Kailash, that proud mountain in Tibet, the source of the mighty Indus, Karnali, Sutlej and Siang. These rivers carving deep from the high Himalayas, draining all the way to the lowlands. The lofty heights are a sacred site for 4 of the world’s religions, Buddhism, Jain, Hindu and Bon. The mighty Karnali flowing, as it does, in the Hindu country of Nepal can easily be seen as coming from the throne of Shiva. It is no wonder that just to go kayaking the Karnali, the Humla, or the tributaries offers the chance for spiritual awaking. It is a place that offered more than a simple set of strokes. A place where thoughts can come without the stress of modern life.
When Lord Krishna manifested before Arjun, before the words were stolen by Oppenheimer, when the Gita was pure and undiluted, its sole intent to motivate Arjun, ‘Now, I am become death, the destroyer of worlds’. That’s what this river did.
It’s a sensory sonnet where we get blindsided by its macabre roots, where we fail to court the demons of the abyss. Here our blinkered eyes are tied to the bondage of our skills and actions, where this fails time and time again. We accept these certain truths its like Shiva never came or Ganesh never had his courage. Is this what is feels like to have the true nature of grace pushed before you? The truth of the falling away of the ego, stripped to the honest core.
Deep in the middle of a rapid, all waves and chaos, all power and noise. It is not about me anymore, I used to think it was. It is not about the boat, my paddle or my kit. It’s calling deeper, it’s about oblivion. Taking away it all. It is the form of this adventure. That is the way I want it to be, to keep showing me the truth. These remote challenging expeditions open the door, jam the window and let the winds blow the dust away.
I don’t want to run the rapid first, for me I cannot see the crux move. Now it’s a trust game. Dave takes the lead from the eddy. George follows next. Then I am left alone, still, quiet in the eddy. Below, as the horizon line dips and pulses in giant aquatic steps, I can see the reflecting sun on my friends’ helmets. It’s no easier now that I know they have gone through before me. I’m sure it’s not easy for any paddler at the back – we change the lead periodically. It’s like a revolving gun, with only a single bullet. Two goes, click, click – and they go free. Me? I have less of a chance, surely?
As the waves tumble, roll and slide me from left to right, it’s comforting to know that each splash on each wave helps to move me downwards. One hydrologist’s playground behind is one less to face. The deep dark walls, ice cold water ripples, the deity scattered boulders, crashing cascades, the aquatic fun fair with rollercoasters. The similes contain nothing close to the truth.
This river is a baptism, a chance encounter to connect with the obvious grace of oblivion. Simply just to be. The dissolving of the ego for what it thinks it should be and showing a just cause to Experience Graceful Overtures. That is to say when did the Ego become to mean Edging Gods Out. It’s about splitting of the self into new bonds of truth and reason. Knowing that I will be changed forever.
Flickering frames like an old cine film recording are all that appear in my memory playback of the Humla. I don’t see the vivid colour any more. I don’t smell the wet moss on the rocks. I don’t feel the numb fingers. It’s all sepia toned and flat. Devoid of stimuli, except that which is etched in my soul.
This is a river that cracked further in me. It showed a truth and an acceptance. – it is all going to work out.
In 2016 Darren paddled on 3 of the 4 rivers from Kailash.
Words: Darren Clarkson-King
Images: George Younger
Darren Clarkson-King has spent over 16 years exploring rivers across the Himalaya in Nepal, India, Bhutan, Pakistan and Tibet. He has also kayaked in Europe, Canada, Alaska, Thailand and Morocco. He has Countless 1st Descents, and numerous note worthy Solo descents to his name. He is Owner and Head guide of Pure Land Expeditions, working directly with N.A.R.A, the Ladakh Tourism Authority and Local Kerala Government to promote safe adventure sports and safe working practices.