With its staggering elevation changes and snow melt coming straight from the Himalayas and Annapurnas its no wonder that Nepal is a white water rafter's paradise. As we brainstormed our upcoming trip to Nepal we decided it would be a shame to leave without rafting. After a bit of research I discovered a Lonely Planet recommended company called Paddle Nepal who offered a two day trip on the Marshyangdi River. I was totally enthused until I read that it would be two days of "intense, challenging, and continuous rapids... This river demands 100% commitment from both crew and guides - It is not for the faint hearted!". I quickly decided that I was indeed faint hearted having rafted only once before. Justin, having spend many summers working as a rafting guide in Oregon, remained convinced that this would be the perfect rafting trip. Since two friends would be joining us for our adventures in Nepal, I decided to try to turn the other female against the Marshyangdi plan so we could opt for a calmer river. I invited her over and we watched videos of rafts capsizing in frothing white water while I described to her how a professional French kayaker had drowned on the Marshyangdi not terribly long ago. Each time we watched a raft start to flip she would exclaim, "Stop! No!" When we finished I looked at her hopefully only to be met with, "That looks scary but we can do it! And imagine the stories we'll get out of it!" And so that's how several weeks later I ended up standing on the bank of the river clutching a paddle and wearing a pair of hideous "water sandals" bought hastily in Pokhara when we found out they were required. As we waded into the chilly shallows where our raft was anchored I couldn't help but think of how we were not provided with wet suits on account of "Nepal having unusually warm rivers". I began to send silent prayers that the splash resistant long sleeved tops we'd been provided would keep us at least a little warm.
I have just three things to say about the rafting itself.
1. The rapids were plenty big with waves that sent people sailing, but fortunately only reached class IV in strength whereas they are class V at other times of the year. The first day the rapids were almost continuous so that after three hours we were plenty fatigued and ready to make camp. The second day had longer sections of calm making for a more leisurely end to the trip.
2. Our guide was fantastic, expertly taking us down narrow lines and back into waves to surf them. We wanted a good ride, so he took us down some rougher routes than the other raft, which we appreciated. Yes, I did say we, since even I started to kind of look forward to getting thrown around. Later we found out that our guide was a member of Nepal's National Raft Team.
3. I never fell out. This could be skill or due to the fact that I was slightly terrified and on hyper alert through every rapid... nah, let's go with skill.
If you'd like to see some footage from our trip down the river, check out our Rafting the Marshyangdi video.
If you decide to raft in Nepal I would definitely recommend Paddle Nepal. They have an excellent website and responded quickly to my e-mails while I was setting things up. More importantly, we were impressed with Paddle Nepal's attention to safety. All the guides are highly trained and certified in swiftwater rescue from Rescue 3 International, and many of them have served as rafting guides in other countries, such as New Zealand and Iceland. Before we got in the water the guides gave us a good safety briefing, and we were pleased to see that we would be tackling the river in nice NRS rafts. My only disappointment with the whole experience was that the website provided a little bit of misinformation about the camping part. It stated that we'd be camping on a pristine sandbar which I was really looking forwards too. Instead we spent the night camped out in a school compound where the local men sat on the perimeter watching the "show" late into the evening. So just be aware that the camps might be a little different then described so you're not disappointed! If you do decide to raft with them, be aware that although I didn't see it mentioned on their site, they require everyone to have emergency medical travel insurance. As far as booking with them, you can't pay online for most of the trips, but you can put down a deposit via PayPal to reserve your spot.