Southern Oregon University Outdoor Adventure Leadership Expedition

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It is the risk-conscious that stand to gain more out of rock climbing then a fool-hardy adrenaline junkie. It is not something that you can just go down to Thamel, get rope and start climbing.

Rock climbing is a rapidly growing recreational activity all over the world. Beginning as one aspect to mountaineering, it has developed into a sport by itself, with specialized aspects such as bouldering and sport climbing being derived from it as well. And, with the creation of the popular indoor climbing walls, it  is no longer solely an outdoor experience. As its name suggests, rock climbing involves clambering from the bottom of a rock face or cliff to the top. Using as much protective equipment and safety holds as possible, the climber needs every ounce of his physical ability and mental faculties to ascend


With so many cliffs and hills around, rock climbing seems like a sport created for Nepal. The activity is slowly gaining ground here, not just as a commercial or tourist venture, but as a personal leisurely pursuit. In particular, there are two places to climb in the valley which are easily accessible, one at Hattiban and the other at Nagarjun. The latter site is fairly convenient to reach, as it is just on the outskirts of the city limits and there is no need to book the facilities beforehand.

The Nagarjun Rock Climbing Site has a limestone rock face with 20 climbing routes at varying grades of difficulty. Despite the proximity of the routes on the narrow cliff face, climbers will hardly feel cramped up while rock climbing, unlike in other popular touristy activities. Though commercial climbing takes place at Nagarjun, it is still relatively quiet in the forested area and not crowded even on weekends, as experienced climbers head down to practice their hobby.

To skeptics, rock climbing is just as reckless as walking a tightrope over a pit of hungry tigers. One tiny misplaced step and it is an express fall to a shattering death. Rock climbing is seemingly for adrenaline junkies to have a crazy jolt of exhilaration. Though it does have that sense of achievement in overcoming difficult challenges, rock climbing is more a practical lesson in risk management and safety planning than just a spontaneous and careless act.

Being a beginner, it is only natural to be nervous. The fear of heights and, specifically, fear of falling are normal. The only way to right misconceptions about rock climbing and overcome fears is to give it a try. To allay those fears, consider asking your climbing guide about his safety setup and preparation. Seeing them set up and explain it helps lessen the worries an, at the same time, familiarizes you with the terminology and workings behind the sport. On my first climb, my guide Chandra Ale took the group of novices to the top of the cliff face to examine the permanent anchor. All safety ropes are attached onto this pivotal bolt knocked deep into the cliff face. A double anchor with equalizing system is used, which is a fail-safe system. The sturdiness of the equipment as well as the reassuring confidence of Chandra was helpful for calming my nerves.

Find a guide with experience. Check with the guide if he provides climbing shoes and helmet; if not, consider buying your personalized one especially if you are taking up the activity. Other equipment such as harnesses, bolts, carabiners and ropes will usually be provided by the guide. Look out for the UIAA (International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation) safety label which guarantees highest standards for climbing equipment.

Climbing is centered on technique more than brute strength. You do not need the physique of a weightlifter or wrestler to climb. Even such athletes might have problems at ascending. This is because the muscle groups involved in climbing are very specific. Intense conditioning, however, is still needed to get the muscles used to climbing. There are a lot of grips and holds involving the fingers and friction between the sole of the climber and the rock surface. Muscle groups, such as in the forearms, biceps and upper back, are placed under great strain for a lengthy period of time as they endure the exertion of the climber gripping tightly or hoisting himself or herself up.

For the beginner, a warm up routine is very essential to minimize the debilitating effect of ‘morning-after’ muscular aches. The warm up will ready the body and mind for the testing physical exertion to come. The routine involves stretching of those specific groups, especially the fingers and wrists. Climbers can suffer from tweaked tendons or can snap ligaments if they go up without adequately prepping the body. Include a fair bit of aerobic activity to raise the body’s pulse rate, as it is not recommended to jump from a static to vigorous state of activity. Besides stationary stretching, attempt a short one-pitch climb on a warm up route that increases mobility and works the muscles before the actual lengthy climb.

