Along Karnali: Following Picturesque Landscape & Unique Custom

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Ever since I first visited Karnali river for assisting survey of Ganges River Dolphin back in 2016, I have been captivated by its beauty and there is no breaking this spell. But nothing could have prepared me for the mesmerizing sunrise and sunset at Gurase, the placid beauty of Sinja Valley in Jumla or the catharsis inducing Rara Lake in Mugu. The people, the history, the overall evolution of the place is interesting beyond compare. Below I will describe some appealing component of Karnali’s landscape, the people, and its wooden bridges in the Karnali province.

The landscape

Karnali offers countless picturesque landscape. Gurase literally meaning ‘where the rhododendron bloom’ is such a treat during spring. The entire hill comes alive coated in red. At other times, if you happen to pass by Gurase during sunrise or sunset, you will be treated with the most vibrant hue. A tint of orange spread over the luscious green hill; is a view you won’t be forgetting anytime soon.

Somewhere in Kalikot

Then there are the obvious riverine views all along the way. The emerald colored river showcases nature’s prowess as an artist. The gentle winds in Simikot is enough to make you forget your stress. I myself had received a rather unpleasant news while at Jumla but as we made our way from Simikot to Khalanga, I could at least forget the unpleasant news for a while. The views of Kanjirowa further provides respite and upon reaching Khalanga at last, an amalgamation of the snow-capped Kanjirowa, views of beautifully cultivated land, mesmerizing Tila river along with rather strong winds humbles you to be able to witness such beauty.

Likewise, Sinja Valley is an absolute gem. Not only is the place an embodiment of placidity at its peak with the gentle flowing turquoise blue Hima river cutting through farm land and quaint settlement, it also has great historical importance being the capital of Khas Kingdom and origin of Nepali language. Then there is the obvious allure of Rara. Truth be told, I wish I had the chance to hike to Rara but it was just reduced to 10 minutes of serene walk along the juniper trees until reaching the vast tranquility of Rara. I was at peace; nature really does wonders!

The people

The region particularly, the Sinja Valley was a point of stronghold of Khasa Kingdom. The modern-day Nepali language comes from Khas language. Even though the Khas converted to stratified Hindu caste system, they still maintain and celebrate various shamanistic and animistic rituals.

The dynamics of Pawai of Jumla is unique to say the least. They are called Matawali Chhetri – alcohol drinking Hindus (Luintel, 2013). They do not wear the Hindu sacred thread and mostly worship Masto even some offering liquor to their Hindu deity. The paradoxical existence of their practice is fascinating. I have not personally encountered this certainly intrigues me.

The region is also home to some unique dance practices. I had the fortune to witness Dhamya during one of my field works in Karnali. And it was an absolute delight. I was so taken by the dance that I had no attention to inquire about the practice. This I regret and scrolling quickly through the web I couldn’t get any write-up on the practice. Should I get to witness this again, I am sure to document this thoroughly.

Dhamya being performed by locals welcoming us during 3rd National River Summit in Rakam Karnali in 2019

Wooden bridges

When talking about bridge in Karnali, one image that comes to mind is the one is Chisapani. While the bridge is a marvel on its own (also not in Karnali Province), the wooden bridges located in several segments and streams in Jumla deserve a recognition on its own. The bridges known as Ranka Bridge or Kotesangu in the local vernacular and loosely termed as Jumla-type wooden bridge (JTWB) is said to have evolved over a period of two or three centuries and are built using Cedrus deodar (Himalayan cedar) logs  (Ministry of science, 2015). The bridge has statues of king, queen and soldiers at the ends, adding a charm not seen elsewhere. But its importance is much beyond, the charming aesthetic. The bridges have for long enabled travel and in Jumla it is estimated that women perform 90% of their household and agricultural works through the use of rural trails and local bridges  (Ministry of science, 2015).

I know I have missed a lot of information about Karnali. Hope I can do justice in the proceeding blogs. Except during COVID lockdown years, I have travelled Karnali for at least once and sometimes even twice a year since 2016. Every time I feel I am bidding Karnali farewell, but my work has taken me right back to it. I am extremely blessed to have a career which allows me to study and travel to some of the most remote locations in Nepal. But I so much more to explore and as I get more opportunities to travel and explore for myself, I will be sure to update. I just love this place, most ardently (to paraphrase Jane Austen ?)


Luintel, Y.R. (2013) Locating Pawai in the social hierarchy of the Khasa: A preliminary note on Jumli caste structure. Dhaulagiri Journal of Sociology and Anthropology. 7, 31–50.

Ministry of science,  technology and environment (2015) Indigenous and local knowledge and practices for climate resilience in Nepal.

Anu Rai

I am an aspiring environmental researcher.

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