable on steeper rivers where they can often get to swimmers in places no other craft could manage.
- If possible, speak with the guide who will lead the trip to get an impression of the people you will be spending time with and the type of trip they run.
- All guides should have a current first-aid certificate and be trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation. International accreditation such as the Swiftwater Rescue Technician (SRT) qualification is a bonus.
- Always wear your life jacket in rapids. Wear your helmet whenever your guide tells you, and make sure that both the helmet and jacket are properly adjusted and fitted.
- Keep your feet and arms inside the raft. If the raft hits a rock or wall and you are in the way, the best you’ll escape with is a laceration.
- If you do swim in a rapid, get into the ‘white-water swimming position’. You should be on your back, with your feet downstream and up where you can see them. Hold on to your paddle as this will make you more visible. Relax and breathe when you aren’t going through waves. Then turn over and swim at the end of the rapid when the water becomes calmer. Self-rescue is the best rescue.
There has been a continuous increase in the number of kayakers coming to Nepal over the last few years, and it is justifiably recognised as a mecca for paddlers. Several companies offer trips that cater specifically to kayakers, where you get to explore the river with rafts carrying all your gear and food, and often camp near choice play spots.
The opportunities for kayak expeditions are exceptional. Of note, at the right flows, are the Mardi Khola, Tamba Kosi, Karnali headwaters, Thuli Bheri, Balephi Khola and tributaries of the Tamur.
The upper Modi Khola is also good for experienced kayakers. The side creek of the Bhurungdi Khola, by Birethani village, hides several waterfalls that are runnable by experienced kayakers.
Nepal is an ideal place to learn to kayak and several companies offer learner kayak clinics. Due to the high levels of communication required to teach, the best instruction clinics tend to be staffed by both Western and Nepali instructors. Kayak clinics normally take about four days, which gives you time to get a good grounding in the basics of kayaking, safety and river dynamics.
The clinics are a pretty laid-back introduction to kayaking, with around four to six hours of paddling a day. On day one you’ll learn self-rescue, T-rescue and the Eskimo roll, which will help you to right yourself when you capsize. Day two sees you on the river, learning to ferry glide (cross the river), eddy in and eddy out (entering and leaving currents) and perfecting your paddling strokes. Day three is when you start really having fun on the river, running small (class 2) rapids and journeying down the river, learning how to read the rapids. Expect one instructor for every three people.
Equator Expeditions and Ultimate Rivers operate clinics on the upper Sun Kosi. Equator runs the Sukute Beach Resort, just north of Sukute village between kilometre markers 69 and 70. It’s fairly comfortable, but has squat toilets and cold showers, and it has a great spot on the river, with a private beach, a bar area with pool tables and a lovely stretch of river nearby. It also has a pool, which is a real bonus when learning Eskimo rolls.
Ultimate Rivers uses the Ultimate Rivers Bhote Koshi Resort, between kilometre markers 83 and 84, which is a similarly basic camp. Equator charges US$200 for a four-day clinic if you don't mind taking the bus to get there. For both trips check what kind of transportation is included. You may find yourself flagging down local buses and putting your kayak on the roof for short rides after a trip down the river.
The Royal Beach Camp offers two- to seven-day kayak clinics from its fixed camp and swimming pool at Kataudi on the Trisuli River, 85km from Kathmandu. Packages include two- to seven-day kayak clinics, combination kayaking, rafting and canyoning trips, and family-friendly expeditions.
Ultimate Descents Nepal operates its four-day clinics on the gentle Seti River, for around US$260, from Pokhara to Pokhara. The first day’s training takes place on Phewa Tal and the remaining three days are on the Seti, with two nights’ riverside camping. The advantage to learning on the Seti is that you get to journey down a wilderness river. Upper Sun Kosi kayak clinics can also be structured for instruction from one to four days from its base at the Sun Koshi Beach Camp.
Kayaking specialists like GRG Adventure Kayaking can often arrange kayaking tuition during the quieter sections of a Sun Kosi rafting run.
Drift Nepal also offers a four-day kayak clinic where you get your tuition while paddling down the lower Seti and staying in temporary beach camps; figure on US$280 per person.
Nose plugs are useful for those practise Eskimo rolls and you should bring a warm change of clothes as you are going to get wet. The bulk of kayak clinics operate in late October, November, March and April. December to February clinics are still possible, but with shorter days, and there’s a lot less sunlight to warm you up at the beginning and end of the day.
Perhaps surprisingly, rock climbing is still in its infancy in Nepal and caving is even less developed. Most of the climbing is around the Kathmandu Valley. Hardcore Nepal offers a four-day climbing course for US$420, and Kathmandu's Astrek Climbing Wall offers guided weekly climbs for all levels at nearby Nagarjun.
