After spending quite a bit of time on the rivers of Nepal, India, Bhutan, Pakistan and Tibet, we asked Himalayan veteran Darren Clarkson-King for some of his top tips about kayaking in the area.
Top tips for kayaking in the Himalayas
No matter how much is planned expect things to change. Expect the bus to be delayed, the monsoon to have closed the road, your internal flight to be cancelled due to bad weather and a million more issues.
For many the rivers will be wider, longer and more powerful than your local home runs. It is perhaps wise to drop down a grade for your first trip.
Getting kayaks on international flights can be an issue. This is not the time to panic. If your airline will not take your kayak simply accept that you will need to hire. The Himalayas has seen kayakers for decades so you should be able to find hire boats with a bit of research.
Riding on local transport, hitching, or with pack animals. Do not expect your gear to last. The bad welds on roof racks will destroy a kayak. A badly tied kayak and gear can easily be lost on that bus ride from Delhi to Kathmandu.
Make sure you take appropriate gear. The Himalayas are vast, each county needing different kit. No point in showing up in Ladakh in a short sleeve dry top and board shorts, similarly do you have a need for a full drysuit in Nepal during monsoon?
Pick where, when and how with care. If you want to paddle in August, the middle of Monsoon, perhaps it’s best to avoid Nepal or parts of India. Ladakh is an obvious exception. How you choose to travel is very much a personal choice. A guided tour, a peer group or turning up alone and finding out what to do all have positives and negatives. Only you know what is right for your time, budget and expectations.
Just because you have a guidebook doesn’t mean you have all the answers. Rivers change, logistics change, permits change. That trip report or story from a friend could also be outdated now.
Eat local, in our experience it’s better to eat SKU in Ladakh over pizza. Ladakhi folks make great SKU, just like Italians make great pizza. The same logic is applicable in other places also.
Never drink from hotel taps, with the possible exception of Bhutan, water can be horrible. Never drink from the river before treating. Have a good filter bottle.
Enjoy. The Himalayas has some amazing rivers, from class 2 to class 5. The countries have a rich mix of cultures, of language and offer a great diverse experience.
Darren Clarkson-King runs Pure Land Expeditions with his wife Andrea and has spent over two decades on the rivers of the Himalayas from first descents to commercial guiding, with two regional Himalayan guidebooks available that he co wrote. Whitewater Nepal, with Peter Knowles and Whitewater Ladakh with Tsering Chotak. He loves nothing more than exploring deep gorges, sleeping on the side of the river with his over night gear , or telling folks about the magic that can be found in Himalayan travel.
His top three Himalayan river trips that are quite easy to access from the nearest airport.
Indus, a jewel of a river in Ladakh and crazy madness in Pakistan. Possible best to start on the India side!
Mo Chu, a great class 3+ close enough to the capital of Bhutan to make access easy. Although the airport isn’t in the capital! Woodland borders the river and the flow is plenty hard enough for fun and adventure.
Upper Sun Kosi and Balephi combo. Can be an early doors and day return from Kathmandu – but why would you. Best place to stay is Tunibote for laps.