RIVER ARUN, NEPAL - A RIVER OLDER THAN EVEREST.
This article was put together after the spring season in Nepal 2002.
by Daz Clarkson
It will soon be the time of year again when the monsoon rains halt in the river paradise of Nepal and commercial raft trips, river running and trekking groups embark on the Himalayan kingdom of Nepal. Still a large part of the hippy trial, although those that are planning a trip out to the country this coming season this tail of caution from the spring March/April session may raise doubt or full further exploits. Our goal in this instance was to walk into the Arun valley, between Everest and Makalau, before canoeing down the mighty Arun river. We were self supported and via the help of porters carried all our boats and kit for 6 days towards the river.
'What are you doing here? The broken English of a Nepali youth questioned our presence in the small trade route village of Num. He continued, ' you cannot be here,' or words to that effect. As smoke from the open fire filled the room and we sat waiting, interrogated by this youth and his friends. It become apparent, things were not going to be as easy as normal. These guys would not fall for a quick feel of our boats and a bit of Basic English Teaching.
More so, this situation was tense, unlike normal Nepali greetings? Something was wrong most defiantly wrong. After heated debates it became clear we were not in the presence of 'normal village residents'. More accurately we were in a Maoist strong hold. These guys were, for all intents and purposes, terrorists. We had heard the stories and read the papers before our departure from the UK, but we never expected to meet these people.
Their aim it seems is to destroy the infrastructure of an already suffering country. After our meeting they proceeded in destroying water stations power plants, schools, buses, airports and police stations all for the sake of progress. If only I had known, perhaps I wouldn't have told him to go forth and multiply.
Now I have said these words before to those that get under my skin and I must be a scary Yorkshire bloke 'cos they tend to back off, but these were different they were quite persistent. It was looking more and more like we were under 'house arrest', the river Arun, our goal would be out of reach.
Was the river going to beat us before we had even put on our boating kit? We doubted it. We had not walked for 6 days towards Makalu to paddle the river, one of the most powerful in the Himalayas that takes water from Everest and Makalu among others, only to be scared by the rebels!
At 4.45 the following morning we slipped out of the village, not waiting to discuss our plans with the Maoist leaders. By 9.00 we had seen the sunrise over the giant Himalayan peaks and were well on our way down the Arun Gorges (left unpadded for about 8 years). This day was a wake up call for the rest of the trip. Before lunch we had encountered our first portage. Crossing from bank to bank we tried to fathom an escape route up the gorge walls. On river left a heavily forested jungle blocked our tracks whilst on the right things looked fine.
Upon approaching the river Right Bank we came across an almost vertical rock face. Portages would be tricky, even after a rope-assisted climb? So again we ferried over the river, to the river left and proceed to trek through the jungle. After sneaking the first class 6 later that day we pulled onto a white sandy beach to sleep for the night. Then it happened, a storm was brewing, thunder and lightening came violently up the gorge. The rains come unabated having no respect for the 'dry season' perhaps the monsoon had arrived 4 weeks early?
Craig, who a few years earlier had paddled the 'other river of Everest', summarised day two, as we huddled in a cave away from the rain, with his whit and style that would make Noel Coward run for the hills. Craig remarked. ' Yesterday I spent the day doing what I most love in the world, running hard whitewater with good friends,' and today Craig, what about today? 'Well today, I did what I second most love doing in the world, portaging even harder water with good friends'. Cheers replied Rob who had dismissed the river already.
Now day 3, well this was gonna shake things up a bit. But what to do? We were committed, early on in the day, just after breakfast a miss timed move, an incorrect line saw me doing ten rounds with the 10-15 foot tow back of a small bungalow pour-over. This maelstrom of whitewater had the power that I had never experienced before in all my years of river running, the river god was not happy with me or my plans of escape. Water filled my lungs as I was twisted and tussled violently by this river. Needless to say I jettisoned my boat and made a swim for freedom. Open eventual rescue I coughed up a lot of water, my head was spinning and my gear was ripped. It was a long swim in difficult water swimming for a longer distance than be actually paddled the previous day!
The rest of the day saw no swims and alas some brilliant high class whitewater. As the rains came again during the night sanity became thought provoking, 'marriage and kids must be easier than this sh*t'. Voicing these thoughts, to the others, we estimated we only have 3 or 4 more river days left we just hoped that the food would hold out.
By the 30 March we had made it to Bumlingtar, the gorge walls had started to open up, people we visible on the banks, the last class 5+ was behind us. With relief we disembarked early to rest for the night, our thoughts were now centred on getting to the confluence with the Sun Kosi. We were unsure if the Maoist would be following our progress as during the day we had heard gunfire; we needed to feel secure again. Perhaps the often travel Sun Kosi / Sapta Kosi would offer such assurance.
The following day was our last full day on the river although we didn't know it. On the night of the 31 March the rains came, faster than they had previously, so hard, so fast that even the gore-tex of our bivvy bags could not cope. Upon waking the river has risen over 4ft and turned a chocolate brown, silt, wood, rubbish, dead things all flowed down, hence forth to the Bay of Bengal, this was Hepatitis country and I know that my jabs weren't up to date?
Boof from Craig.
He had estimated that from setting off on the 1st April we would perhaps have 2 days left on the river. How wrong we were, with the increase in water we were not gonna be slow. We travelled at break neck spead through huge towering waves and massive hydrolic jumps. By lunchtime we had made it to the Sun Kosi and were sitting at Tribani with lunch and a feeling of joy in our bellies. It then dawned on us The Sun Kosi the major river actually had less volume that the Arun, one of its tributaries? Boy that was strange, Perhaps the river gods had tried to fox us and sent the rains only to our gorge, it seemed that way. The Arun was running close to the levels of the late fall season whilst the Sun Kosi was at a low Spring season.
Before our muscles ceased we set forth into the Sun Kosi/Sapta Kosi and the take out at Chatra, we had made it, success. This was no time to relax as a dead body floated past in the stream. The remnants of a previous funeral pyre
Upon disembarking in Chatra we headed for a bus back to the capital, Kathmandu only to be informed that due to Maoist presence in the area a national strike had been called, we would have to wait in this 'arm pit of the world' for a week. Chatra cannot be described to anyone who has not visited. It is a one horse town and just before we arrived I think someone shot the horse We were not keen on staying and with the standard nonsense of haggles and scams we hired a ex-British Landrover with suspect brakes to race across the Terai, the lowland plain so that we could jump a bus that was supposed to be leaving for the 14 hour ride back Kathmandu. We had travailed from the giant peaks of the Himalayas to the flat lands and still our journey was not over.
After strapping the boats to the bus we were intellectually informed that only 1 seat was available, but we had no choice. We had to get out of town. And so it was that we snuggled on to the back seat. This bench seat was a sight, with vomiting kids, fat Indians and 3 tired and scruffy Britsh kayakers still in river kit. The back seat had double the occupants for its seating capacity, but at least we were going home the quick way. This bus trip was 14 hours of paradise, who had the Valium?
THANKS FOR TRIP ASISTANCE GO TO:
VAGABOND ANTI-FREESTYLE WEAR (For decks) 01536 522156
NOOKIE (for cags, pfds and dry bags) 01822 618688
GORILLA PADDLES 0115 9320155
TRIP MEMBERS WERE:
DAZ CLARKSON. CRAIG DEARING. ROBIN LOFTHOUSE
All Photos R.Lofthouse, Daz Clarkson and Craig Dearing.
Daz and Craig would like to thank Perception for cool boats.