Beyond Trekking: Rafting, Flying, and Spelunking in Nepal’s Himalayas

#Project 100DaysInHimalayas takes on Pokhara.  
Microlight Annapurna Pokhara Nepal
A microlight flight affords stunning views of the Annapurna range in Nepal, but it can be a little hair-raising. The vehicle has just enough space for a pilot and passenger, and a spare frame that's open to freezing gusts of wind. Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee

Nepal towers over the world with eight of the 10 highest mountains—and Pokhara is its gateway to adventure. White-water rafters and kayakers gather here to grapple with Kali Gandaki (gandaki is Nepali for “river”) and Seti Gandaki. Trekkers and mountain bikers come to scale the Annapurna range—there’s even a “Royal Trek” named for the route that Prince Charles purportedly followed in the early 1980s. It’s one of the best places in the world to paraglide, and there’s a golf course with stellar mountain views.

So it was only inevitable that wildlife photographer Dhritiman Mukherjee and Bollywood music composer Shantanu Moitra hit up Pokhara on their visit to Nepal last October for an adrenalin rush. From last February, the duo has been making a series of trips in the Himalayas, spanning from Jammu and Kashmir to Bhutan, as part of the #100DaysInHimalayas Project. (See their other stories here).

First up, they went white-water rafting in River Trishuli, named after the trident of Shiva that was driven here to create three springs. While families often raft in this river, Mukherjee says their experience was strictly “not for kids. The river is steep and there are lots of rapids and boulders.” In some places where the water was calmer, Mukherjee swam.

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River Trishuli is popular for white-water rafting in Nepal. Travellers can navigate its rapids and gorgeous Himalayan views over two or three days, or a few hours. Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee

Pokhara means “valley of the lakes” in Nepali, and Phewa—the biggest of Pokhara’s eight lakes— borders the city. Rent a paddle boat, or hire a mountain bike from a lakeside shop to explore the waters, or simply sip coffee with lake views at Phewa’s many waterfront properties. Visitors also make a day trek to the second-biggest lake, Begnas Lake, nestled in thick forests and vibrant with waterfowl.

Seeking a different view of the landscape, Mukherjee and Moitra booked a ride on two-seater planes over Pokhara’s wetlands and rocky mountain. On the next day, Moitra hopped on to a hang-glider to soar near the peaks of Annapurna and Macchapuchhre (or “Fish Tail”). Mukherjee accompanied on a microlight, a tiny aircraft that is open to the elements, affording bird’s-eye views and a terrific vantage for photographers. “It was very cold,” Mukherjee said, “about 1 or 2 degrees Celsius when we were up. But everything is so exciting that you ignore the cold.”

Pokhara’s adventures also extend underground, such as the limestone formations of Mahendra Cave and the sacred cave of Gupteshwar. Moitra and Mukherjee braved their way through Bat Cave, on the outskirts of Pokhara, home to thousands of the nocturnal creatures. Some would baulk at the sight (and smell!) of hordes of horseshoe bats on the ceilings, but the broad-shouldered photographer’s challenge came at the end, when they decided to squeeze through the narrow exit, rather than return the way they came like most climbers. “I’m the last size that will fit through,” said Mukherjee, exultant at having wriggled through.

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The lush fields and terraced landscapes of the Pokhara valley of Nepal, fed by eight lakes. Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee

Nepal is not just known for its high-octane adventures, but its gentle and highly vigilant guides. Mukherjee was most impressed by the steely Indian pilot of his microlight in Pokhara, who kept scanning the land every few minutes. “I asked him why he kept looking down, and he said he was looking for a place to land in case the wind stops,” Mukherjee said. It made him realise that they were really at the mercy of the elements, he said, “You’re flying over mountains and glaciers in a small aircraft under a lot of influencing factors, it’s very tricky.” Moitra was particularly moved by the hospitality of the locals, and the sensitivity that Sherpas displayed when guiding climbers. “They put themselves last,” he observed, saying that their kindness was reason enough for travellers to return again and again to one of the world’s most remote regions.

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The turquoise Gokyo Lakes are the world’s highest freshwater lake system. They make for a popular trekking route in Nepal, but are just as magnificent when glimpsed from a helicopter. Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee

But in Nepal, the biggest adventure magnet will always be the mighty Mount Everest. Mountaineers here and acclimatise to summit the world’s highest peak. Others choose to take lesser-known trails in the Everest region. Having trekked to the Everest base camp before, Mukherjee and Moitra slotted in a new memory of the mountains: from the skies. In Kathmandu, the duo flew in a helicopter to the camp, via what is arguably the world’s scariest airport—Lukla, which has a skinny landing strip usually populated by skittish goats. The chopper skimmed over the glittering aquamarine Gokyo Lakes and glaciers only to stop for a precious few minutes at the base camp, as the two-hour-long ascent was not enough time for them to acclimatise to the high altitude. They took in staggering views, sighting six of the eight highest mountains in Nepal including Lhotse, Makalu, and Dhaulagiri, each over 8,000m. “Exactly eight years back, I’d walked this route,” said Moitra, who was just as overwhelmed this time by the spectacular views of the mammoth snow-capped peaks.

For a guide to prepping for the Everest Base Camp trek, see here.

Follow Project #100DaysinHimalayas adventures here.

  • Saumya Ancheri is the former Assistant Editor of NGT India's web team. She loves places by the sea, and travels to shift her own boundaries. She tweets as @Saumya_Ancheri.

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