Climbing Nepal's trekking peaks as part of a multiday training course is a popular activity.
If you prefer to get under rocks, then Hardcore offers combined climbing, abseiling and caving trips to the Siddha Gufa, a huge cave near Bandipur, as well as three-day multi-activity trips (US$250) that combine caving and canyoning.
For those who want to up the adrenaline ante there are two established bungee jumps in Nepal. Last Resort, on the road between Kathmandu and Tibet, offers a 160m plunge (one of the 10 highest bungee jumps in the world) off a bridge spanning a gorge through which the Bhote Kosi rages. It charges US$99 for a bungee day package that includes lunch and transportation.
Further west more elastic-band 'fun' can be had just outside Pokhara, where Zip-Flyer Nepal offers a 70m-high tower bungee jump (US$68). The same fiendish minds also offer an 1800m-long zipline ride (US$68) where speeds of 120km/h can be reached.
This wet-and-wild sport is a combination of abseiling, climbing, swimming and jumping into rivers. The best known canyoning area is on the turbulent Bhote Kosi north of Kathmandu on the road to Tibet, but there are more canyons in Sundarijal in the Kathmandu Valley and at Jalbiri en route to Chitwan. September, October, April and May offer the best conditions.
Paragliding, where you strap yourself to a tandem parachute and silently sail on the thermals with incredible views of Annapurna and Macchapuchhare, is available just outside Pokhara and in Bandipur.
One of the longest-established paragliding companies, Sunrise Paragliding offers flights and courses from its Pokhara base.
Frontiers Paragliding is also based in Pokhara; if you enjoy its tandem flights you can sign up for a multiday package or take a pilot's course.
There's little regulation in the paragliding industry and injuries such as broken ankles or worse are not unheard of. Ask to see your pilot's licence before committing; a pilot with a minimum of three years' experience is what you are looking for.
An ultralight, which is like a paraglider with a lawnmower strapped to it, is a fabulous way to view the mountain peaks. Flights are available through Avia Club Nepal and Pokhara Ultralight, both based in Pokhara. The 60-minute option gets you thrillingly close to the peaks; less than this and you'll just be flying around Phewa Tal. Open cockpits are more exciting but colder; a fixed-wing option gets you higher quicker.
Not all activities in Nepal involve a head for heights, a love of speed or a desire to get soaked in freezing river rapids. The three big national parks of the Terai – Chitwan, Bardia and Koshi Tappu – all offer safaris, forest walks and boat/canoe rides, all of which are delightfully relaxing and calm.
There’s a huge variety of adventures on offer in Nepal, from short village bike rides in the Kathmandu Valley to challenging mountain single track trails, and from family friendly warm-water floats to full-on white-water trips through some of the remotest corners of the country.
Exploring Nepal’s trails and rivers on your own is possible but most people sign up for organised trips, which generally leave every few days in the high season months of October and early November. Kathmandu alone has dozens of adventure companies specialising in both fixed-group departures and customised private trips for rafters and cyclists.
Biking, Rafting & Kayaking
While Nepal may be synonymous with trekking, its world-class rapids and exhilarating mountain descents are made for white-water rafting and mountain biking. Many of the bike trails are best suited to more experienced riders with a good level of fitness. And while most can be done on your own, you’ll often need to rely on locals for directions, so hiring a guide or signing up for an organised tour will make life considerably easier. Nepal boasts rafting and kayaking routes suitable for beginners and pros alike, and your choice is dependent on how much of a buzz you can handle.
With the nature of mountain biking and rafting, these physical pursuits were not adversely affected by the 2015 earthquakes, but check before you set off for a route to make sure the trails are clear and rivers are flowing freely.
The Scar Road from Kathmandu
Duration Seven hours, or two days with overnight in Kakani
Summary Fine views and a challenging descent through a national park, after a tough initial climb of around 700m.
This trip northwest of Kathmandu can be a fairly demanding ride, and is suited to more experienced riders; a guide is highly recommended.
Leaving Kathmandu (elevation 1337m), head towards Balaju on the Ring Rd 2km north of Thamel, and follow the sealed Trisuli Bazaar road towards Kakani, 23km away at an altitude of 2073m. You start to climb out of the valley as the track twists and turns past Nagarjun Hill, which provides the road with a leafy canopy. Once you’re through the initial pass and out of the valley, the road continues northwest and offers a view of endless terraced fields to your left. (If you don’t fancy the climb, you can avoid cycling on the road by putting your bike on the roof of the early-morning bus to Dhunche and getting off there.) On reaching the summit of the ridge, take a turn right (at a clearly marked T-junction), instead of continuing down to Trisuli Bazaar. (If you go too far, you reach a checkpoint just 100m beyond.) At this point magnificent views of the Ganesh Himal (himal means a range with permanent snow) provide the inspiration required to complete the remaining 4km of steep and deteriorating blacktop to the crown of the hill at Kakani for a well-deserved rest. It’s an excellent idea to overnight here at the Tara Gaon, or another such guesthouse, and savour the dawn views over the Himalaya.
