Faith to reality: a journey down the Karnali River
Nepal's last free flowing river will soon be dammed
thethirdpole.net travelled over 1,000 km to explore the massive environmental and economic changes transforming the river system and the lives of people living along its banks
Mount Kailash in southwestern Tibet is the source of some of the largest rivers in Asia: the Brahmaputra, the Sutlej, the Indus and the Karnali.
Revered as one of the most holy places by Hindus, Buddhists, Bons and Jains, Kailash is a place many millions desire to visit before they die but only thousands make it every year due to its inaccessibility.
The Karnali is the longest river of Nepal, flowing from the north to south through deep gorges to the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, where it meets the Ganga. It is called the Ghaghara in India—the largest tributary of the Ganga by volume.
In Tibet, the spiritual source of the Karnali is called Mapcha Khambab, which means the river that originates from the Peacock’s mouth. Little is known about the exact source of the Karnali.
thethirdpole.net’s Nepal Editor Ramesh Bhushal and photographer Nabin Baral travelled with a team of scientists to locate the river’s source and follow it from Tibet to its confluence with the Ganga in India. As part of the first scientific expedition of its kind, they travelled 1,000 kilometres over six weeks by jeep, raft and on foot through some of the most remote areas of the Himalayas.
Part of the massive infrastructure development underway in the Himalayas, preparations are on to dam the Upper Karnali in Nepal for a hydropower project – the first dam on Nepal’s last free flowing river. The river is already under high stress from floods and erosion in India’s Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. All this is exacerbated by climate change. The challenges ahead are clear, but unpredictable in scale.