Sunday, 26 May 2013

Thrilling Bheri, raging rapids and adventurous rafting

Plunge boldly into the thick of life, and seize it where you will, it is always interesting.
- Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

We had been waiting for our turn to raft in Bheri since long and when we got a call from the man who runs the business, we just jumped in. A group had cancelled the booking owing to the bad weather forecast and fearing the flash floods that might bring in violent rapids with it. Our team was ready to weather the waters of Bheri – be it calm or hostile.

Rafting in Bheri started recently and the waters are still uncharted. Out of the three options we chose the Bheri bridge – Ranighat section. It has more rapids and bends than the Mehelkuna – Ramghat section. The longer one spans over three days and ends at the Chisapani of Karnali River.

Nepal’s rivers are world famous for white-water rafting. Trishuli, Seti, Bhote Koshi, Kali Gandaki, Marsyandi, Sun Koshi, Arun, Karnali, and Tamor have already been acclaimed for the thrilling white-water and sandy beaches for camping. A group of entrepreneurs led by Sudarshan Shrestha has recently launched rafting in the Bheri River.

“After mid-May, the snow starts melting and the water level rises bringing in more rapids,” said the guide. Even it was his first expedition after brief showers in and around Surkhet. The usually clear water was muddy and we could feel the waves on the bank while inflating the raft. It has eight sections and we took turns to get our craft ready. One of my friends had suggested, “This is high time you come across flash floods, be prepared.”

Kapil inflating the raft
Only Madhu and I had been to rafting earlier and it was the first time for rest six. Even it was first for me in Bheri. The guide instructed, “Don’t panic, in case of emergency cling to the ropes tied around the raft.” With a crash course on basics of rafting and rescuing, we started our sail on the river.
Clinging to the ropes is the best way to stay safe during an emergency.
The first few bends and small waves were welcoming. We enjoyed the ups and downs on the water. The water was calm at a place and the guide said it was safe to swim. Few of us dived in the cool waters and started swimming along with the raft. It was refreshing though the water was dark and muddy. We practised pulling in our mates in the raft from the fast moving river.
Practise well before you leap into the river.
The giant devil catfish
As we were passing by, two fishermen called us to show their prized catch. We stopped by the sandy beach and took turns to hold the fish. It was a giant –nearly 3.5 feet long and weighed more than 40 Kgs.  

“It’s a mahseer,” said one of the fishermen. “If you wish, you can take the whole fish with you. The price – just Rs 350 per Kg.”

You can imagine the greed. We were ready to buy the whole fish. Then some of us didn’t buy in and we left the fish and the beach.
Holding the giant devil catfish wasn't an easy task.
I was still in doubts. It could not be a mahseer. It had sharp teeth and whiskers, and had no scales. I could sense, it was the giant devil catfish (Bagarius yarrelli) also called “goonch”. It is found in large rivers, including rivers with fast current and reaches up to 2 m (6.6 feet) in length, and weighs over 200 pounds.

The Kali River goonch attacks were a series of fatal attacks on humans believed to be perpetrated by man-eating goonch catfish in three villages on the banks of the Kali River in India and Nepal, between 1998 and 2007. This is the subject of a TV documentary aired on 22 October 2008, as well as an episode about the Kali River goonch attacks on the Animal Planet series River Monsters. (

And the raft turned turtle
We were told rafting in Bheri is very easy because the rapids in the river are not violent in comparison to other rivers in Nepal. However, as we crossed two bends after witnessing the giant devil catfish, the waves started growing bigger and bigger. Madhu and I were paddling on the front. We could feel the excitement and thrill more than others. Some waves were more than ten feet high. Water splashed on our faces and we were shouting with joy. The feeling was like being among the huge sea waves. The only difference – the water was dark and muddy.

Seeing us enjoying to the hilt, Kapil wanted to be in the lead. So we changed the places as a calm section appeared. Then within seconds, we could see one of the biggest waves. I hadn’t seen such huge waves. As we were shouting with thrill, the waves devoured the raft. It capsized and all of us were struggling to get hold of the rescue rope.

I don’t know what happened to others but I was under the raft and the rope was nowhere to be seen. I gulped the muddy water and it was dark everywhere. I could not even get above the water surface. Then suddenly I caught hold of the rope.

As I got hold of the rope, I took out my head above the water surface. The only thing I could see was Kapil, Abhijit and Madhu clinging to the rope. We had passed through the killer waves and the water was calmer at the stretch.

Then I saw two yellow helmets in a distance, being swept away by the river. One of them was yelling for help but there was nothing we could do. All of us were helpless. Then I could feel somebody struggling beneath me. I thus, left the rope and started swimming towards the shore. Kiran was also swimming.

As I reached the bank, I could see four friends clung to the raft and the guide trying to turn the raft upright. On another side of the bank was just one helmet, one had been swept away. I hastily counted the heads. There were only eight including the guide and I. One of us was missing!

I could see the sandals and paddles being swept away by the river. I already had one paddle with me and I gathered another one from the river. In spite of being drowned by the river, I hadn’t left the paddle!

Madhu and the guide mounted on the raft and along with them five of us quickly got inside the raft. The guide started shouting, “Forward, quick, quick.” And we paddled to our might. We reached near Raju who had managed to step on a rock on the bank of the river. But we left him there and asked him to come downstream following the raft. We panicked. There was no sign of Krishna.