To some enthusiasts, rock climbing is like playing chess on a vertical surface. Every move requires meticulous planning within a limited time frame. Planning a route happens before the climb and during it. The former involves examining the route and spotting possible cracks for holds as well as treacherous surfaces. Handholds are on the rock surface but may not be easy to find. Spotting from the ground can only do so much, as some crevices are tucked deep into the rock surface out of sight. This requires planning on the spot, and feeling for handholds during the climb itself.  Climbers need to read beyond the immediate surface and plan a sequence of moves towards the top. This is instantaneous decision-making with real dire consequences. You have to consider if a hold is ‘bummer’ (climbing lingo for describing a strong hold/grip) and whether it is too far to reach. A wrong choice and the rocks might give way. One tip is to use small steps and avoid over reaching, which can strains muscles.

“What if I fall?” This is almost every beginner’s burning question as he dons on his helmet and harness. Falling is inevitable. Even expert climbers lose their footing. The crucial thing to remember is that falling does not mean hurtling to the ground at breakneck speed. Climbers are attached to a safety rope via a robust harness, and the rope is linked to solid anchors. Climbing helps deal with managing your fears and is a lesson on risk management as it hones one sense of judgment and decision making.

Rock climbing involves more brains than what the common misconception portrays it to be. Yet physical endurance is just as necessary. Handholds are usually narrow, so fingers and forearms play a great part in giving a strong firm grip. Watching expert climbers agilely scaling the textured rock face, I had the impression that it was going to be a breeze. Yet when I was finally leaning against the rock face, I found myself grimacing, wincing and grunting. I was reaching deep into my reserves of energy just to reach out for that next hand hold. Straining my neck to look up and search for that next hold felt like an eternity as my fingers clamped tightly into the cracks. I could feel my forearms and thighs shaking uncontrollably as they strained to hold my weight. I succumbed eventually, falling off. Thankfully, I had full trust in Chandra, who belayed me from below.

A ‘belayer’ is a climber’s partner who collects the slack from the safety ropes. He or she operates like a pulley, keeping the rope taut so that if climber falls the rope will hold and halt the fall. The taut rope also prevents any shock load being exerted on the climber if he falls. ‘Shock load’ is the force exerted on a falling climber when he suddenly stops, with the body feeling the jarring shock of the sudden halt.

“Trust (in your belayer) is absolutely essential,” says Rob Fenn, a climbing enthusiast and a regular at Nagarjun. “If you are not confident in your belayer, then you should not be climbing with him,” he advises. Rob, who used to climb a lot on rocky crags in the United Kingdom, believes that rock climbing encourages teamwork and responsibility and goes as far to suggest allowing children to try it, so long as all safety precautions are taken.

It sure takes more than just guts to be a good climber. Strength of mental will and sensible bravado are equally if not more important than possessing technical skills and finesse. Physical endurance is a must, but that can be developed as one progresses through varying levels of climbing difficulty. The limit you scale to depends ultimately on your threshold of risk acceptance and body conditioning. Learning the right techniques improves one’s competence and with skill comes that confidence to negotiate the rock walls and scale fearlessly to the top. 



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Outdoor Adventure Leadership Program w/ Southern Oregon University

the start of an expedition and outdoor leadership program, running currently, by Initiative Outdoor 

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Personal Developement

Learn technical outdoor skills, enjoy the thrills of adventure, and engage in stimulating conversations and lessons in teamwork, perseverance, and personal development with a team of expert instructors. 

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Sanskriti School Expedition

Sanskriti School Expedition Week was Completed Successfully with a blend of adventure in the pristine Bhotekoshi river area. Students learned basic camping skills, canyoning, and rafting throughout the course. 

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Bimalnagar Bandipur

Canyoning is an exhilarating activity where you can swim, jump, slide, hike, and forget about the heat in the refreshing valley. It looks hard at first glance, but there is no problem as long as you have the normal physical strength and a feeling of enjoyment! Wet suits, helmets, life jackets, and other equipment for safe enjoyment are all rented on a base basis, so please feel free to join us in our newly canyoneering spot in the magical hills of Bandipur. 

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Karnali Sacred River Corridor

Over the last 30 years, most major rivers in Nepal have been researched for their hydropower potential on basis of economic cost and revenue from electricity.

