Find Nepal’s Culture On Its Rivers

I’m pleased to announce a first for my Board and Kayak Life readers: I have accepted my first Guest Post to my blog!

Janey contacted me not too long ago about the possibility of contributing a Guest Post on my site.

She and her partner, Callum, run River and Soul Adventures in Nepal. They have a deep love of the country, which I think will be quite apparent as you read through this inspiring piece.

After looking into what they do, I realized there was no way I couldn’t run a Guest Post by them! Their company looks amazing and they offer what would truly be a once-in-a-lifetime, bucket list type of trip in the Himalayan wonderland and culturally rich country of Nepal.

Callum and Janey first visited Nepal at a young age and since then have been back numerous times. Working in the outdoor industry around the world, they combined their love of paddlesports, adventure, comfort, and real experiences into their company. They specialize in comfort whitewater expeditions in Nepal. There are no better people to travel to Nepal with!

I think you all will really enjoy this piece. Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Culture Awaits on the Rivers of Nepal

Although only a small country, Nepal has a rich and diverse culture, unique to anything else that I have experienced around the world. The mammoth temples, ancient Stupas, thousands of mystical monasteries, and millions of shrines — but it’s the people who bring it all together.

A stupa surrounded by colorful flags in Nepal
Photo courtesy of River and Soul

The traditions they practice and the folk tales they share truly keep their culture alive.

You can see some of this in Kathmandu, but it’s a real tourist trap. There are so many ‘fake monks’ who get dressed up to simply make a living by charging for photos and asking for ‘donations’. I find the best way to travel Nepal and experience the true culture is by whitewater rafting and kayaking.

There’s a certain kind of draw here…something so different than anywhere else in the world. It’s not just the thrill of the whitewater enticing me here. It’s the stories people come back with.

Paddling in Nepal will take you away from the world.

The sound of traffic will be left behind, the people will become fewer, and eventually the only sounds you hear above the rushing water will be the bird songs and monkey calls.

When you paddle the rivers of Nepal and steer away from the tourists you find the culture is waiting for you.

Whitewater Paddling in Nepal

Nepal has over 6000 rivers, the highest gradient of any country on Earth, not to mention a yearly Monsoon downpour.

Add all these things together and what do you get? Some of the best whitewater paddling in the world!

The rivers of Nepal are truly a whitewater paradise. They offer everything from Grade 2 float-along to Grade 5 adrenaline rushes.

A whitewater raft navigates some rapids on one of Nepal's rivers
Photo courtesy of River and Soul

The rivers are warm and big.  So no matter your ability you’ll be able to find a river to call home.

Nepal is practically all expedition paddling. You can go away for days, even weeks at a time on a single river, spending your days enjoying the sounds of a Nepalese Jungle, gazing behind you and seeing the towering snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas, looking ahead of you and seeing the frothing whitewater of the crashing river. Your nights will be spent on secluded river beaches, sitting round a campfire sharing a beer while you tell stories and gaze up at the stars.

If you have never been on an expedition before then you’ll probably want to use a specialised tour company, like River and Soul.  A tour company will take care of everything for you. From providing whitewater kit, food and transport, to hiring selected guides and even a pack raft to carry all your kit so that you can keep your kayaks light.

Post-rafting relaxation around a campfire after a guided day excursion with River and Soul Adventures in Nepal
Photo courtesy of River and Soul

For the Kayakers

The standard way to travel to Nepal is by air. It can be tricky to get your kayak on a plane, but don’t worry! There are plenty of companies that can rent you kayaks when you are in Nepal.

Because of the expedition style of rivers in Nepal, there is a distinct lack of play boats — and for good reason!

You’ll often be paddling for days at a time, carrying lots of kit and finding big eddy lines that you need to be able to cut through. Creek boats give you lots of volume to pack kit in and they are long, which helps for long journeys and powering across wide eddy lines. Creek boats will be your kayak of choice while in Nepal.

Kayaks that end up in Nepal are almost always second hand. By the time that you get your hands on them they will likely have had several owners. It is probably worth bringing some kit to help you outfit the boat so that it fits you nice and snug!

Nepal’s River Culture

When you get on the river, you’re likely to put on high up in the Himalayan foot hills. As you journey downstream towards the Indian border you’ll see how the country changes. The longer you stay on the rivers the more obvious this change is.

