M Ms in Nepal
(originally published in 'Canoeist' magazine)
Madi Khola, Nepal
The trip, like most, started with a chat over a cup of tea in Scotland. A couple of friends were off around the world for an eight and a half month tour taking in India, Nepal, Australia, New Zealand and South America - it was decided Nepal would be the best place to join them. So I surprised Rob when two months later I asked him for the money for the flight. It was all arranged - out to Kathmandu for the last week of October and the first two of November. The water should be at about the right level and we would meet up with Mark and Simon.
We decided to take our own boats - booked with Royal Nepal Airways we got a 35kg allowance for baggage but could not get a written commitment to take the boats. We knew it was going to be a problem, everything had gone too easily, so we turned up about 4 hour prior to check-in and braced ourselves for the worst - Maria was waiting with the car to take the boats back home again - we prepared our arguments and went to the check-in. 'I am sorry' said the check-in guy 'you will have to take those to large baggage check-in'. You can imagine how deflated and elated we were! So we had a while to organise some presents for the two guys out there - important things like wine gums and a copy of FHM.
The plan was simple: warm up on the Trisuli, upper Seti and the Kali Gandaki in preparation for the Madi Kola, Marsyandi and a warm down on the Modi Kola. All this for a paddler who won swimmer of the week in Scotland with seven swims! First a 'rest day' to overcome Simon's lack of drinking partners and our jet lag. Then the fun began. It was an early start for the tourist bus to take us out to the Trisuli so we took our boats and organised four rickshaws. Not the best of ideas! The boats went on the seats and we sat on the boats. This meant they stuck out a bit further than the riders were used to, taking out street signs and pedestrians at a frightening rate and ending with a broken indicator lens on a taxi. This brought the whole trip to a grinding halt. They started arguing so Mark and I made a sharp exit on another couple of bikes. This time I had a nutter who decided it was a race to beat the younger guy driving Mark - not necessarily a bad thing since we were running late. I just closed my eyes and hoped. As we were approaching the bus area my guy was still letting out shrieks of challenge to Mark's rickshaw some 20 yards ahead. Then he saw his opportunity - going the wrong way round a major roundabout and overtook Mark - that was the first pair of rubber underpants wasted!
We arrived at the Trisuli put-in, had breakfast, a quick lesson in selecting, killing and gutting a chicken then got on the water for our first trip. A fantastic big water trip, big holes and easy lines. Then the get out!! A stinking walk up a steep embankment followed by a hike across the river to catch the bus. The volume was obviously still high for us to get it done in one day - about 40 miles.
The Upper Seti was a pleasant day out except for the grade five which left me with a black eye and cut that made me look more like an England fan at Euro 2000 - all I needed were the union jack neoprene shorts! Mark and Simon got us on a three day raft trip on the Kali Gandaki - they had been earning their keep with Equator Rafting. The first rapid caused one of the rafts to flip and this showed us what the rescue scale is for rafters: Good looking and opposite sex - very good - all others - wait your turn or if you are worried get back to the raft yourself!
Rafting is the easy life: 2 hours paddling in the morning, 2 more in the afternoon in a kit free boat with most of the work sorted for you. This is certainly the relaxing way to do Nepal - so obviously not for us! While we were away we had asked the Equator people to organise us bus and porters for what was to be the start of the main part of our trip out to the Madi Kola. We had not appreciated what a mess the festive season would get us into! We had to delay by a day since we couldn't get either a bus or porters but they had it organised for the following day.
We turned up after our extra day taking it easy - well I ended up pushing a bike home after it packed up on me while taking pics of the others back on the Seti!! Loaded the bus and set off. It was only about 45 minutes later that the bus pulled up at a river and said that's it folks we can't get across the river!! Hired for the day for a 45 minutes ride - hum good deal. Then the porters got out to strut their stuff. Only one problem they were not all porters - two of them had been taken off the street and passed on to us!! I suppose the first sign was the fact they didn't have any carrying straps - it's like turning up at the start of a river and asking someone if they have a spare canoe with them. However, our loading straps would do? This was not a very good start!
Trekking to the Madi Khola
Eventually we set off and shortly after lunch started heading up the longest set of steps I have come across. Two hours later we hadn't reached the top of the steps!! The porters(?) were sort of keeping up but were a fair way behind - and we knew no better since they were the first we had hired. Finally after heaven knows how long we got to the top of the hill. We stopped for a drink here and waited for the porters to catch up and sure enough they did. Then a short way down the track we decided to wait for them again, since the path split and we didn't want to go a different way to them. This wait lasted about of an hour before two of the group went back to see what was happening only to find them continuing the festivities at our expense!! We were now running late with a bunch of questionable porters half cut - the going was a bit harder than we had predicted. More toilet stops and reduced speed meant we arrived at Lamuket (an hour short of our target) and they wanted to call it quits for the day!
Fortunately we had a Nepalese guide with us - a couple who had hitched a lift on the bus - who pointed out to them that we had to go on. Eventually after a bit of rather interesting night walking on light jungle tracks we arrived in the pitch black at our first out of town rest spot - a mud hut. The rest was much needed, the Dal Bhat the worst food we ever encountered, but the offer of acupuncture from one of the drunken porters and the biggest flying beetles you have ever seen just topped off the night!
