Karnali River: a boon not harnessed by Prof. Dr Prem Sharma

Prof. Dr Prem Sharma

Karnali is one of the major rivers of Nepal. Out of 6 thousand rivers, only 16 rivers are feasible for water recreation business/rafting. Karnali till date is a pristine, perennial and turbulent river of Himalayas.

The river could be a cornerstone for aqua-tourism development of Nepal, and a boon for the far west Nepal. In its 1,080 km (Puramg county of Tibet in China to Gharghar Ganges in India) stretch, its major tributaries are Limi khola, Talung khola (Salli), Kairan khola, Hepka khola, Dojam, Loti Mugu, Mugu Karnali, Kawadi Kholaeti, Tila and Bheri river. Its source also comprises of snow-capped Himalayas. The Karnali River watershed provides a lot of scope and opportunities to the people of Karnali Province.

The Karnali main stem corridor within Nepal (507 km) Hilsa Humla to Sati/Geruwa (Kailali-Bardiya) – can be best used for white water recreation activities. The most adventurous and incredible kayaking and rafting can be found throughout the Karnali River system.

Enriched snaky journey

Whole Karnali river corridor can be divided into two sectors: Hilsa to Jitegadh (Tila-Humla Karnali confluence), except near Chyathara Jharna where Karnali flows under the cover of rock. All the way down Jitegadh to Seti/Geruwa the river is suitable for kayaks and rafting. This river corridor is full of scenic nature and vivid ethnographic culture.

For the comprehensive use of the river, it can be divided into 3 sections. The upper part (Hilsa to Jitegadh) high hills has a high potential for white water adventurous tourism and hydropower generation. The middle hills section (Jitegadh to Chisapani) is good for fishery and rafting, and the low land or lower part (Chisapani to Sati/Geruwa) is good for irrigation, e.g. Rami-Jamara-Kularia irrigation project. For adventurous tourism, the Karnali River is full of mysteriously hidden treasure bursts.

The river originates from Mapcha Khambab glacier on the north side of the Himalaya/Sera Kailas Mansarovar and flows down to the Gangetic plain of India linking three countries (China, Nepal, and India). It also runs along three provinces and nine districts of Nepal. It is estimated that around nine thousands megawatt hydropower (MWHP) can be generated from its tributaries.

Splashes of clear water fly from the surface as the paddlers push through the waves. On the banks of the river, several beaches (river sediments) are available for beach volleyball, frisbee, horse riding, and for camping.

The water quality is good for 53 aquatic species found in the river. Four species of Asala fish – buduna, chuche, and buchhe asala, rare scherzo Thorax, snow trout, rajbam which migrate all the way from the Bay of Bengal, freshwater dolphin, gharial and, crocodile plus water ducks, kingfisher, hutityang, chakhewa birds are all common species that depend on Karnali River system.

The river passes through three types of landscapes with a variety of environments supporting incredible biodiversity, three ethnocultural settlements, several lingua-franca, and religious zones. Therefore, for trekkers and aqua tourists, Karnali River is a unique and hidden treasure.

The original indigenous Tibetan (Lama) culture of the Namkha rural municipality in Limi Valley, Inner and Trans Himalaya and High Himalaya Zones, the Khas-Brahman: Shahi, Sing, Thakuri, Magar of the Fore Himalaya, Middle Hills, and Mahabharat Zone and the Tharu, Rajhi, Majhi, Sonara cultures of the Siwalik Hills and the Gangetic Plain in the Terai – Bardiya  and Kailali and their typical cultural lifestyles are all unique and rare heritages that Nepal offers in order to develop tourism along the Karnali river corridor.

Water sports

As for water sports (kayaking and rafting) in the Karnali river, Jitegadh to Seti/Geruwa section runs along Kalikot Achham, Dailekh, Surkhet, Kailali and Bardiya. From Jitegadh to the Seti Karnali confluence, it is quite adventurous and scenic because the paddlers encounter many rapids ranging up to Class IV+ (four plus) with names such as Sweetness and Light, Jail House, God’s House, Flip and Strip, and Juicer. The river flows in narrow gorges. The crystal clear blue water flows through the sub-tropical (green) jungle and along a panorama of purple, orange, and black colorful rocks.

Splashes of clear water fly from the surface as the paddlers push through the waves. On the banks of the river, several beaches (river sediments) are available for beach volleyball, frisbee, horse riding, and for camping.

Khas, Brahman, Magar, Raji, and Majhi settlements border the journey providing an ethnographic milieu and a colorful mosaic landscape. Along the waterway, paddlers can swim in the river because the river flow at some places is quite calm and without whirlpools. One can also fish on the campsite. Tourists along the Karnali corridor have good accesses to local organic foods, such as green vegetables, local chicken, goat, fish, fruits, and cereals, etc. at a reasonable price.

The rafters are advised to carry a good small dry bag where they can carry and protect cameras for photography and other electronic items, frisbees, and fishing rods. In the evening, they can have a good campfire by collecting firewood deposited by the river at the beach campsites. When camps are near communities, paddlers can enjoy, fresh and dry local fishes, local liquors (chhyang, kodo/makai raksis) at night halts and they can also engage in cultural programs nearby their tent or campsites if they request/inform the locals ahead of their arrival date.

To date, no local company has started a commercial rafting business and whatever the profit is currently enjoyed go to Kathmandu-based tourism entrepreneurs. Currently, even all rafting and trekking accommodations are self-contained and managed by Kathmandu-based companies without using local resources.

This river provides full entertainment and enchantment to the boating expedition teams. However, it has to be kept in pristine condition in its natural setting, i.e.; free flow without disturbance in its corridor. This can be accomplished through the establishment of a protected river corridor (i.e. The Karnali Sacred River Corridor) with an agreed upon code of conduct for river protection.

Unrealized potential

People in most of the settlements along the Karnali river are poor. The reasons behind this are – remoteness, a rocky, unproductive landscape, poor transportation facilities, subsistence mode of agriculture, a decline in the amount of pastureland because of the establishment of a community forest system, no quarantine facilities for trans-border trade with Tibet/China and poor knowledge on ecological and attitude of the rulers/governments. In spite of that, governments of the Karnali area, both at the provincial and local levels, can develop the region by promoting tourism. It is imperative to chart out plans and policies based on the knowledge of ecological ideas and which are compatible or suitable and appropriate to the locally available resources – both natural and human capital.

Among different dimensions of development resources, ecotourism can be one potential product of the Karnali region.  Concerned governments and development stakeholders need to share knowledge and ideas on potential opportunities within the Karnali River Corridor and network.

To date, no local company has started a commercial rafting business and whatever the profit is currently enjoyed go to Kathmandu-based tourism entrepreneurs. Currently, even all rafting and trekking accommodations are self-contained and managed by Kathmandu-based companies without using local resources.

By and large, the Karnali River is full of opportunities and potentials. That development, which focuses on multiple resource values and uses of the Karnali River Corridor has a high potential to enhance the well-being of the local people and bring prosperity to the Karnali region.

News Source:  https://english.khabarhub.com/2019/31/10172/