The Marsyangdi, Kali Gandaki, Chilime, Bhote Kosi have now been dammed, and construction is nearing completion on the Modi Khola, Tama Kosi, Upper Trisuli, Khimti. More projects are planned in Upper Marsyangdi, Bhote Kosi (Rasuwa) and West Seti.

All rivers in Nepal have some form of hydroelectric development planned for the next 20 years. But we have to stop and ask: does prosperity only mean damming rivers for electricity, or are there other more nature-friendly ways to raise living standards?

The benefits of renewable fuel sources come at a price – the destruction of the river landscapes and fragile eco-systems around them. Fish species can be lost due to dams, and the riverine ecology is fractured by rampant development.

In the United States and Japan, overdevelopment has led to dams being dismantled so rivers can flow free again. Bhutan has declared free-flowing rivers, and even Australia has set aside the Franklin River. Norway generates 98% of its energy need with hydro, yet the river ecology is left intact for recreation and tourism.

Why cannot Nepal learn from the mistakes of other countries? We have 6,000 rivers and rivulets with a potential to generate 48,000MW, but none of them have been declared free-flowing, or protected as river heritage. Set aside at least one river on each basin to be free-flowing, and there will still be enough energy to go around. We have national parks to protect mountains, lakes, but none to protect rivers.

I first did a white water rafting descent on the Karnali in 1991 and it was the most pristine river I had ever been on. Since then, we have been working to protect Nepal’s longest river from over-development that has destroyed other rivers in the country. The trouble is that the Karnali flows through Nepal’s remotest and most underserved areas, and the pressure for economic extraction is high.

Karnali River Conservation and the Nepal River Conservation Trust (NRCT) have been working to protect the Karnali, a river that connects Mt Kailash with Bardia National Park and the Ganga in India. There is tremendous potential for eco-adventure tourism and pilgrim trails along the Karnali corridor. Scientists from all over the world would come to study the incredible diversity of the Karnali Basin.

Just making noise was not achieving results, so we decided to put together this expedition to explore the source of the Karnali and travel down with the river to its confluence with the Ganga in India. With us was geomorphologist Karen Bennett to gather science-based evidence on why it should be a free flowing river. We will use the findings to convince politicians.

A NEA report states that licenses have been issued to generate nearly 6,000MW on the tributaries of the Karnali like Humla Karnali, Mugu Karnali, Tila, West Seti etc. The GMR license for Upper Karnali has expired, so this would be the opportunity to cancel it and concentrate on projects that do not touch the main stem of the Karnali.

A pilgrim trail along the Karnali River from Chisapani to Kailash can draw Indian devotees to trek to Mansarovar, and bring Chinese Buddhists to Lumbini. Eco-tourism trails and homestays can provide local income.

The Karnali is nature’s gift to Nepal and among the five best in the world for whitewater rafting and kayaking. If it is promoted well it can lift this entire region of Western Nepal out of poverty.

The government of the province that is named after the Karnali must realise that their river is as important as Mt Everest. This can be a perfect world class Himalayan river heritage site connecting the cultures and economies of India and China through Nepal.

Look out for the 3rd National River Summit 28-31 March at the heart of the Karnali at Rakum. There will be exhibitions and presentations by scientists that highlight the unique features and potentials for this great river.

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Water is the essence of life.Primarily agricultural and landlocked, Nepal’s mountain
waters nourish the crop fields and assure the country’s sustenance. For generations, rivers have been the lifelines of Nepal’s economic growth, more recently in some brand new ways...

As they neared another whirlpool of torrential whitewater, I watched intently, crossing my fingers tightly in worrying anticipation. Water brings life but can so easily reclaim it. Plunging stern first into the raging torrents, they deftly avoided natural obstacles with forceful but measured strokes. Sweeping past gaping holes and sidestepping massive boulders, I was watching a graceful dance with the river gods, where a wrong move could spell a watery grave for brave kayakers.

An arresting red-colored blur flips up amongst the churning rapids of the lower stretch of the Bhote Kosi. As the frothy white rapids relent into the turquoise calm of the swirling eddy, an elongated shimmering shape emerges. The watercraft glides across the water surface and turns towards where it had appeared. The guide, Chandra Ale, raised his paddle, one blade pointing to the sky and the other to the ground, in the shape of the Roman numeral, one. “All clear—Go ahead,” the lead kayaker signals to the others in the group.