After admiring the view, descend for just 30m beyond the gate and take the first left onto a 4WD track. This track will take you through the popular picnic grounds frequented on Saturday by Kathmandu locals. Continue in an easterly direction towards Shivapuri. The track narrows after a few kilometres near a metal gate on your left. Through the gate, you are faced with some rough stone steps and then a 10-minute push/carry up and over the hilltop to an army checkpoint. Here it’s necessary for foreigners to pay a Rs 556 entry fee to the Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park, plus a Rs 1000 fee for their bike. Exit the army camp, turning right where the Scar Rd is clearly visible in front of you. You are now positioned at the day’s highest point – approximately 2200m.
Taking the right-hand track you will start to descend dramatically along an extremely steep, rutted single trail with several water crossings. The trail is literally cut into the side of the hill, with sharp drops on the right that challenge a rider’s skill and nerve. As you hurtle along, take time to admire the view of the sprawling Kathmandu Valley below – it’s one of the best. In recent years the trail has become quite overgrown so you may have to carry your bike for several stretches and seek out the correct path. A guide would be useful for this section.
The trail widens, after one long gnarly climb before the saddle, then it’s relatively flat through the protected Shivapuri watershed area. This beautiful mountain-biking section lasts for nearly 25km before the trail descends into the valley down a 7km spiral on a gravel road. This joins a sealed road, to the relief of jarred wrists, at Budhanilkantha, where you can buy refreshments. Take a moment to see the Sleeping Vishnu just up on your left at the main intersection. From here the sealed road descends gently for the remaining 15km back into the bustle of Kathmandu, although this part of the ride is generally through busy city traffic and not much fun.
Kathmandu to Pokhara
Duration Five days
Summary Fine views and challenging trails that take you off the beaten track and through historic Newari towns.
It’s possible to ride from Kathmandu to Pokhara in 12 to 14 hours along the busy Prithvi Hwy, but unless you’re in a hurry the back roads are much better suited to mountain biking. Different companies offer different routes, some up to eight days' duration. This route will take you along some fairly rural trails that see few foreigners, so a guide or an organised tour is a good idea. Otherwise you’ll need to rely on villagers to point you in the right direction. Hotels and places to eat can be a little thin on the ground in places and many tour companies recommend doing this ride as a full camping trip.
Day one sees you leaving Thamel in a northerly direction along the busy tarmac road, taking a left at the Kantipath exit. Continue along this road for 3km, past the American embassy and cross the Ring Rd at Maharajganj. From here it’s a steady 6km uphill to Budhanilkantha, taking a break to see the Sleeping Vishnu. Continuing on, you leave the tarmac behind in a cloud of dust. The trail begins with a 3.5km climb to the army checkpoint where you pay the entry fees (Rs 560 for you, Rs 1000 for the bike) to Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park. Follow the rocky trail through the forest for 4km until you reach a clearing. Ignore the first small road on your right, and instead take the next right after it, leading you downhill for 18km. Ignore the crossroads and head straight. If unsure, ask locals the way to Bidur, or better yet, get a guide.
After the descent you head along a mostly flat road with the Likhu Khola on your right. After 8km you’ll cross the river and then go on to a paved road where the river will be on your left for about 5km before meeting the Trisuli River. Cross the bridge on your right and take a left through the village, riding through town before taking another left at the small paved road. On reaching the main road, head right and ride 3km to Bidur, from where you need to look out for a small turn on your right. Ask the locals for the way to Nuwakot Durbar, a steep 1½-hour climb from Bidur.
Day two is an up-and-down affair that covers a distance of 65km, starting with a gradual climb along a tarmac road from Trisuli Bazaar 12km uphill to Samari. From here it’s a rough trail that passes through Taksar, finishing up on a sealed road leading to Dhadhing Besi (via Ratmate), where you spend the night.
The next day starts along tarmac, taking you up to Muralibhanjyang, from where it’s a dirt road past Nepal’s second-largest tar (flatland river valley) at Tallo Rampur. Continue along the Budhi Gandaki River, which you cross, and then pass through Bunkghat. The last stretch is a gradual ascent to the Newari town of Gorkha, famous for its Shah palace at Gorkha Durbar.
Day four starts with a 10km descent, crossing Daraudi River at Chhepetar. From here it’s a relatively easy 35km cross-country ride passing more tars and jungle, finishing up the day at Sundarbazar.
This brings you to the final day, saving the best views till last, as you whiz past towering Himalayan vistas. It’s an undulating day of riding that covers around 63km, finishing up with a night out in Pokhara to celebrate the completion of your ride.
