Paddle the Mahakali River in the Shadow of the Himalayas

whitewater rafting and kayaking expedition

with Jock Montgomery and Druv Rana


Inflatable fun at Dimberghat Rapid

The headwaters of the Mahakali are traditionally known as the realm of Kali, goddess of time, creation, destruction, and power. Geographically, the river begins in the mountains of Tibet and flows southward creating an international border between Nepal and India. A trip down the Mahakali offers warm water, fun rapids, pristine wilderness, plentiful wildlife, big sandy beaches, and an exceptional introduction to Himalayan whitewater.

Our self-contained, 110 km journey on this large river takes us through terraced farmland, small Kumaoni, and Nepali villages, and remote Terai jungle composed of grassland, scrub savannah, and sal forests. Along the way we will explore remote villages and temples, camp on large sandy beaches, fish for record sized golden mahseer and goonch, and possibly glimpse wild elephants and tigers lurking along the river’s edge.

The paddling is a mixture of lively class II-III+ whitewater. Some class III+ rapids (probably one IV-) will give everyone a thrilling taste of whitewater. For those who want to focus on scenery and easier paddling, you can ride comfortably in a raft. Kayakers with a confident roll will have plenty of places to play. For the adventurous, we strongly recommend paddling your own inflatable kayak and we hope to have most of the group paddling in these fun boats for the entire trip!

At the end of the river portion, we will spend three nights and two full days at a wildlife camp exploring Corbett National Park, India’s oldest park established to protect Bengal tigers and now an important ecotourism destination. We will tour the park in jeeps with a naturalist. And yes chances of seeing a tiger–albeit from a distance–are actually quite good!

The trip is open to all river rafting experience levels, and experienced class III+ whitewater (hardshell) kayak-bums. This is a great trip for families too.

Grab a paddle and come explore!

Steve LeClerq

Steve is a passionate birder, enthusiastic paddler and a close friend. He was with us on the Zanskar River in 2017 and the Subansiri River in 2018. He and his wife Penny convinced me to run a third Himalaya river trip this coming fall and generously offered this invitation.

A message from Steve


  • Experience one of the few remaining major wilderness rivers left in the Himalayas
  • Spend seven days paddling exciting class II – III+ whitewater past remote terraced farmlands and through wilderness jungles
  • Enjoy clear warm water paddling and the camaraderie of navigating rapids as a team in a raft
  • For more thrills paddle solo or tandem in an inflatable kayak
  • Experienced hardshell kayakers with a confident roll, will have plenty of places to play
  • Camp on pristine riverside beaches with plenty of driftwood for evening campfires every night
  • Fish for record-sized golden mahseer and goonch (bring your gear)
  • Enjoy a layover day and go on a day hike to a remote village and a waterfall, or just relax on the beach
  • Spend three nights and two days exploring Corbett National Park, home to prodigious wildlife including – leopards, Bengal tigers, and wild elephants

Paddlers navigate Chooka rapid

A typical class II rapid

A waterfall on the layover day hike

The Kumaon Himalaya viewed on the way to the Mahakali River put-in


We make every effort to keep our plans, but we will also remain flexible so we can adjust to unexpected problems and take full advantage of opportunities as they arise.

Please note: three meals a day are included in the trip cost except on the first day (no meals are included), and on the last day (only breakfast is included)

Day 1, 9/22: Delhi to Kothgodam

Meet at the Old Delhi Railway Station. Be prepared to board the overnight train to Kathgodam at 22:05.

This railway station, one of the busiest in India, was built by the British Indian government in the style of a fort using red brick and white highlights.

Day 2, 9/23: Kathgodam to Pithoragarh

We arrive in Kathgodam at 5:05 in the morning and then drive through the Himalayas. Along the way, we will have spectacular views of the towering Panchuli Himal, a group of five snowcapped peaks. Late in the day, we arrive at Pithoragarh, situated near the border with Nepal and Tibet. Widely known as ‘Little Kashmir,’ this quaint hill town is popular with mountaineers, trekkers, adventure seekers, botanists, pilgrims, and sightseers.

Day 3, 9/24: Pithoragarh

We spend the day exploring the area around Pithoragarh. We have the option to rent mountain bikes for riding in the valley on quiet roads. This town has a variety of interesting forts, monasteries, and panoramic vistas of the surrounding mountains.