Whitewater kayaking is gaining interest amongst both locals and tourists in Nepal. Already a veteran in many outdoors adventure sports and vastly experienced in whitewater rafting, Chandra is also a part of the emerging group of enthusiasts who are enjoying the wet and wild life on the rivers of Nepal as a kayaker. As a tourist activity, kayaking has often been overshadowed by rafting. Even amongst locals, kayaking is possibly the neglected child of the whitewater sports family. For these professional kayakers, the sport is a fun way to make a living. But they hope to see it grow into a mainstay of tourism, where a heightened buzz of life can be added to the rivers.

Often seen accompanying commercial whitewater rafting trips, kayakers play an
important role as safety guides. The versatility of kayaks makes it an asset to whitewater sports’ safety. Whitewater kayaking is primarily an individual water sport, however. There are many models of today’s kayaks. The whitewater variants are made of hardy plastic. They can withstand collisions, are lightweight and the absence of metallic parts make exposed paddlers less prone to lightning strikes, a considerable threat in open waters.

Whitewater kayaking encompasses a diverse range of competition forms and purposes. The most straightforward, but no less challenging, is river-running, in which whitewater rafting is the competitive version. Done at a leisurely pace, it is like a water-based tour. Short half or one-day runs are the norm, where seasoned paddlers test their skills in the challenging rapids or quicker-flowing parts of the river. Multi-day expenditures mix the run of the
rapids with good old fashioned hand-driven paddling to push the kayak on through calmer waters, as they cruise the river’s course. The whole adventure has come a long ways since the first descent. The pioneer expedition for river kayaking in Nepal took place in 1973 on the Dudh Kosi. Note, too, that expedition kayaks usually have more hull space to hold gear for long trips and overnight camping.

The main difference between rafting and kayaking is the absolute control of a sole paddler in the kayak, versus a group in the raft, and the kayakers singular mastery of technique. Kayaking puts a paddler in direct control of his watercraft so the onus is on the individual to safely carry through. Skill and competence is also vital. Perhaps in rafting, much depends on the river guide and bare basics are sufficient for participation in the group.

For kayaking, especially in rapids however, the paddler has to be well-trained to tackle the tough course alone. Due to the independent nature of the sport, paddlers have to be extremely acquainted with the rigors of maneuvering through whitewater and capable of self-help techniques. Although the kayak’s compact frame makes it an ideal candidate for zipping past obstacles, this attribute is also a double-edged sword. The thin body of the creek kayak that is typically used for river running also makes the paddler susceptible to trauma injuries.

Kayaking is seldom done near the river’s source. High in the headwaters, surface
runoff funnels into constricted channels. High fluvial velocity follows as the water forces its way down-slope, pulled by gravity through a narrow stream channel. Kayaking becomes almost impossible with the numerous boulders that usually block the way. Yet, even the lower stretches of a river may be little safer. Danger lurks everywhere and is not always dependant on the size or speed of the river.

Still water runs deep, and as counter-intuitive as that cliché may be, the water
actually gushes through much faster downstream. The calm river surface is a deceptive contrast to the volatile water flow at the channel’s depth. It takes a bit of physics to explain the mechanics of fluid flow, but the conclusion equates to a powerful surge of river water underneath all that topside calm. As flow volume surges, so does the river’s force. With a jet-like pace, a rushing river is a splendid avenue to experience the adrenaline pumping thrill of whitewater kayaking. But just as it can thrill, it can also kill.

According to Chandra Ale, an accredited swift water rescue trainer, about four years ago there was a case of ‘body entrapment’ resulting in the unfortunate death of a safety kayaker on the Kali Gandaki River. Based on his experience, almost 50% of the casualties he has witnessed in kayaking are cases of body entrapment. The overwhelming pressure, as a result of the fast current, pins paddlers under large debris or rocks thus creating an underwater death trap. Cuts and bruises are the less serious, but more typical superficial injuries.