Upper Mustang – Jomsom to Lo Manthang
Duration 12 days, including a rest day
Maximum elevation 5545m
Summary An epic journey through remote and stunning stretches of the country. It’s a challenging and technical ride, suitable for experienced riders only. There are teahouses on this route.
The first obstacle is forking out the US$500 permit to visit the restricted region of Upper Mustang (applicable for 10 days). Furthermore, you’ll need to be part of an organised tour – but this can be as simple as employing a guide, which in the long run is a good idea to make sure you’re on the right path. With the amount of hills you’re about to tackle, a porter is highly recommended too.
Flying into Jomsom (unless you’re nuts and want to ride there from Pokhara, an increasingly popular uphill assault), the journey begins with a gentle two-hour ride that’ll take you to the first night’s stop at the Buddhist village of Kagbeni (2801m). Day two is a mostly uphill ride along the jeep track to Muktinath, taking things slowly to get acclimatised to the altitude, while allowing you to take in stunning mountain views. The next day takes you into the restricted region of Upper Mustang, starting with an uphill climb to Gyu La (4077m). This involves carrying your bike at times, but you are rewarded with a 1000m descent along a single track. The final stage is a slight climb and river crossing to reach Chele (3050m), where you spend the night.
The next day is shorter but no less taxing, as you head up into the hills taking on no less than four passes, all exceeding 3600m. You’ll be following jeep and single tracks, with a mix of steep climbs and descents, and once again you’ll have to lug your bike uphill at times. Stop for the night below Syangboche La (3800m) on the Syangboche River.
While day five begins with more climbing (sigh), once you’ve cleared Syangboche La and Nyi La (4010m), rest assured the remainder of the day has mostly flat tracks. It also has some of the best scenery you’ll see on the trip, with great views of the Himalaya, valleys and bright-yellow mustard fields. Overnight in Charang (Tsarang), with its 400-year-old Gulpa Sect Monastery.
Day six sets out to the crowning jewel of the journey, the walled kingdom city of Lo Manthang. You’ll catch your first glimpse of it as you cross the ‘Windy Pass’ of Lo La (3950m). Today is a bit of a climb, but riding is mostly easy along a jeep track, with a 25km total riding distance. Arrive in Lo Manthang at lunchtime, and take a well-earned break. Spend a day or two here taking in the atmosphere of this amazing medieval kingdom. An option for your ‘rest day’ is a side trip up to Garphu following the Kali Gandaki River to Ghom cave.
After giving your legs a day off, it’s time to leave Lo Manthang, starting with a challenging climb over Pangga (Samduling) at 4090m, a 75% rideable single track. From here it’s a thrilling downhill road to Dhakmar, with dramatic landscapes. Head on to Ghemi (Ghami) for the night; it’s your last stop in Mustang.
Heading back, on day nine you retrace the same trail with a single-track climb followed by a downhill to Syangboche, spending the night in Samar. Day 10 takes you over Dajori La (3735m) and Taklam La (3624m), passing sky burials en route. Next you cycle downhill to spend the night in Chhusang. From here you leave Upper Mustang and head back into the Annapurna region, a steady ride along the river taking you back to Kagbeni. You have the option to overnight or continue on down the valley to Jomsom, where you either fly to Pokhara or Kathmandu, or otherwise complete the ride through to Pokhara.
Muktinath to Pokhara
Duration Six days
Maximum elevation 3710m
Summary Mostly downhill journey that follows half the Annapurna Circuit, often along the jeep track from Jomsom.
While the construction of the road from Jomsom has trekkers mourning the death of the old Annapurna trekking route, mountain bikers are salivating at this new trail opening up to them. Most people start this increasingly popular route by flying into Jomsom.
From Jomsom enjoy a mostly flat two-hour ride to Kagbeni, where you could stay the night. Day two is a 1000m climb from Kagbeni up to Muktinath, with arid desert landscape and spectacular views to Dhaulagiri and other 8000m peaks. The next day is an undulating trail taking you to Marpha via Lupra, with 30% of the day involving pushing or carrying your bike. Day four sees another downhill leg heading to Tatopani, where you can soothe those aching leg muscles in natural hot-water springs. Getting back on the bike for day five, a descent leads you along the Kali Gandaki River to Beni. From here it’s a highway ride to Naudanda and then a jeep track to Sarangkot. Hang around for the night to see spectacular sunrise views of the Himalaya and finish the journey on day six via the steep narrow trail to Pokhara.
Kathmandu Valley Loop via Nagarkot & Namobuddha
Duration Three days
Summary A circular route past a classic selection of the valley’s cultural sights. There are numerous routes on offer, so you can tailor your trip according to tastes. Another popular option goes via Bhaktapur and Changu Narayan.