Day 4, 9/25: Pithoragarh to Put-in, Mahakali (on the river day 1)

After breakfast, we drive an hour and have the option to cycle for 15-20 km (mostly downhill) to Jauljibee. After a safety briefing and instruction, we put-in on the small the Gori Ganga River. After a few kilometers, we join the Mahakali. We paddle a fun and lengthy stretch of class II-III rapids and then camp on a grassy area on the Indian side of the river.

Day 5, 9/26: Mahakali (on the river day 2)

In the morning, we float down a beautiful part of the valley with large waterfalls on the Nepali side. Near the border town of Jhulaghat, the river constricts below a bridge that connects Nepal and India. For lunch, we stop at an interesting temple complex on the Nepal side. Late afternoon, we camp on the Indian side.

Day 6-7, 9/27-9/28: Mahakali (on the river day 3-4)

At the confluence of with the Saryu, we visit Pancheshwar, a sacred temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. After lunch, we paddle to a campsite just below the confluence. We will spend two days laying over here.

The next day, we have the opportunity to explore the village of Nidal, have a hot lunch, explore waterfalls, and perhaps fish for giant mahseer and goonch.

Day 8, 9/29: Mahakali (on the river day 5)

This section of the river has fewer people, thick terai jungle, and several sections with challenging class III rapids.

Later in the afternoon, we have lunch and camp on a large sandy beach near a clear stream ideal for a quick wash.

Day 9, 9/30: Mahakali (on the river day 6)

The valley broadens as we float past large Nepalese farms. At the confluence with the Ladhiya River, we stop and scout Chooka rapid. We will carry our inflatable kayaks around this challenging section of whitewater. After more lively rapids, we camp on a large beach.

Day 10, 10/1: Mahakali (on the river day 7), to the take-out and to Corbett National Park

Today, we enter the Terai jungle where we have the chance of spotting wild elephants. This section has a lot of whitewater, especially in a small gorge with several class III rapids.

We take out just upstream of the town of Tanakpur at Boom where there is a well-known Hindu temple. After lunch, we drive to Jim’s Jungle Retreat, an amazing accommodation adjacent to Corbett National Park.

Day 11-12, 10/2 – 10/3: Corbett National Park

During our two full days in Corbett National Park, you will make game drives in jeeps with a naturalist who will provide insights into the vast flora and fauna of the park. A guide/naturalist will also take us on an organized bicycle ride, a nature walk and will give an evening lecture. The park is full of wildlife, for example, various types of deer, leopard, wild elephant, countless birds etc. Chances of seeing a tiger–from a distance–are actually quite high! We stay at Jim’s Jungle Retreat.

Day 13, 10/4: End of trip

After breakfast, transfer to the Ramnagar Railway Station for the 9:50 train to Delhi, arriving at 15:25. From there, you can continue to your next destination.

Tiger tracks on the riverside!


Jock Montgomery

Jock Montgomery

In 1983, Jock moved to Nepal to train raft guides and lead river expeditions and treks across much of the Himalayas. He was based in Kathmandu for twelve years and now makes his home in Bangkok, Thailand.

He has been leading trips in the United States since he was a teenager. Jock is the owner of Compass Rose Expeditions  and he leads river running, sea kayaking, trekking and mountain biking trips; as well as expeditions across the Himalayas, throughout Southeast Asia, North America, Greenland, Patagonia, and Ecuador.

He is in demand as a commercial and editorial assignment photographer. He teaches and leads private photography workshops throughout Asia.

More about Jock Montgomery …

Druv Rana

Druv Rana

A pioneering river runner in India, Druv Rana has been working as a guide since 1995. Across the Indian Himalaya, he helped open up the Siang, Subansari, Lohit, and Tons Rivers for commercial river running. He has led river trips and treks throughout the greater Himalaya and well as international river trips in Europe and on the Zambezi River in Africa.

Rana was on the first commercial descent of the Subansiri and countless times sine then, and yet he never tires of introducing paddlers to the river’s spectacular scenery and exciting whitewater. He is a natural born leader, with a great sense of humor, and when things get a “little tricky,” you can be sure he will jump in and take charge with a calming and confident demeanor.


Ladakh, Himalaya, India

Mahakali River

Photography Project

Slideshow of the Mahakali River