Serious practice is thus ‘a must’ for all paddlers, be they novices or experienced enthusiasts. Specialized clinics, usually about four days in duration, are organized to impart paddling skills, basic kayaking maneuvers, recognizing whitewater features and learning safety techniques. Clinics are usually held in calm waters or even in swimming pools before progressing to the more turbulent but thrilling waters. A well-fitting lifejacket and helmet and a generous sense of adventure is also a must. The kayaking clinics usually conducted on the Seti or Sun Kosi rivers. The best times to kayak Himalayan rivers are from October to December after the monsoon flow has eased off.

Besides river-running, enthusiasts who have achieved mastery, can move on to two other complex forms of the sport. ‘Slalom’ is a technical form of kayaking and appears in the Olympic Games. Competitors race through the river while negotiating a series of tight gates. Slalom kayaks weigh around two kilograms, considerably lighter than creek kayaks, and have streamlined shapes to allow for ease of maneuver when clearing the gates. In exchange for lighter weight, however, the body of the craft is made of carbon fiber which can be fairly brittle. ‘Rodeo’, also known as ‘Freestyle’, is an acrobatic form of kayaking with many stunts performed in one spot of the river. These include surfing, spinning, and bouncing off the waves. Rodeo kayaks are stockier and more compact. Their size allows the kayak to leverage upon the waves to lift off the surface and carry out stunts. For all around safety, however, only creek kayaks are recommended.

The challenge is not just avoiding what Nature throws in a kayaker’s way. The sport is also a personal test—to go beyond controlling the watercraft and to be at ease in Nature’s elements. Your life might just depend on it. Whitewater kayaking has a degree of risk to it, but it is also this same aspect that adds to the exhilaration.

Nepal has whitewater kayaking opportunities to suit enthusiasts of every skill level, novice to professional. With three main river systems, the Kosi, Gandaki and Karnali, flowing through all parts of the country and dozens of major tributaries crisscrossing laterally, kayaking is also a rewarding tour along the lifelines of the country. Read the whitewaters, feel the pulse of the river, plunge in with a fearless heart and go with the flow. 

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Next time someone tells you to “take a hike”, give it some thought. If they think you are not needed there, then why not just get away from it all? If you are so caught up in problems of your daily life, then do seriously consider taking a hike.

Hiking is a form of walking for recreation. Walk away your troubles, as hiking is a healthy way of forgetting about life’s daily stress. For some, it is a way of keeping fit and done as exercise. For others, it’s adventure. No expensive equipment is needed; you just put one foot forward and then another. Since the day you stood up and took your first steps, you have been preparing to hike. It comes naturally since it is merely an extended version of walking. There are no fancy techniques or difficult skills to master. You control the intensity, duration and pace of this natural workout, and you choose where to hit the trail.

Hiking can be done by anyone regardless of age. Let the slowest person in the group set the pace. Hiking is best enjoyed if done at a comfortable pace.  It brings you deeper into nature’s unspoiled beauty. Hiking is not a competition to determine how far or high or fast one can go.

Unless you are in a hurry to return to smog and filth, there is really no need to rush through the pristine environment. Hiking takes you away from the noisy rush of the city and leads you deep into the serene tranquility of the wilderness. Take in a deep breath of fresh crisp air and hear the melodious sounds of nature play out around you.

Overnight hiking or multi-day hikes can be considered as backpacking or trekking. Beginners can start with a day hike through the villages outside of the Ring Road before progressing to steeper terrain, like trekking through the hills on the Kathmandu Valley Rim. Hike slowly and spend time absorbing the sights and sounds along the trail. More than just a means of getting to your destination, hiking’s essence is in enjoying the journey, of savoring the experience of walking through the land.

Children look forward to taking hikes as it brings them away from the urban jungle and into the woodlands. It’s a great opportunity for children to learn about the natural environment, picking up lessons about conservation along the way. Get them involved in the preparation of the hike. Let them know what to expect and have them pack their own bags. This imparts to them a sense of independence and responsibility. During the hike, let them play a part too. Allow them to try reading the map and figuring the way onwards. If staying overnight, have them help set up camp. Teach them basic outdoor skills during the hike, and point out to them the diverse wildlife. What a shame if the only animals our children can recognize are the house pet or strays.

Despite the low cost of hiking or trekking, not many Nepalese do it. “I don’t understand why Nepalese do not do much trekking,” says a bemused Chandra, founder of Initiative Outdoor. “Perhaps they think trekking is for tourists or foreigners, but this is not the case.”  Hiking is within the reach of Nepalese, as it is affordable. They do not need to pay for a guide. There is no language problem and if hiking around the valley, most Nepalese should be quite
familiar with getting to the places.