This route passes through areas that were badly affected by the 2015 earthquake, but the biking trails themselves are mostly unaffected. From Thamel head east past the Royal Palace, follow the road straight through Naxal and cross over the Ring Rd to visit the Pashupatinath Temple. Continue along a hectic road to Bodhnath, stopping to explore this fascinating Tibetan Buddhist town. Pedal on to Jorpati, where you take a right, and traffic becomes light, passing along the edge of Gokarna Forest. Continue on to Sankhu, along the old trade route from Kathmandu to Lhasa, for another temple stop and refreshments. From here it’s a jeep trail that heads mostly uphill past the Vajrayogini Temple and Lapsiphedi village en route to Jarsingpauwa. Trails from here are mostly flat until you reach Kattike, from where you’ll need to suck it up for the 10km uphill to Nagarkot, where you’ll spend the night.
Follow the trekking trail linking Nagarkot to Dhulikhel; the rough track is a one- to two-hour ride. To access it, you’ll need to follow the tarmac road heading to the viewing tower, pass by the army camp and head down to the village of Rohini Bhanjyang. From here you choose the trail on the left side; look out for the signs. After 1km, take a right down a small trail that’ll lead you through to the villages of Kankre and Tanchok. From here the trail continues to Opi, passing farmhouses, from where it’s a further 5km to Dhulikhel. Stop here for lunch, refreshments and mesmerising mountain views. The final leg is a two-hour up-and-down journey through gorgeous scenery to Namobuddha, home to a monumental Tibetan Buddhist monastery up on a hill.
Get an early start to explore Namobuddha Monastery, before jumping on your bike for a downhill section followed by a cross-country trail to the Newari town of Panauti. Leave at least an hour to explore the old town before heading off. Don’t let the heavenly first 4.5km of tarmac lull you into a false sense of security. The road soon deteriorates into 3km of dirt road to the village of Kushadevi, followed by 2.5km of bone-jarring stony track to Riyale. From here the valley starts to close in and gets increasingly remote – this is definitely not the place to blow a tyre! It’s amazing how remote the route is, considering how close it is to Kathmandu. If you’re not an experienced mountain biker, you’re probably better off considering this as a motorbike route.
The next 8.5km is on a smooth dirt road that switchbacks up the hillsides to Lakuri Bhanjyang (1960m). You may find some basic food stalls but the actual summit is currently occupied by the army. In the past, travel companies have set up tented camp accommodation near here but this depends on tourism numbers and the level of army presence. Figure on spending two to three hours to get to here.
From this point on it’s all downhill. The first section drops down the back side of the hill, blocking the views, but you soon get great views of the Annapurna and Ganesh Himal massifs – particularly spectacular in sunset’s pink glow.
A further 5km of descent, rough at times, brings you to the turn-off left to Sisneri and the first village on this side of the pass. Soon the asphalt kicks in again, shortly followed by the pleasant village of Lubbhu, with its impressive central three-tiered Mahalakshmi Mahadev Temple. Traffic levels pick up for the final 5km to the Kathmandu ring road near Patan; be prepared for ‘civilisation’ to come as a bit of a shock after such a beautiful, peaceful ride.
The Rajpath from Kathmandu
Duration Two days
Summary Classic but gruelling and dangerous (because of traffic) on-road ride over a 2488m pass, culminating with incomparable Himalayan views at Daman.
The ride begins on the Kathmandu–Pokhara (Prithvi) Hwy, which gives the only access to the valley. After leaving the valley, the highway descends to Naubise, at the base of the Mahesh Khola Valley, 27km from Kathmandu, where the Rajpath intersects with the Prithvi Hwy. Take the Rajpath, which forks to the left and is well signposted, for Hetauda. Start a 35km climb to Tistung (2030m) past terraced fields carved into steep hillsides. On reaching the pass at Tistung you descend for 7km into the beautiful Palung Valley before the final steep 9km climb to Daman, at a height of 2322m.
This day’s ride (almost all climbing) takes between six and nine hours in the saddle. With an early start it is possible to stay in Daman, which will give you the thrill of waking up to the broadest Himalayan panorama Nepal has to offer. The following day the road climbs a further 3km to the top of the pass, at 2488m. At this point you can savour the very real prospect of an exhilarating 2300m descent in 60km!
As you descend towards Nepal's Terai plains, laid out before you to the south, notice the contrast with the side you climbed, as the south side is lush and semitropical. With innumerable switchbacks and a bit of speed you should watch out for the numerous buses and trucks looming around blind corners. The road eventually flattens out after the right turn to cross a newly constructed bridge and the first main river crossing. The rest of the journey is a gently undulating route alongside a river; a further 10km brings you to Hetauda. (Note that there are useful cyclists’ notebooks in the Motel Avocado.) After a night’s rest you can continue along the Rajpath towards India or turn right at the statue of the king in the centre of town and head towards Chitwan National Park.
