Bungee-jumping, white-water rafting, paragliding, canyoning, canyon swing, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY try it all to get high on adrenaline in Nepal
It wasn’t exactly the most auspicious start. Amidst news of a coup and a bird flu epidemic, we landed at Kathmandu Airport, where a flurry of masked attendants with drips and stretchers waved official forms in red, blue and green. The bleak sky offered the perfect welcome and we cursed ourselves for not bringing any rain gear. By the end of the 6 weeks we spent in Nepal, we were chiding ourselves for a dozen other things.
Like diving off Jumping Rock into the river and being bailed out by a kayak, barely surviving a toss from a raft in Nepal’s most challenging river, barfing like sick puppies after a heavy breakfast while paragliding over Pokhara, bungee jumping from a 160 m high suspension bridge and the world’s highest canyon swing, getting stranded in a cable car mid-air at Manokamana Devi and escaping a sudden landslide near Mugling. Our journey was in many regards a survivor’s guide to Nepal.
At a small café in Thamel, Megh Ale of Ultimate Descent stared pensively at our seemingly unfit bodies. ‘Have you rafted before? Can you swim?’ Perhaps he secretly hoped our blubber would help us stay afloat. ‘Umm… sure, but not very elegantly.’ Intrigued by the pamphlet about the Bhote Kosi being “the most exciting thing you can do in Nepal without risking a social disease”, we convinced him we’d be in time for the 6 am mini-van.
Luckily it was a short hop from our hotel, the iconic Kathmandu Guest House. The evening was well-spent pub-hopping, souvenir hunting and sampling traditional Newari cuisine at Thamel House. The next morning we said goodbye to ‘THAMEL: To Homely Atmosphere & More Enjoyable Living’ and headed for Barabise, a 3 hr drive to the Nepal-Tibet border, 100 km away.
As we passed Dhulikhel, the Langthang peak and the lofty Ganesh Himal range loomed on the horizon. After tea at Jiro Kilo and fish fry at Dolalghat, we climbed steadily. On seeing the angry white rapids below, several alarmed voices asked in unison ‘Are we going to be in THERE?’ Our rafting guide smiled sagely. The glacial waters of the Bhote Kosi descend from the tenth highest mountain Shisa Pangma in Tibet to create the steepest river in Nepal. This was a river that had wiped out entire villages in the plains of North Bihar. We wondered what it would do to us in its own hilly backyard. The van swung into Borderlands and we were ushered into a large thatched dining area with low seating. A row of tents peeped out of the foliage and the crash of the river constantly reminded us why we were there.
Prem Dai, our adventure expert outlined the program – 2 days of canyoning or abseiling down waterfalls followed by 2 days of rafting. After a crash course in knots, harnesses and basic techniques, we donned our wet suits and set off to conquer the nearest khola (mountain stream). Day 1 was a beginner’s course at Golung Khola aka 95 (located 95 km from Kathmandu), a tough climb that pitted us against eight levels of 5-20 m drops. Finding our footing against the slippery rock face and overhangs was tricky but soon we caught on. Some sections ended in deep pools and our guides encouraged us to jump in before we reached the base.
Day 2 was a five-level obstacle course at Kabre Khola that involved sliding, jumping and abseiling down torrential chasms of up to 45 m! As each candidate leaned out to glance at the final descent, a gasp of ‘Oh…My…God’ inadvertently escaped his lips! A relentless jet of water battered our helmets, blinded our eyes and deafened our ears as every muscle ached to get back on solid ground.
The next day was designated for whitewater rafting. We drove to our put-in point just below the Sun Kosi dam. Rafts were inflated and after a riverside lunch, we went through paddling instructions and safety manoeuvres. Ideal for beginners, this stretch had Class III-IV rapids and the half-day trip was largely uneventful, except for the Jumping Rock misadventure. On Day 2 the waters of the Upper Bhote Kosi had swollen with the previous night’s rain.