Foreigners in Nepal can choose between organized trekking and teahouse trekking depending on the area to be visited. If you choose the latter, accommodation and meals are settled at trailside guesthouses or ‘tea houses’. These treks require minimal equipment and hence lesser load to carry. Organized trekking is self sufficient and you have to carry your own gear. The advantage of this is being able to camp anywhere you wish, unlike teahouse treks which restrict your trekking route. You can also save on porter and accommodation costs. “It fosters a greater sense of independence and adds up to a more wholesome experience”, says Chandra who leads short hikes for teens and practices self-reliant camping.

The amount of gear needed for day hikes is less than that for multi-day trekking. The essentials though, are the same. These cater to our basic needs and for emergencies. Hiking carries considerably less risk of injury compared to other adventure sports. However being out in the wild, eventualities can happen out of human control. Situations that usually arise include getting lost, hurt or ill. A heavy shower is a mere inconvenience in the city, but a downpour in the hills can escalate into mud slides. Hypothermia becomes a big threat when one is drenched and faced with chilly winds. Thus, it is imperative to be prepared for contingencies that may ruin your hike.

Plan a route and learn of dangers which happen in that area. Although intensive planning can take out the fun and spontaneity, it is still advisable to have a brief idea of what to expect. Draft a list of necessities and get a map. When packing, keep in mind an item’s weight and space occupied. Waterproof the contents using plastic bags. Weigh an item’s significance by considering its weight against the likelihood or frequency of use. A sleeping bag is of no use for a day hike, but in case of unforeseen circumstance that leads to an unplanned overnight stay, take an extra layer of warm clothing instead. For longer hikes, bring basics such as sleeping bag, tent and (if you are not staying in a guesthouse) some cooking equipment.

Opt for lightweight, quick-drying materials for inner layers of clothing. For hiking around the valley, bring a jacket for chilly mornings and evenings and a waterproof outer layer like a windbreaker. Dress in more layers for fall and winter. Headwear, like a jungle hat or sports cap, serves for protection against the elements.

Traversing hilly terrain causes stress on our feet. Footwear should hold up against the rigors of craggy paths and anti-slip grip soles (sometimes called vibram or ‘waffle’ soles) are essential for damp or slippery trails. Ankle-support is crucial for hiking, especially for long walks and, if you have tricky knees, an elastic knee bandage is useful. Although pricey, hiking boots can last long because of their inherent quality and with careful maintenance. If fording waterways, then quick-drying sandals with strong gripping soles are more suitable.

Be it a Saturday walk in the woods or a lengthy exploration of the Himalayan range, hikers and trekkers can reap many benefits at negligible costs. See the natural richness of Nepal while enriching your physical and mental self. Work up a sweat and wash away your worries. Spend quality time with the family and share the wonder and importance of environmental awareness. Take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but footprints, as the saying goes. 

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Caving is a recreational sport that brings people into a world beneath ground, filled with many fascinating geological formations so unique that it seems like a whole new realm exists right beyond the entrance. Caves are an integral part of human civilization. Early Man sought shelter from the elements and set up homes within caves. In times of war, caves have provided protection for people such as the Taliban and others during the Afghan War. Caves are also a source of mystical or religious reverence. To the uninitiated, caving feels like something done only by Indiana Jones or Tomb Raider wannabes. With the advent of caving (or spelunking) technology, large caverns and complicated cave systems all over the world can now be safely mapped and toured. Right here in Nepal, there are also numerous venues where caving can be done safely and with minimal fuss.


Flanking the exit point of the Bagmati River from the Kathmandu Valley, the Manjushree Cave (or Gupha) at Kirtipur-14 is located within a cliff, which together with the surrounding knoll was designated a park only a year ago. It is located along the way to Dashinkali on the south side of Kathmandu right atop the famed Chhobar Gorge. Unlike those you see in movies, the Manjushree Gupha does not have a cavernous interior filled with creepy crawlies. Ancient artifacts probably did exist within these underground spaces a long time ago as it  was reputed to be a place of religious meditation for some legendary figures in Tibetan Buddhism folklore. With the passage of time, there remain only a few indications of the cave’s religious significance—a neglected grotto with the characteristic soot stains on the ceiling, the indelible marks of burnt incense left by wandering sadhus, a protruding rock of a distinctly phallic shape coated with thick layers of red vermillion powder courtesy of pious worshippers of Lord Shiva.

