Canoeing down the river Rapti in Nepal

Rapti’s Raptor : A lone ‘gharial’ sunning himself on the banks.Route: Sauraha; Budhe Rapti; Rapti; Patihani; Duration: 3 hours

I was tingling with excitement at the prospect of canoeing on a wild river, which I had never done before. The previous day we landed in Sauraha, Chitwan National Park, Nepal, after a short commuter flight from Kathmandu and then a half hour ride on a bumpy road. It was a peaceful scene with little traffic and no tourists to distract the campers who were at peace with nature.

After a sumptuous breakfast, we were ready to begin our canoeing expedition. We got into the dugout canoe, a long wooden boat in which were placed small chairs for seating. I gingerly had to hold the side of the boat as I stepped in since it had tilted awkwardly. The boatman was helpful and he grabbed my arm to guide me to my allotted place in the front. The boat had a ‘crew’ of two oarsmen with long poles who were professionals.

There was a guide sitting in front of the boat who pointed out various matters of interest as the boat began its slow steady journey downstream.

I needed some adjustment to sit on that tiny chair trying to prevent myself being thrown out as the boat titled dangerously while it lurched forward. After a while, however, I forgot the inconvenience and began to enjoy the novel experience of canoeing.

Fortunately, the river was shallow and though gentle, our leader Mani from time to time used to shout in mock anxiety, “Ladies and gentlemen, you are now approaching rapids. Hold tight,” Fortunately, these were shallow rapids and there was no danger of the boat capsizing. After half an hour of canoeing, the boat stopped briefly to get a clearance from the forest department that it was ok to go ahead.

After getting used to the swaying boat and uncomfortable perch on a low chair, I started enjoying the thrill of going on a canoe ride for the first time. The mountain-stream Budhe Rapti is a small tributary of Rapti River. It was excitement all around when we were about to join the main Rapti River. Until then the ride had given rise to minor problems such as the boat scraping the riverbed gravel due to the low level of water. The weather was balmy with a gentle hint of sun in the morning. The river water was surprisingly clear and warm to touch. Birds winged effortlessly in the blue sky and our guide pointed out the crocodiles (gharials as these are called) sunning themselves on the riverbanks and on rocks in the river. You would be forgiven if you think the animal was either dead or it was a stone, so still they were.

Soon we started seeing a number of water birds on the river in groups of 10 or more. We were told that some of them were migratory birds winging all the way from as far as Tibet. The Tibetan ducks, which fly gracefully, were the nosiest of the lot making a cacophony of sounds as they started fishing or fighting among themselves. There were other species such as the cormorant and egrets. What impressed me were the neat tiny holes bored by starling like little birds, which had carved out their little nests on the sides of the tall mud riverbanks. Unmindful of the crocodile, a lone bird had perched on top of the still animal. “Sir, sometimes the gharial snaps quickly and catches the unwary bird for a meal,” informed our boatman.

The river broadened but it stretched far ahead of us. We knew our destination was near as Mani pointed out to a distant makeshift jetty where we would be landing and plan our next programme in the village jungle resort of Patihani.

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