A group of rafters goes through some wild rapids in the foothills of the Himalayas
Photo courtesy of River and Soul

On the Sun Koshi and Karnali expeditions, where you spend 8 days on the river, for example, the mountains slowly diminish from towering peaks to open flat land as you end up in the Terri on the border of India and Nepal.

But it’s not just the geography that changes as you paddle downstream.

Nepal originally had 73 kingdoms. Each kingdom had its own King, language, and culture.

Then, in the 1740s, the king of the Gorkhas started a war to unify these kingdoms into one country. One by one, each kingdom fell under his rule so that today we have Nepal as we know it.

Although land borders may have changed, each kingdom kept their cultural differences. Even today, there are still dozens of dialects spoken throughout Nepal, with locals often knowing several. As you paddle downstream, you pass through these different kingdoms. You’ll see different styles of houses, temples, and ways of life.

Nepal is an incredibly religious and superstitious country. It is the only official Hindu country in the world. But Buddhism has a very strong influence throughout Nepal and even Hindus practice Buddhist traditions. It is the birthplace of Lord Buddha after all!

This will mean that you’ll often see statues and temples devoted to the gods on either side of the river.  Stop off at one of the first ones you see on the river to bless your journey downstream.

Some rivers are even named after gods. The Kali Gandaki, a personal favourite, is named after ‘Kali’ the goddess of destruction!

A statue of Lord Shiva overlooks a river in Nepal

There are also statues to the Lord Shiva at the first night’s campsite. Just walk down the beach as if you were to scout the next rapid, and there he is sitting on top of the largest boulder keeping a watchful eye on the raging river.

If you use a tour company then you will definitely have a team of local guides supporting you. They’ll be on the water with you providing safety, showing you lines, and powering the pack raft.

In the evenings they’ll be making your food, telling you stories, and making you laugh! I highly advise that you get to know them and hear their stories. They are often wanting to practice their English and will be happy for a chat.

Most of the guides grew up on the banks of the river they now guide. They were born in villages by the river banks to families that depend on subsistence farming, meaning that they only grow enough to eat and so don’t have much money.

When they were kids, they’d skip school to come and play in the river and watch the rafting and kayaking groups come by (keep an eye out as even today you’ll see kids using bags of empty water bottles to bravely swim down the rapids!).

They’d head down to where groups were camping to have a go in the kayaks. When a company thought they were good enough they would be offered an apprenticeship and taken to Kathmandu or Pokhara to learn to be river guides!

3 Nepali river guides smile and pose in their small whitewater kayaks
Photo courtesy of River and Soul

My favourite time is always chilling with these guys in the evenings around the fire at the end of the day. If you get them singing that is when the real magic happens. They fill the air with the sound of music, using barrels for drums and having a traditional ‘singing battle’ between themselves. You don’t need to be able to understand their language to feel the music they create!

The river banks are often dotted with villages and towns filled with curious on-lookers. You’ll most likely camp by a village on one of your nights. Take the chance to go and explore!

If you have a local river guide with you, they will happily translate for you. You might even be lucky enough to be invited into someone’s home for a freshly made pot of tea!

Enjoying some traditional Nepali libations after a day on the river
Photo courtesy of River and Soul

If you’re even luckier someone might open a bottle of Raksi, a local rice wine – effectively moonshine. Every household in Nepal makes it. And depending on who makes it depends how nice it is and how alcoholic it is. You never really know until you try some!

Expedition whitewater kayaking in Nepal is a sensational experience and one I can’t wait to go back to.

Nepal has the best whitewater in the world, no doubt. But it gives you more than just tales of adventure to return home with, it gives you a piece of its culture and soul.

Although the logistics can be a nightmare if you do this alone, the payoff is incredible. Who knew that you would find the culture by paddling the rivers?

Group photo of all the river guides on their whitewater kayaks after another epic excursion in Nepal
Photo courtesy of River and Soul
Want something a little more local? Check out these amazing paddle destinations, no passport required!
Find Nepal's Culture On Its Rivers
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Find Nepal's Culture On Its Rivers
Discover Nepal's culture by paddling its rivers! For those interested in both a cultural experience and an adventure, Nepal awaits!
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Board and Kayak Life
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1 thought on “Find Nepal’s Culture On Its Rivers”

  1. WOW! Indeed Nepal does have a very rich culture and who don’t like a place where ones can get a break from the traffic and people buzzing and enjoy the water and beautiful nature around it, it’s truly beautiful!


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