Pokhara to Sarangkot & Naudanda
Duration Seven hours, or an overnight trip
Summary Work up a sweat to two of Pokhara’s best Himalayan viewpoints, followed by a great downhill coast.
Leave early and ride along Lakeside (towards the mountains) to the last main intersection and sealed road. Turn right; this is the road that returns to central Pokhara. After 2km you turn left and continue straight (north). This intersection is the zero kilometre road marker. After a further 2km there is a smaller sealed road to the left, signposted as the road to Sarangkot.
This road winds its way along a ridge into Sarangkot, providing outstanding views of the Himalaya, which seems close enough to reach out and touch. After 6km a few teahouses make a welcome refreshment stop just where the stone steps mark the walking trail to the summit. From here your path is a 4WD track that closely hugs the edge of the mountain overlooking Phewa Tal. Continue until you join a Y-intersection that doubles back sharply to the right and marks the final climb to Sarangkot. You can turn this ride into a relaxed overnight trip by staying in lodges here.
From Sarangkot continue straight ahead, riding the narrower motorcycle trails leading to Kaski and Naudanda. After the Sarangkot turn-off the trail soon begins to climb to Kaski, towards the hill immediately in front of you. The section to Kaski takes around 30 to 60 minutes, and you may need to push your bicycle on the steeper section near the crown of the hill. Over the top you follow the trail through to Naudanda. You are now at around 1590m, having gained around 840m of altitude from Pokhara. The trail is rocky in parts and will test your equipment to the extreme, so do not consider riding this trail on a cheap hired bicycle.
From Naudanda it’s a 32km downhill run to Pokhara along the smooth asphalt highway. The route starts with a twisting 6km descent into the Mardi Khola Valley then descends gently as it follows the river, allowing an enjoyable coast almost all the way to Pokhara.
Rafting & Kayaking Routes
Duration One to two days
Start Baireni or Charaudi
Finish Multiple locations
Summary Popular introduction to rafting, and a wild ride during the monsoon.
With easy access just out of Kathmandu, the Trisuli is where many budget river trips operate, and is the obvious choice if you are looking for a short introduction to rafting at the cheapest possible price.
After diving into the valley west of Kathmandu, the Prithvi Hwy follows the Trisuli River. Most of the rapids along this route are class II to class III, but the water can build up to class IV in the monsoon.
The Trisuli has some good scenery but with the main busy road to Kathmandu beside the river it is not wilderness rafting. Some operators have their own fixed campsites or lodges, ranging from safari-style resorts to windblown village beaches complete with begging kids and scavenging dogs.
When booking, ask where the put-in point is: anything starting at Kuringhat or Mugling will mainly be a relaxing float. During the mid-monsoon months (August to early October) the Trisuli changes character completely as huge runoffs make the river swell like an immense ribbon of churning ocean, especially after its confluence with the Bhodi Gandaki. At these flows it provides a classic big-volume Himalayan river so make sure you choose a reputable company to go with.
Multiday trips continue downriver towards Narayangarh and Chitwan National Park, but the rapids below Kurintar are much more gentle.
Duration One day
Start 95km from Kathmandu, near the Tibetan border
Summary Just three hours from Kathmandu, the Bhote Kosi is one of the best short raft trips to be found anywhere in the world.
The Bhote Kosi is the steepest river rafted in Nepal – technical and totally committing. With that said, beginners can still give it a go. With a gradient of 16m per kilometre, it’s a full eight times as steep as the Sun Kosi, which it feeds further downstream. The rapids are steep and continuous class IV, with a lot of continuous class III in between.
This river is one of the most fun things you can do right out of Kathmandu and a great way to get an adrenaline fix during the low-water months, but it should only be attempted with a company that has a lot of experience on the Bhote Kosi, and is running the absolute best guides, safety equipment and safety kayakers.
Sadly, a huge landslide and the subsequent build up of a natural dam in mid-2014 has, for the moment at least, rather taken the shine off this river and currently few people are rafting it. Enquire with Kathmandu agencies for the latest news.
Upper Sun Kosi
Duration One day
Finish Dolalghat or Sukute Beach
Summary A great place for a short family trip or learner kayak clinics. Can be combined over two days with the Bhote Kosi.
The top section of the Upper Sun Kosi from below the dam to near Sukute Beach is a class III white-water run offering a good opportunity to get a feel for rafting.
The lower section is a mellow scenic float, with forest down to the river, and it is a popular river for kayak clinics. At high flows during and just after the monsoon rains, the Upper Sun Kosi is a full-on class III to IV high-adrenaline day trip.
Duration Two days
Summary A quieter river that is perfect for beginners, birdwatchers, families and learner kayakers.