The next morning Simon and Mark - the Big Boys - got two of the porters to take their boats up to the serious put in. Rob and I twiddled our thumbs. Then a porter arrived and spoke of two boats and people all over the place. When they arrived we got the low down on a blow by blow account of the problems they had. Mark was now using splits and would be buying the first round this evening.
It was suggested we walk back to Lamuket to put in - the river was a bit bigger than expected. Rob and I tried to organise two porters but they wanted paying more, even though they had already been paid for two full days in advance! So we loaded up our own boats and walked the hour back to where we had come from!
Simon on the Madi Khola
Day two was fairly uneventful except for prolonging a goat's life by about 45 mins as we scouted and ran a grade five next to the temple were it was to be sacrificed. The river was a real gem. Plenty of action, for the likes of me, and a successful run at a grade 5! This left us in Carpature needing 4 porters for the following day. The hotel owner seemed like a good place to start. That evening along came the leader to negotiate terms for the two days to the Marsyandi - that god of rivers! Eventually after loads of confusion out came the owners son, all of 11 years old, to act at interpreter. His English was excellent and it was all agreed, not a rupee being paid in advance! Naturally one of the porters didn't show in the morning so we had to wait while a reserve was found but they all turned out to be very capable.
The walk over to the Marsyandi was magnificent climbing over 4000ft with outstanding views of the Annapurna mountains and an opportunity for some fantastic sunrise shots from the football pitch at our over night stop in Baglung Pani. Walking down to the Marsyandi valley my feet were as raw as could be, blistered all over but the sound of the river was enough to keep my mind on other things!
We arrived early at the 'hotel' stop for the get in on the Marsyandi which has two effects 1 - you have more time to think about the river and 2 - you spend more money on food and drink. I would like to think that I would have got some rest before the big one but it was not to be! The thought of the paddle made it hard to get to sleep and then at about 4.00 am some geezer started chanting to his god for all he was worth! No way you were getting a good night's sleep here!
In the morning we left it until 11.00 to start, letting the sun rise above the mountains to give us some warmth. Then it was off. The river is everything the guide book tells you. You are straight into some fantastic continuous grade 4 water*. Rob was rolling on the first rapid but still in control - then I followed Simon into a hole and lost it. Apparently this was the fourth rapid but I don't remember the gaps! The swim wasn't too bad but I lost the beers.
The overnight stop on day one was way up the path and we decided to negotiate with a river side tea shop for an overnight parking in the caf which we did for 50 rupees. That night we met up with a group of Canadians that had been paddling the same section and found they had paid 200 rupees per boat, more than their hotel rooms! There's one born every minute!
The next day the river eased a bit and we ploughed on once again making a two day trip into one day, just to get back for the steak. These double length stretches were very tiring and at the end of this one we had to catch the infamous local bus to Pokhara. Not too bad this time, at least we all got seats, eventually. When we arrived at the bus station the taxi hunt began and there were not many about. Eventually one came up and offered us the ride and we took it. The problems started as we left the bus station - the roof rack broke! No probs, we tied the boats on through the roof and off we went again. Then about half way - as usual - in the middle of nowhere his suspension gave way. Not happy with just this the driver decided to press on while the bodywork was resting on the tyre - guess what happened! This left us somewhere in the middle of Pokhara with 4 boats, starving and tired! We paid the taxi off - feeling sorry for him - and eventually made it back in time for the steaks.
We had a day off and then set off for the 'relaxing' trip on the Modi Kola. This was sold to Rob and I as a good wind down, not too hard and not too much trekking!! We were had! The trek in was supposed to be a couple of hours along the river - it turned out to be a heavy trek up the hills and to make it worse Rob and I ended up taking a wrong turn and headed back to the river, where we thought we were supposed to be, only to spot the boats about 400 meters above us - well pleased we were! The overnight was pleasant and we got to see the world and his wife go by, being on one of the main trekking routes.
The morning saw the sun hiding behind some huge mountain so we decided to set off in the shade, the only time a long sleeved cag may have been useful. The river has a fantastic start. It's fast and narrow with plenty going on, probably quite pinny with less water. It just kept going, more of the same. It then started to get steeper and things started to get harder, finally Rob ended up in a stopper that was not for letting him out and lost his paddles, so we had used the last set of splits. We carried on for a while with no let up, by this time I was carrying quite a few of the rapids - due to tiredness of course. Eventually Rob had another swim and cricked his neck and after a while decided it was time to walk - I was pleased to accompany him!
Simon and Mark carried on. While we were walking back, we got some strange looks and laughter from the locals who had seen us going up the day before. Then eventually Simon came out to see how we were - or so we thought. It turned out both Simon and Mark had ended up in the same closed stopper doing ends for all they were worth and had both swam, Simon loosing his paddles into the bargain, and needing some more. It just goes to show that inspecting can be useful some times. I was in for a cheap night! The only thing left to do was get back to Kathmandu for some much needed RR and then the flight home. Its time to start planning the return trip!
Paddlers: Mark Rainsley, Simon Wiles, Rob Soanes and Tim Rex
Sponsors: Non - at least not for Rob and I.
Tim gets it up...so to speak...
*note by Mark Rainsley...Tim is modest, the Marsyandi was pumping and very high. Possibly grade 5- in the top section that day!