We travelled with the flow of the river for almost 20 minutes but still didn’t find Krishna. Our hopes were fading away and unwanted thoughts started arising on our minds. Then, at a distance we saw some boys running on the rocky bank of the river. The guide said, “The boys must be running to save our friend.” A faint hope appeared within us.

As we neared the site, we could see a yellow helmet. Our hopes bounced back. There was Krishna, sitting on a rock, surrounded by locals. We brought our raft to the side and thanked the Almighty for keeping all of us alive.

We then waited for Raju for almost an hour. It was a terrible and exciting experience for him, walking alone, along the bank of the river, through the rocky patches and dense forest with the fear of leopard pouncing on his back. 
Finally our team is complete. Raju returns!
At last we were united. With the prodigal sons Krishna and Raju in the team, we were once again ready for the jaunt in the river. We thanked the locals and especially the boys who rescued Krishna from the fast flowing river. 

Kapil and Abhijit - reflection of the ordeal on their faces.
Still I could see the fear in the eyes of our mates. It was inherent. The face is mirror of the heart. It was hundred per cent true – we could sense the fear within us, in the surrounding and of course, in the dark murky river!  

Picnicking on the pristine sandy beach
Within minutes, we were once again rollicking on the waves. This time, we tried to avoid the huge rapids and kept to the side waves, so as not to get overturned once again. After few bends and rapids, we stopped by a sandy beach. The sand was crystal clear and a perfect spot for picnicking.
Sanjeev relaxes on the sandy beach.
We opened the dry box and took out the juice cans, dry fruits, apples and boiled eggs. It was fun to fill the empty stomachs. Madhu connected his portable sound machine to his mobile and the music filled the environs. “Sadda Haque!” I was listening to the song, but my mind was still hovering around the capsized raft. So was the mind of others.
Picnicking on the beach.
Second raft follows us to the beach.
Then we saw another raft coming at a distance. They also picnicked together with us. We exchanged our experiences. They had ducked the huge rapid where our raft overturned. They had three guides and most of them were good swimmers. In comparison, only three of us were good swimmers and rest were just dabblers.
Posing for a group photo.
We clicked a group picture and then again set together for the remaining part of the journey.
Set for the next round of rafting.
Swimming in calm Bheri waters
With us on the lead, we continued the ride. I took the lead along with Madhu and it was fun paddling against the giant waves once again. This time we were prepared. We paddled to our might whenever huge waves confronted us. The appearing rapids instilled more courage inside us and we were shouting on the win over the waves.  

After few huge and few short rapids, we came to a plain spread of river. “Bhurigaon of Bardia is nearby,” said Raju. The actual distance of Bhurigaon of Bardia and Surkhet is only 22 kilometres.

Then the friends of the second raft started jumping in the river and swam with the flow of the river. I too could not stop myself and swam along with them for few minutes. The water was calm but the flow was still rapid underneath.

The swim was refreshing. Kiran also swam for a while and Abhijit also took a short plunge. We were then back in the raft.

As we approached the end point in Ranighat, we could see the settlements along the bank of the river and smell the aroma of cooked food. We clicked a group picture with the guide and helped him carry the raft to the unpacking spot.
Final group photo at the end point.
As we emptied the raft, we found two sandals – one belonged to Madhu and one belonged to me. I took a snap of the sandals not wavered by the rapids. So were we, Madhu and I were still raring to go for a second joyride on the waves. Madhu was smiling with his one-glassed spectacles. The glass on the left had been swept away by the waves!    
Madhu with his one-glassed spectacles.
Widow and orphan - these two clung to the raft till the end!
Drying off the raft. Our friends carried it to this spot.
Ride with the entrepreneurs
We stopped by a hotel in Ranighat. Sudarshan Shrestha, the man behind the rafting in Bheri had ordered a meal for us. He along with his friends congratulated us on our successful ride. Krishna cautioned them on being more careful with the security. They agreed to his proposition and informed that a rescue team was getting prepared. From next week onwards, the ride will be more secure. 

We also visited a farm managed by them. They had kept pigs, cows and capons (castrated roosters) in the farm. I had never seen a capon, had just heard about it. We purchased a black beautiful one for our dinner and left the place.
The beautiful capon (castrated rooster) captured by our friends. 
The four entrepreneurs joined us in the rented Force jeep. On the way, they discussed about their further plans. “We are launching paragliding in Surkhet soon,” one of them said enthusiastically.

We nodded in unison to go for the paragliding. Madhu said, “Make sure I am the first one to do the paragliding in Surkhet.”

We were still thinking about the adventure that we had had during the rafting. Had our raft not capsized, the journey would not have been so thrilling, exciting and memorable.

I remembered Mercedes Lackey saying in Spirits White as Lighting. “Adventure, yeah. I guess that's what you call it when everybody comes back alive.”

It was a lifetime experience. Thanks go to my mates Sanjeev, Madhu, Kapil, Abhijit, Krishna, Raju, Kiran, the guide Ashok and the entrepreneurs who started rafting in Bheri River. Rafting in Bheri is an adrenaline rush to the fullest. Go for it!

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