The Seti is an excellent two-day trip in an isolated area, with beautiful jungle, white sandy beaches and plenty of class II to III rapids. The warm water also makes it a popular place for winter trips and kayak clinics. During the monsoon the river changes radically as monsoon runoff creates class III to IV rapids.
The logical starting point is Damauli on the Prithvi Hwy between Mugling and Pokhara. This would give you 32km of rafting to the confluence with the Trisuli River. From the take-out at Gaighat it’s just a one-hour drive to Chitwan National Park.
Upper Kali Gandaki
Duration Three days (two days rafting)
Start Beni or Baglung
Finish Andhi Khola
Summary Diverse trip down the holy river, through deep gorges and past waterfalls.
The Upper Kali Gandaki is an excellent alternative to the Trisuli, as there is no road alongside, and the scenery, villages and temples all combine to make it a great trip.
The rapids on the Kali Gandaki are technical and continuous (at class III to IV, sometimes even V depending on the flows), and in high water it’s no place to be unless you are an accomplished kayaker experienced in avoiding big holes. At medium and lower flows it’s a fun and challenging river with rapids that will keep you busy.
The Kali Gandaki is one of the holiest rivers in Nepal, and every river junction is dotted with cremation sites and burial mounds. If you’re wondering what’s under that pile of rocks, we recommend against exploring! Because of the recent construction of a dam at the confluence with the Andhi Khola, what was once a four- to five-day trip has now become a three-day trip, starting at either Beni or Baglung (depending on the operator) and taking out at the dam site, Marmi. At very high flows it will probably be possible to run the full five-day trip to Ramdhighat by just portaging the dam site. This option would add some great white water and you could visit the fantastic derelict palace at Ranighat.
If you can raft to Ramdhighat beside the Siddhartha Hwy between Pokhara and Sunauli, you could continue on to the confluence with the Trisuli at Devghat along the Lower Kali Gandaki. This adds another 130km and three or four more days. The lower section below Ramdhighat doesn’t have much white water, but it is seldom rafted and offers a very isolated area with lots of wildlife.
Duration Four days (two days rafting)
Finish Phaliya Sanghu (Phalesangu)
Summary A magnificent blue white-water river with a spectacular mountain backdrop. Best suited to experienced rafters.
The Marsyangdi is steeper and offers more continuous white water than most other rivers in Nepal; it’s not called the ‘Raging River’ for nothing! You can go by bus to Khudi or Bhulbule, from where it’s a short walk up to the village of Ngadi, with great views of Manaslu ahead of you the whole time.
From Ngadi downstream to the dam side above Phaliya Sanghu, it’s pretty much solid white water. Rapids are steep, technical and consecutive, making the Marsyangdi a serious undertaking. Successful navigation of the Marsyangdi requires companies to have previous experience on the river and to use the best guides and equipment. Rafts must be self-bailing, and should be running with a minimum of weight and gear on board. Professional safety kayakers should be considered a standard safety measure on this river.
A hydro project has severely affected this world-class rafting and kayaking river but it is still possible to have a two-day run on the rapids before reaching the dam. You could divert around the dam and continue on the lower section for another two days but at this stage it is hard to tell how much water will be released and whether it will be worth doing. Future dams are planned for the river so you might want to raft this one soon.
Duration 10 days (seven days rafting)
Summary A classic trip in far western Nepal down its largest and longest river.
The Karnali is a gem, combining a short (two-hour) trek with some of the prettiest canyons and jungle scenery in Nepal. Most experienced river people who have paddled the Karnali find it one of the best all-round river trips they’ve ever done. In high water the Karnali is a serious commitment, combining huge, though fairly straightforward, rapids with a seriously remote location. The river flows through some steep and constricted canyons where the rapids are close together, giving little opportunity to correct for potential mistakes. Pick your company carefully.
At low water the Karnali is still a fantastic trip. The rapids become smaller when the river drops, but the steeper gradient and constricted channel keep it interesting.
The trip starts with a long, but interesting, two-day bus ride to the remote far west of Nepal. If you’re allergic to bus rides, it’s possible to fly to Nepalganj and cut the bus transport down to about four hours on the way over, and two hours on the way back. The new road now runs from Surkhet to Dungeshwar on the river. Once you start on the Karnali it’s 180km to the next road access at Chisopani, on the northern border of the Bardia National Park.
The river section takes about seven days, giving plenty of time to explore some of the side canyons and waterfalls that come into the river valley. Better-run trips also include a layover day, where the expedition stays at the same campsite for two nights. The combination of long bus rides and trekking puts some people off, but anyone who has ever done the trip raves about it. Finish with a visit to the Bardia National Park for an unbeatable combination.