Kicking off from Borderlands Resort, we went through Gerbil in the Plumber, Frog in the Blender and understood why Carnal Knowledge of a Deviant Nature was so named (after the compromising position you end up in). At Barabise, we stopped for lunch, where twelve (barah) times twenty (bis) Nepalese soldiers had supposedly been killed in an ancient battle with the Tibetans. That afternoon, while co-ordinating photography, we nearly added one more casualty to the list. ‘Man overboard, man overboard!’
Despite a bruised knee, we trudged up 4 km from Borderlands to The Last Resort, a Mecca for adventure buffs. From the metal bridge, the wild Bhote Kosi 160 m below seemed like a white ribbon carving its course through the craggy gorge. Our guide instructed us in his accented English, ‘At the bridge, No cry mummy daddy, I don’t wanna jump, yea! When I say 3, 2, 1, Bungee, you jump. Ok?’ The earnest query of ‘What if the rope swings and we slam against the rocks?’ was met with utter contempt. ‘You don’t control rope ok, rope control you!’
With jittery nerves and jelly knees we awaited our turn. No amount of psyching oneself could silence the alarm bells clanging within. As we were strapped up, the video guy joked ‘Any last words?’ And we thought he was there to document our plunge! Like in a screen test, we displayed a wide range of emotions – fear, excitement, anxiety, nonchalance, hysteria. But it all ended the same way – a series of long guttural screams accompanying each jump.
In comparison, the Canyon Swing offered a different thrill. After 8 seconds of free-fall, you oscillated like a giant pendulum in a wide 240 m arc, yodeling like Tarzan. Suspended over the Bhote Kosi, we clutched at the bamboo pole extended to us and scrambled to the riverbank for the long trudge to the top. We skipped the High Ropes obstacle course, but the adrenalin rush propelled us to go higher to the Tibetan border.
A constant bustle of traders and tourists headed for Lhasa and Mansarovar, Kodari was a typical border town. We were warned not to take pictures, especially near the Friendship Bridge. It was clearly a misnomer. Chinese agents tried to pass off as Nepalis but their icy glare and stony expressions gave them away. However, we had perfected the ‘ditsy Indian couple on honeymoon’ routine to perfection. A shaky snap, a quick snack of baph mah mah (buffalo momo) and we soon returned to the comforting warmth of Kathmandu.
After a night at Dwarika’s Heritage hotel, we boarded a rattling flight to Pokhra to see if we could survive paragliding. The friendly staff at Shangri-La Resort put us on to Blue Sky, the best in the business. Sarangkot, the sunrise point was the ideal perch as we waited patiently for warm currents to kick in. Strapped to the chute for a tandem flight, the instructor asked us to start running and literally jump off the mountainside. It was going great until we were stumped by the trick question ‘You want some ‘woo woo’ stuff?’ A sharp left made us regret our decision immediately.
The chutes hit the pockets of warm air and climbed instead of descending. It was like zig-zagging through invisible traffic. We didn’t crash into Phewa Lake as feared but eventually had the gentlest of landings on the water’s edge. As we unstrapped ourselves, our eyes traveled to a large hand-painted ad for Orangeboom beer. ‘Life ma boom boom chha?’ asked the tagline. We smiled weakly.
How to get there
Jet Airways runs regular flights to Kathmandu from Delhi and Calcutta. From there, smaller flights connect you to Pokhara, Bharatpur (Chitwan) and other destinations in Nepal.
When to go
Though the trekking season stretches from October to May, October-November and March-April are ideal for white-water rafting
Where to Stay/What to do
Borderlands Eco Adventure Resort Ph +977 1 4701295, 4700894 www.borderlandresorts.com
The Last Resort Ph +977 1 4700525, 4700730 www.thelastresort.com.np
Blue Sky Paragliding, Lake Side 6, Khahare, Pokhara Ph +977 61 464737, 463015 www.paragliding-nepal.com
Dwarika’s Hotel, Kathmandu Ph +977 1 479488 www.dwarika.com
Shangri La Village Pokhara Ph +977 61 462222, 460200 www.hotelshangrila.com