Exploring Bhutan by Kayak

by Michael Hughes

Kuzu zambo la from the Punakha Valley in Bhutan. After 9 days of sightseeing, rafting, adventurous hikes, and drives, and of course some shopping, Zach and I said our good byes to our wonderful group of guests at the Paro Airport. The next afternoon we were back at the airport to welcome our friends from Wilderness River Outfitters for a week of exploring new stretches of river, cultural sites, and thinking about new trip itineraries for future trips.

Paro Chhu

The adventure started right away with a trip to the Rinpung Dzong, and right to put-in for a quick run on the the Paro Chhu. After a quick drive to Thimphu that afternoon we checked out the nightlife and found a great band playing 80s power ballads late into the night.

Downton Thimphu City

Downton Thimphu City

The next day we were back on the river checking out a section of the Thimphu Chhu which included a rapid we named MoMo Rapid after our favorite little dumplings.

Upper Thimphu Chhu

Our adventurous spirits caught up with us as we decided to go check out a section of the Upper Thumphu Chhu that hasn't been run before. An exciting aspect about paddling in Bhutan is all of the rivers are yet to be explored. The previous afternoon Zach and Bhutanese kayak phenom Thinley drove up the valley to scout the run and prepare for a day of exploring.

Zach and Thinley exploring a short section of the Upper Thimphu Chhu

Zach and Thinley exploring a short section of the Upper Thimphu Chhu

This mellow low volume run quickly got us out of our boats and scouting one of the harder rapids that was seen from the road. With our fearless friend Thinley probing the line first we were good to go and continued working our way down. There were a handful of waves to surf, and some shallows to just barely float over we quickly came to our next scout.

Scouting the entrance to MoMo Rapid on the first descent of the Upper Thimphu Chhu

Scouting the entrance to MoMo Rapid on the first descent of the Upper Thimphu Chhu

The top part of the rapid had a mellow lead in with a nice eddy to catch midway so we could scout the landing of the last drop. The line looked good to go, as long as you stuck to that line and hit your boof stroke to avoid some rocks just below the surface.

Big Thinley running the boof line at MoMo Rapid on the Upper Thimphu Chhu

Big Thinley running the boof line at MoMo Rapid on the Upper Thimphu Chhu

With everyone through we continued down eddy hopping, surfing, and waving to a couple of monks as we neared the Monastery.

With people cheering us on from the bridge above we continued pushing down stream. A pretty large Class V boulder garden, with two steep drops, and some undercut rocks got some of us out of our boats to portage, but Thinley and Jason push on and had excellent lines.

Big Thinley running a rapid we named Big Thinley Rapid

Big Thinley running a rapid we named Big Thinley Rapid

Once we were all back in our boats it was go time again. A quick reminder of boat spacing and making sure you know where your next eddy might be, as well as an eddy for someone in front and behind you, and we were off again.

This steep and fast paced stretch of the Upper Thimphu Chhu kept us alert and ready for anything. It also brought us right past a small village where a handful of people watched in curiosity cheered us on.

Kayaking by a small village on the Upper Thimphu Chhu

Kayaking by a small village on the Upper Thimphu Chhu

Truly a highlight to explore a river so important to many but seen by so few. Spending time on the river really gives you a unique perspective of the area. It has brought us to small villages, off the path temples, and views many visitors don't get to see. It also helps break up the day with activity, and reduces a little bit of driving time on the slow and windy Bhutanses roads.

Po Chhu

The next day we decided to trade in the low water technical boulder gardens for some high volume big water fun on the Po Chhu. Knows as the Farher River is flows out of the mountains and meets up with the Mother River at the iconic Punakha Dzong. The group piled into a couple of trucks and we made out way to put in at the small village of Wolathang.

The Po Chhu starts right off with a huge class V rapid filled with massive holes and must make moves. Most people portage right rapid on the right, along the river. The flow was perfect for those interested in sneaking down the right side.

Kayaking the Upper Po Chhu in Bhutan

Kayaking the Upper Po Chhu in Bhutan

The remainder of the run is filled with huge wave trains, big surf waves, and great scenery. We made a quick stop for snacks and continued down the to the confluence with the Mo Chhu. Along the way we continued surfing waves and waving at people watching a long the banks. What a great day of kayaking!

Mo Chhu

As I sit here writing this we are preparing for a day on the Mo Chhu, the Mother River. I only have a couple more days exploring Bhutan for this season but am looking forward to coming got back soon.

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Author

Michael Hughes

Michael grew up in a small Minnesota town. He spent his days outside in the woods and riding a bike. The only thing that has changed is his location. Oregon is now home and he is still outside, riding a bike, and paddling where ever the water is.

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