Even to think the name—Karnali—brings floods of adrenaline- and tranquility-drenched intensities through my body. Though somehow over a decade has passed since I last ran the Karnali River, in my younger days I spent months of days along its shores and beaches and navigating its waters. I became familiar with its curves and twists and drops and came to measure the days’ passing by the growth of my beard and the changes in weather. I remember the mists that rose off the terraced hillsides far above us some mornings; I can hear the race of the Karnali’s green water pulse in my veins in the moments the gorge tilted downward, funneling us into one of the biggest rapids I have run in twenty years of river running: ‘Flip ‘n Strip’—at high flows: Gigantic. I can feel the heat of the days, craning to catch sight of the waters down below from the ridge-top above the put in (“What is the level? High? Or HUGE?”), apprehending that the buzz in my blood–body—that had been growing since setting off with the porters to the river was stress, that positive, performance-enhancing stress where the body is keyed-up, honed, knowing skills and nerve are about to be repeatedly tested; the sphincter-tightening moments scouting “God’s House”; the minutes of inter-rapid tranquility floating past farmers working their terraced hill-sides, water buffalo in the fields along the shore straining to reach the harvested hay drying just above their outstretched tongues in its branches like some Dr. Suess Nepalese lollipop tree; the rollicking, great health of time and again following the line indicated by the kayaker’s paddle who had since disappeared into the maelstrom of white water into which we were dropping; the languorous meandering days on the river after the confluence with the Seti river—the gorges of rapids successfully navigated—as naked, nut brown children ran alongside the river chasing our boats excitedly yelling: ‘namaste’, ‘namaste’.
Perhaps it is only possible to know what the best moments of our lives are after they have passed, when the filter of time reveals the days of joy and good health that the healthy body regards as normal to be truly transcendent. Maybe I shall see the Karnali River again, but then again, maybe I won’t. I know I would like to; even thinking about it brings a thrill to my body… And I know if I do, and knowing the river as I do, that same multi-faceted exhilaration described above will start seeping into my days well before I begin packing my dry bags in the comfort of my home. My life and body have changed since the mid-nineties, three children, middle-age, but there is no doubt that there on the waters of the Karnali River, I was as marvellously and fully alive and aware and as powerful and as joyful as I have ever been.
by Hamish McMaster
Hamish McMaster is the Water By Nature owner. He has spent the past 25 years exploring and playing on the world's great rivers. He still loves nothing more than getting out there and sharing adventures.
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