Adventurers can raft the even more remote Seti Karnali, a rarely run scenic stretch of river that starts at Gopghat and takes around seven days to get to Chisopani.
Duration Eight to nine days (six to seven days rafting)
Summary A self-sufficient expedition through central Nepal from the Himalaya to the Gangetic plain.
This is the longest river trip offered in Nepal, traversing 270km through the beautiful Mahabharat Range on its meandering way from the put-in at Dolalghat to the take-out at Chatara in the far east of the country. It’s quite an experience to begin a river trip just three hours out of Kathmandu, barely 60km from the Tibetan border, and end the trip looking down the hot, dusty gun barrel of the north Indian plain just eight or nine days later. Because it’s one of the easiest trips logistically, it’s also one of the least expensive for the days you spend on a river.
The Sun Kosi (River of Gold) starts off fairly relaxed, with only class II and small class III rapids to warm up on during the first couple of days. Savvy guides will take this opportunity to get teams working together with precision.
The river volume increases with the air temperature as several major tributaries join the river, and from the third day the rapids become more powerful and frequent. During high-water trips you may well find yourselves astonished at just how big a river wave can get.
While the lower sections of large-volume rivers are usually rather flat, the Sun Kosi reserves some of its biggest and best rapids for the last days, and the last section is nonstop class IV before a final quiet float down the Sapt Kosi. Some companies add an extra day’s rafting on the lower section of the Tamur, from Mulghat down.
At the right flow it’s an incredible combination of white water, scenery, villages and quiet, introspective evenings.
Note that a new road runs alongside the river for the first 40km of rafting, until the large rapid at Harkapur. It's therefore possible to start here and make a six-day trip on the river.
Duration 12 days
Summary Remote expedition in the foothills of Kanchenjunga in the far east of the country; combines a four-day trek with great rapid running.
Way out in the far east, this river combines one of the best short treks in Nepal with some really challenging white-water action. The logistics of this trip make it a real expedition, and while it is a little more complicated to run than many rivers in Nepal, the rewards are worth the effort.
First you have to get to Basantapur, a 16-hour drive from Kathmandu or a one-hour flight to Biratnagar and then a six-hour drive. Most expeditions begin with a stunning three- or four-day trek from Basantapur up over the Milke Danda Range, past the alpine lake of Gupha Pokhari to Dobhan. At Dobhan three tributaries of the Tamur join forces, combining the waters of the mountains to the north (including Kanchenjunga, the world’s third-largest mountain). The first 16km of rapids is intense, with rapid after rapid, and the white water just keeps coming through towering canyons until the big finale. The best time to raft is at medium flows between mid-October and mid-November.
The Upper Seti River, just outside Pokhara, makes an excellent half-day trip when it is at high flows. Trips operate in mid-September and November (class III+).
The Balephi Khola (above the Bhote Kosi) is run by a few companies from Jalbire to its confluence with the Upper Sun Kosi. Trips normally run only when the river is high from mid-September to early November and in May; it’s a two-day trip that combines this river with the Upper Sun Kosi.
The Bheri River, which is in the west, is a great float trip with incredible jungle scenery and lots of wildlife, making it a possible family trip. This is also one of Nepal’s best fishing rivers and can be combined with a visit to the Bardia National Park.
The powerful Arun River from Tumlingtar makes an excellent three-day wilderness trip with good class III rapids and pristine canyons, although the logistics of flying to the start of the river and getting gear there makes it an expensive trip.
The 2015 earthquake caused landslides in many areas, particularly in Sindhupalchowk, Dolakha and Gorkha districts, and many areas are thought to be at risk of further slips because of the destabilising effects of the tremors. Nepal has a long history of deadly floods caused by landslides – in 2014, 156 people died when a landslide blocked the Sun Kosi river near Jure and thousands were evacuated when the Kali Gandaki river was blocked by a landslide near Beni just weeks after the 12 May tremor. There were no issues on the main rafting rivers at the time of writing, but it pays to check locally before booking a trip in case of further blockages, which are always a risk, particularly during or just after the monsoon.
When to Go
For cyclists October to November offers generally clear skies, warm daytime temperatures and it's not too cold at night.
For rafting Mid- to late October through to the end of November offers the warmest waters and rapids that are exciting without being life threatening. March to May is good for families.
Best Places to be a Beginner
Take a few days to learn about Eskimo rolls and eddies on a kayaking course.
This long day in the bike saddle will give you memorable mountain vistas and a taste for more.
For family friendly rafting you can't beat the Upper Sun Kosi River not far from Kathmandu.
Best Places to be an Adrenaline Junkie
An epic 12-day bike ride through remote and stunning high mountain country.
A short (four-day) but very intense rafting trip with a breathless mountain backdrop.
Exciting rafting trip through remote western Nepal that experienced paddlers tout as one of the world's best.