BUDHI GANGA- THE OLD RIVER- First descent: solo.

Even before the birth of Pure Land Expeditions, Darren was out pushing and exploring in Nepal. This is an old article from 2000 – its pretty raw – but goes to show adventure and exploring are the basis of Pure Land Expeditions.

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Location: WEST NEPAL, FALL 2000

We have fine recreational adventurous activities but we rarely get the chance for genuine new discovery that qualifies as adventure, as Columbus did.

So there I was stocking up on medical supplies in Nepalgunj all the time thinking about my impending trip to this uncharted river. As a matter of fact it felt like I was in the backend of no place, heading for a solo self support trip (not even porters) further up the backside of the back end of no place. And all the time there is the possibility that it might have bugger all water in or perhaps too much water.

It was a strange turn of events that lead me wandering the streets of Nepalgunj between my meals at Hotel Batika in the first place…I suppose its all about personal goals and one upmanship. Perhaps things weren’t good back home? Whatever the reasons and the consequences I was mission bound.

Even with the supposed political (terrorist) trouble in the area, that Unicef had warned me about, I had bought the bus ticket so was gonna get to the river. For those not coerced in the modes of transport in Nepal, It was yet another bus ride on a road that was not complete. This was a night bus, a groggy, smelly 18 hour ride that shook all the bones in my body. A bus ride, which you know, is bad since there was only one driver and I never remember stopping for him to sleep.

The bus crawled sleepily into Saphe Baggar at lunchtime the following day and I wasted no time in untying my kayak and walking towards the river. I am the first to admit that I could have walked upstream for a further 2 days to a village called Martadi, but to honest I didn’t fancy being alone in a strange land with all this political upheaval all around. Anyway it seemed flat. So I think I must be content with the descent from Saphe down to the Seti and hence forth into the Karnali. Perhaps later I will do the walk in.

Putting on in Saphe was a surreal experience and unique even for Nepalese standards. It seemed as I walked through narrow streets that I was the main attraction of the millennium. Launching into the meandering flow the villagers, men, women and children raced down the banks watching until I was out of sight or they could not keep up. Just then, as the last remnants of Saphe’s community faded into the distance, further villagers came to watch the show. Then suddenly without warning it was all over, the groups of villagers were gone, and the river had closed in. I was about to enter a gorge; a rock filled gutter of concentrated white water. As luck would prove it was only a class 4, technical and remote (some might say a 5) but honestly it was only a 4.

Performing boof after boof, pour-over dodging and siphon avoiding this technical adventure flowed on. First to appear on the horizon line was a presumed river wide rock choke. It looked, without a second glance, that the river had beaten me so soon. Upon closer inspection I found a little sneak on the river left just where the water squeezed through a break in the rocks. From this sneak the water refracted off more house size boulders. It was a boulder maze, the likes of which I had never seen before.

Flowing on through the tiny enclosed walls of the gorge, eddies became less frequent whilst the river vanished off the face of the earth. A steep fall on river left and a series of boulders hiding blind rapids on river right. The choice had to be made, no portage was available. Skirting the first boulder on the right I was forced into a pinion, a miss placed boof making me land sideways on a shallow rock shelf. Whilst greater rock slaloms showed up all along the section. It was tight and heavily boulder infested; yet in or just after monsoon I fear that I would be full of the greatest stoppers and be completely unnavigable.

On the flatter section of the river, when I had time to slow down and take a breath, I saw animals that I think even Darwin forgot to catalogue. Small hamlets few very infrequent and the sense of loneliness was always paramount. In front of me was the final section of the Budhi Ganga its steep creekiness receding as it joined the placid Seti Karnali. The descent was over. Other days (no matter how many) spent on this river were nothing new to the paddling community, although they were new to me.

So there I was on this confluence beach, huddled under a rock cooking my first meal of the day. I had paddled the river faster than expected but I knew that I still had a fair few river miles to go until I could reach the take out at Chisipani on the banks of the Karnali. Tucking into the smash and the noodles made of concentrated monosodium glutamate, I though about my little achievement, sure it wasn’t the biggest, wildest or most dangerous river in Nepal. Although perhaps it could have been if things were different, nature had done me proud, she had been gentle. Then it dawned on me. Unlike the mighty Sun Kosi or the wide Seti (that the Budhi Ganga joins) and Karnali all great rivers but they had seem literally thousands of paddle strokes over the years, but the Budhi Ganga had only seen mine.

For the following 2 days I descended the Seti and Karnali. Resting one night by the village of Bijora. As the stars hung in the full moon sky, I lay half-asleep alone on this beach listening to the flow of the mighty river…Suddenly without notice shouts prevailed from across the river. In the darkness I couldn’t quite make out the sources of the voices, but the shouts were violent and my heart missed a few beats. ‘Was this my end,’ a little voice in my head said ‘these guys are Maoist’s, they are the bloody terrorists, you know,’ it continued. All the time I comforted myself with the fact that these people whoever they were appeared to be on the far side of the river and with me on this side there was little chance of any involvement. But then it happened, I saw from the corner of my eye a ripple in the water…a dunga was making its way across the river and it was aimed directly for me. As sleep over took me there was nothing I could have done should they want to kill me.

The voices were quiet, but they managed to wake me from my half-sleeping state. Peering over the edge of the bivvy bag they were not 10 feet away. Chatting in front of a fire these figures from the darkness seemed oblivious to the bright yellow piece of plastic and the kayaker sleeping beside it. Then again sleep over took me and I drifted into the land of nod. Only to wake at the crack of dawn by the shouts and cheers of the local village kids who were attending to the fire that had been left.

Who were the strange visitors, I still don’t know? But I doubt that they would have harmed me since in all probability they were perhaps fishermen. Embarking into the flow again I arrived at Chisipani on the banks of the Karnali pulling out where expected I jumped on a bus back to Kathmandu. ‘It had been a long strange trip,’ I though as I sat down on the small seat, but the journey was not over yet…

Many thanx go to Vagabond, Nookie, System X, Paddle. To. and the Hotel Batika for all there help.
COPYRIGHT DARREN CLARKSON 2000

Logistics-Bus from Kathmandu to Nepalgunj, Bus from Nepalgunj to Saphe Baggar (possibility of flight)
Number of days 3 from saphe to karnali take out [1 DAY FROM SAPHE PUT IN TO SETI KARNALI]
Grade in November-low tight 4, monsoon would make it interesting

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