ABOUT Karnali

Cultural Activities
Conservation Symposium
The Karnali River

Nepal is a country with immense natural beauty with a deep-rooted cultural heritage. A great part of this natural beauty comes from the many rivers that flow through the majestic Himalayas to the lowlands of the Terai. From Mount Everest (Sagarmatha), Lumbini-Birthplace of Lord Gautam Buddha, Annapurna trekking circuit, Chitwan National Park, Nepal has lot more to offer. Nepal just needs to focus on developing the infrastructure to support tourism, maintaining its natural beauty, and promoting Nepal as a destination for Nature, Culture and Adventure Tourism.

The Karnali lies in the western part of Nepal in what is called the “Wild West”, an area only recently opened for tourism. It is Nepal’s mightiest river and most experienced river travelers, who have rafted or kayaked down the Karnali, agree that it is one of the best trips offered anywhere.

Rising in the vicinity of Tibet’s holy Mount Kailash, the Karnali carves the Himalayan landscape into a series of magnificent gorges and canyons as it descends slowly into the forests of western Nepal. On this river you can expect exceptionally big-volume rafting through jungles inhabited by nomads, deserted beaches and small villages. Seasonal snow melts and storms can cause the river level to swell drastically and create the extremes of whitewater rafting.

In high water, the Karnali is a serious undertaking, with fairly straightforward yet huge rapids. Even at lower levels, it is still not a walk in the park as the rapids become more constricted and the gradient steeper. One highlight of this classic river journey is a 7km long gorge, “thrill-a-minute roller-coaster ride,” with rapids at every bend. Although we must admit, any season suits the Karnali.

The lower section of the Karnali does not have any major rapids, but the river now teems with aquatic life, including Gangetic freshwater dolphins, Marsh Mugger and Gharial Crocodiles. The river borders Bardiya National park which is the home of Royal Bengal Tigers, Wild Elephants, Rhinoceros, over four hundred species of bird life are found in this national park.

Why Karnali?

The Karnali river corridor holds great potential for attaining sustainable development and it offers lots to explore within the region. Karnali river is not just a river it’s a lifeline to millions of people and variety of flora and fauna. It possesses great significance historically and culturally as well as for livelihood and biodiversity importance.

  • 1. History and Cultural Heritage in the Karnali Region

    The Karnali region is characterized by its rich mix of people, encompassing various ethnic, cultural, and religious backgrounds. On a larger scale, the region is inhabited by different groups of people with diverse origins, including Aryan, Tibeto-Burman, and Turkic. This diversity becomes even more evident when examining specific areas within the region. For instance, Upper Humla is home to the Bhotia or Bhote people, while the Limi valley is predominantly occupied by Tibetan Buddhists. In the middle Karnali region, the Khas people are widely distributed, whereas the lower riverbanks are inhabited by the Majhi, who are fishermen, as well as the Tharu and Sonaha people of the Bardiya plains.

    Traditional Shamanist and Animist practices are still prevalent in various parts of the Karnali region, reflecting the indigenous religious traditions that predate the introduction of Buddhism and Hinduism. Both Buddhists and Hindus acknowledge the presence of territorial deities and demigods across the region, highlighting the pervasive spirituality that permeates the entire landscape. Numerous communities along the Karnali corridor offer visitors an opportunity to experience Nepal's cultural and religious heritage. Engaging with the locals, visiting temples, and staying in historic houses provide tourists with unique and highly sought-after experiences.

  • 2. The Sacred River Corridor: Transboundary Connections

    The Karnali River originates in the revered region of Mount Kailash in the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China. It begins as the Mapcha Khabab in a glaciated valley west of Lake Mansarovar and Rakshash Tal, near the Garuda Valley in the ancient kingdom of Zhangzhung. Additionally, the Karnali is fed by streams flowing from the glaciers of Mount Gurla Mandata.

    Mount Kailash is surrounded by a sacred landscape from which four great rivers emerge: the Sutlej, Indus, Brahmaputra, and Karnali (Ganga). Each of these rivers symbolically flows from the mouth of a different creature. The Sutlej flows from an Elephant's mouth (Langchhen Khabab) in the west, the Indus from a Lion's mouth (Singchhen Khabab) in the north, the Brahmaputra or Yarlung Tsangpo from a Horse's mouth (Tamchhog Khabab) in the east, and the Karnali River from a Peacock's mouth (Mapcha Khabab) in the south.

    It is in the Karnali region of Nepal that a connection exists between the sacred landscapes of Kailash-Mansarovar in Tibet and the Holy Ganga in India. The hope is that more people will come to recognize the entire Karnali River as a Sacred River Corridor, emphasizing its spiritual significance and importance.

  • 3. Biodiversity Importance

    The Karnali River traverses an incredibly diverse ecological gradient, creating a habitat that supports a wide array of plant life, wildlife, and aquatic creatures. This includes numerous species that are endangered or found only in specific regions. The river serves as a crucial environment for the survival of endangered aquatic animals like Gangetic freshwater dolphins, Marsh Mugger crocodiles, and Gharial crocodiles. Additionally, the river shares its borders with Bardiya National Park, which is home to majestic creatures such as Royal Bengal Tigers, Wild Elephants, and Rhinoceros. The national park also boasts an impressive variety of over four hundred bird species. Overall, the Karnali River stands as Nepal's most pristine and unspoiled river, nurturing a vibrant ecosystem that is invaluable in terms of biodiversity and conservation.

  • 4. Adventure River Tourism

    The Karnali River is recognized as one of the world's top five rivers for whitewater rafting and kayaking, presenting a thrilling and demanding experience. With its canyon walls and continuous rapids, it stands out as a challenging destination for water sports enthusiasts. When navigating the Karnali, adventurers can expect to encounter large-volume rapids, dense jungles, secluded beaches, and quaint villages. The river's water level can significantly fluctuate due to seasonal factors like snow melts and storms, leading to dramatic variations in the intensity of the rapids. During high water periods, the Karnali poses a serious undertaking, featuring powerful yet relatively manageable rapids. Even at lower water levels, the river remains challenging as the rapids become narrower and the gradient steeper. A highlight of this remarkable river journey is a thrilling 7-kilometer gorge, offering an exhilarating and fast-paced ride with rapids appearing at each twist and turn. It is worth noting that the Karnali guarantees an unforgettable experience for rafting enthusiasts, regardless of the season.

"PANCHASHEEL - the 5 Principles" for Karnali Province Prosperity
  1. Karnali the Home to tlany Religious Faith
  2. Karnali as Cultural Heritage - the Root of Nepal"s Civilization
  3. Karnali as Nature"s Library
  4. Karnali as a Sacred River Corridor and World Heritage Site
  5. Kamali as a Gateway to Prosperity

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