The cave resembles a network of tunnels, with all four entrances/exits located within the same cliff. The warren-like cave system is a result of centuries of groundwater erosion that by dissolving the minerals in rocks carved pathways through the limestone and granite interior. Caves formed gradually in this manner rarely collapse. According to Kathmandu’s adventure sports professional Chandra Ale, the exploration of this system of tunnels is considered technical caving. It requires cavers to be on their hands and knees as they attempt to clamber through tight spaces. In other larger caves, ropes and other specialized equipment may be needed to aid movement.

There are few places within the Manjushree Cave to stand fully upright. For most of the time, visitors are either bent over with heads almost scrapping the ceilings or bent down on their haunches, moving forward inch by inch. At some points in the tunnels, where the surrounding walls are only about a shoulder-width apart, movement slows down to a crawl. In such situations, be ready to slide along the ground like a snake, lying on your belly and hauling the body forward. At some points, the rock erosion of centuries has only managed to fashion a trapdoor size opening. With such little space to work one’s body around, it is common to suffer a few minor scratches on your stomach or bottom as well as at the elbows and knees.

Certain junctions within the tunnels lead to dead ends where the only way onwards is climbing up or shuffling down 90 degrees from your current position. Though the change of direction may seem steep, the distance covered in this vertical movement is relatively short. The lack of artificial handholds, ropes or ladders, however, means having to resort to chimney climbing—the use of one’s body weight to gain leverage, leaning on one’s palms or soles, to ascend or descend in a controlled manner.

Caving is not physically demanding, but do allow yourself enough time to complete the journey. Minimal strength is required as much of the route has easily discernable foot and handholds formed from the many steps and grips of others who have gone through these same caves over the centuries. The only awkward part is getting used to the low ceiling. Claustrophobics should reconsider taking up caving. In general, caving is easy so long as you do not mind getting dirty and suffering the odd minor graze.

To get familiar with the pitch black and cramped conditions, the first few trips should be to smaller, well-explored caves that demand minimal climbing or squeezing through. Always go caving with an experienced guide; never go alone. A protective helmet and a headlamp are two vital pieces of equipment. Bring your own headgear—any robust, hard hat can be used for head protection, even a biking helmet. Getting lost in a cave is probably a fear for those new to the sport. There is no need to bring along a ball of string to try and retrace your way out since the caving guides at the Manjushree Park have mapped out the cave system and are responsible for leading caving enthusiasts safely through the interior. Water droplets that seep through the rock reappear underneath along tunnel surfaces, making certain parts slippery and muddy. It is advisable to wear clothes and footwear that you do not mind getting stained. To minimize abrasion and scrapes on the skin, wear long-sleeved tops and long pants.

The Manjushree Cave is worth visiting to get a feel of what caving is like. If you can go through this one with little difficulty, then it will be a piece of cake when taking on the larger ones. The expanse of the cave is just right to comfortably accommodate small groups. You do not have to worry about falling from a large height, as the caves are not gaping caverns. To get to the Manjushree Cave by bus, board at Balkhu Chowk and stop in front of a big signboard that states: ‘Hearty Welcome to Manjushree Cave and Park Area.’ Or, it is about an hour taxi ride from Kathmandu city center. The cave is cool during the sweltering heat of summer and warm in the numbing chill of winter. You can cave all year round but check ahead during the monsoon period, as a heavy downpour may result in rainwater flooding the tunnels.

Caving as a sport is still in its developmental stage in Nepal, but the potential is great, considering the endless amount of geological activity in the hills and mountains. Another famous large cave, only discovered a few decades ago, is located near Bandipur, in Tanahu District (near the Kathmandu to Pokhara highway). And, as recent as May of last year, a cave in Mustang District was discovered to contain ancient Buddhist paintings of great cultural and historic value. Perhaps harboring dreams of being a real-life Indiana Jones is not so far-fetched after all.


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