Saving the Himalayan Rivers

We can comprehend the fact that energy powers civilisation, but it is no excuse to destroy one of the world's most sought out rivers.


Text by Abish Shakya

In an attempt to save the river Marsyangdi from being dammed, The Nepal Kayak and Canoe Club (NKCC) organised the Marsyangdi Express last year, but they fell short of voices. Marsyangdi is now dammed, and any hopes of a thrilling river-run have made its final berth.

This year, NKCC organised the Bhote Koshi Express from October 27 to 29, in an attempt to liberate Bhote Koshi, which might face the same fate if the under construction dam in the river does not

come to a halt. No matter what fate the river Bhote Koshi has in store, 28 kayakers from Nepal and around the world took the chance to take on what could be the final bow at the river Bhote Koshi, in the extreme kayaking event, ‘The Bhote Koshi Express’.

“It is not easy to paddle on Bhote Koshi, and is not meant for everyone. Those who are not skilled will face the wrath of Mother Nature, and those who do dare to paddle cannot do so without pushing their limits,” says Anup Gurung, president of NKCC.

The runs for the extreme kayak event were held on a world class section but with less fierce rapids to minimise risk for kayakers, yet delivering a ferocious run. Riding with the rolling waves, kayakers bravely demonstrated their skills against the ravening current of the river. Noah Seb Philips from the UK bagged the ‘first prize’, while Surjan Tamang and Man Bahadur Kedal from Nepal earned the ‘second’ and ‘third place’ respectively.

The Bhote Koshi is ranked 7th in National Geographic’s Top 10 list of rivers for white water rafting. Every kayaker would consider paddling on the Bhote Koshi as a highlight in their career, but many others who dream of taking on the almighty river might be running out of time. Due to the construction of multiple dams on the Bhote Koshi River, any recreational activity on the river is edging towards its demise.

The dam will not just affect the kayakers and rafters, but also the lives of villagers and people surviving on ecotourism and adventure tourism in the vicinity. “The river is our life and how would they understand,” says Rajip Tripati, a Nepali kayaker, trying to point a finger at the contractors taking away the only source of livelihood of people depending on the river.

“If we destroy the river, we destroy the Earth”, voices Megh Ale, Founder President of River Conservation Trust, who has been trying to save the rivers of Nepal for 21 years. He fears that posterity will not be able to get a glimpse of the real face of the Bhote Koshi, and likewise, many other rivers of our country. Though not against development, he is disheartened by the way dams are being built which interrupt the natural flow of rivers, and is taking away its natural essence.

The construction of the dam on Bhote Koshi will generate 102 MW power, and  Ale claims that if the location of the dam could have been shifted to an appropriate location, the world-class section of Bhote Koshi could have still been intact while compromising only 27 MW of power generation.

“The energy demand of our country is about 1500 MW at the moment, and our total capacity to generate energy from hydropower is way higher. It is not necessary to sacrifice a world class river in an irrational manner to fulfil energy demands, says Ale, “Even if the dam is being built with an investment of millions, it should still be stopped. Two dams are going to be constructed, one is under construction and two other dams have been proposed.”

Comparing the global scenario of dam construction and conservation of environment, Brendan Wells from the United States says, “We have learned that the small amount of power that can be generated from the big rivers is not worth the resources that they bring. Condit dam from the White Salmon River in the US was removed,” adding, “Many dams in California are being planned to be removed in order to restore the rivers. It’s a pretty crazy contrast to see the trend of removing dams from rivers in the US but all around the world, people and companies are being more ambitious to put on dams”

Voicing the same, Stefan Feiss, Edward Radcliffe and Timothy Riddell from New Zealand says, “People are still trying to build dams on beautiful rivers in New Zealand, but there’s a lot of resistance. It’s not only kayakers but also local people, including river men, divers and fishermen, speak out against the decision of building dams. They opine, “I think it’s harder for your voice to be heard because the government seems to do what they want to do.”

Nepal’s biggest industry is the tourism industry, and our country is a white water heaven. In Europe, kayaking on a river is a single-day event while kayaking in Nepal can go from anywhere from 6 to 10 days, and has at least 12 major kayaking rivers to offer with still a choice of 6000 streams- big and small – to paddle on. For tourists, kayaking in rivers of Nepal is cheaper as local transports help in moving from one river to another, and can survive on an expenditure of $20 per day. Tourists who come for the purpose of kayaking spend months in Nepal, and they always keep coming back.

“The Dubai Creek took millions to create. The Lee Valley White Water Centre in London, where the 2012 London Olympics took place, took a total investment of £53 million. Look how many countries, without free-flowing rivers, invest in creating an artificial river?” says Ale, and adds, “These rivers are not categorised as ‘world class’ but we already have world-class rivers, and these are nature’s gifts for us. Instead of conserving the gifts, look at the destruction we are causing to our rivers.”

Damming is not a problem limited to Nepal but in almost every country around the world, but we can be one of the first to act against it. Besides, the Bhote Koshi, the pristine river Karnali is also in contention of being dammed. However, the ‘Save the Karnali’ movement is under strict implementation, and awareness programs and protest demonstrations against the construction of dam are being conducted time to time.

“The rivers of our country are our heritages. It should not be destroyed but conserved for many generations. Youths are the energy of the nation, and the next generation can absolutely do something about it. The hope comes first before the change, so why don’t we all unite to deliver the good hope in the real world. Then the change will come,” says Ale, who holds faith in the youths, and hopes that everyone will realize that their acts are destructing the nature’s gifts and should work to bring changes before it’s too late.

Short Says

Stefan Feiss, Edward Radcliffe and Timothy Riddell (New Zealand)

“Nepal is high in the pecking order for a kayaking destination and in the extreme places to go. The surrounding holds are really steep and have really constant river flow, and it’s always sunny, always awesome.”

Brendan Wells (USA)

“I watched a lot of kayaking movies, and I remember movies about Nepal with the Bhote Koshi River. I’ve always wanted to run on this river since I was a kid. The more you kayak, the more you hear about the Bhote Koshi. It’s always been one of my dream rivers to paddle on. The Bhote Koshi has some of the best white water runs I’ve ever run in my life, and it’s so much fun.”

Benjamin Kirl (Germany)

“It’s a really good competition. I like the small competitions but I’m not much about competing; rather, I am into gathering people and having fun. The river is perfect for an extreme competition. It’s the third time that I’m kayaking on this river. It’s probably the hardest river I’ve paddled in the world.”

George Younger (UK)

“Bhote Koshi is my favourite river. When it’s high in the monsoon season, you can do the lower Bhote Koshi. If it’s low season but still high, you can do Borderlands to Barabise. When it’s low, you can paddle towards Last Resort. When it’s really low, you can go to Tatopani. I’ve been kayaking on this river for the entire last month, and I keep coming back.”



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