You might relate rivers in Bhutan with rivers of other rugged Himalayan regions – white and fast flowing, and totally unfit for activities like rafting. This statement actually stands correct with other rivers in Bhutan.
However, there are few rivers in Bhutan which are calm and are fit for rafting activities. Manas river in southern belt of Zhemgang, Pho Chu (Male river) and Mo Chu (Female river) in Punakha are some of such rivers.
I have always wanted to try rafting. So recently I went Punakha to have this experience. It was really a fun ride through a calm and cold Mo Chu (Female) river.
Punakha Pho chu (male river) and Mo chu (female river)
Tourists are with the view that Pho chu (male river) is more violent and also contains high degree rapids. They think that rafting in male river is for professional rafters or people who dare take risks.
Similarly they consider Mo chu (female) as a calm, less deep, peaceful, clean and silent river. This system of assigning respective gender qualities in these two rivers is very much in the minds of many tourists.
But this is actually not correct. Both rivers are similar because they flow through geographically same terrains. Each has similar degree of rapids. If we actually go into history, it was a flood from Mo chu (female river) that nearly washed away entire Punakha dzong sometimes in mid 90s.
However, Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) restricts kids and senior citizens rafting in Pho chu (male river). I was told this is only during monsoon season.
The Experience of River Rafting in Mo chu (female river)
There are few rafting service providers. But I landed up with Xplore-Lotus Rafting. During introduction, I came to know that guides who will be guiding us all through rafting were trained and certified at Nepal.
They were saying that rivers at Nepal are more violent and have higher degree rapids. The river (mo chu) where we were about to raft, according to them is a much safer river for rafting. It contains only 4th and 5th degree rapids.
The distance is also quite short, around 10-12Km. We have to drive around 30mins along Mo chu (female river) from Punakha Dzong to reach the raft launching point.
Is it worth rafting at Punakha – money paid and returns?
My expectation must have been bit high. I found the river sluggish and less powerful. Moreover, I was put in with 3 elderly Indians. All along I felt like a ‘one man army’ paddling to reach them ashore.
You can imagine me sweating and suffering from sore muscles and joint pains the following day. However, I loved the attitude of the guides – they were trying to keep us entertained all along and even sung songs though their voice didn’t make good combination with river sound.
There was so much water fights, basically splashing water using a paddle to people in other boat. Of course, I enjoyed that. But I had to bear the consequences of playing with cold winter water later.
However, occasionally we get to see flocks of winter migratory birds at river bank. And I was taught by the guide on how to make sound with paddle and make them fly.
When the rafting distance is almost to end, we get a wonderful view of elegant and majestic Punakha Dzong. And passing beneath a wooden cantilever bridge, I felt like one of the casts in ‘Game of Throne’ rowing beneath the ‘Huge Statue of Braavos.’ It was wonderful moment.
How you can plan to make rafting at Punakha better?
If you want rough and adventurous rafting at Punakha in either of Pho chu (male river) or Mo chu (female river), winter season won’t be a good time. Water volume is low and boats don’t move at an enjoyable speed.
The rafting crew members also suggest us to come there for rafting during monsoon season (June-August). And if you don’t want to become ‘one man army’ like me during rafting, be smart in choosing your boating partners.
During the course of rafting, guides will start water fight; a game where you can use paddle to splash water to your opponents. However, if you are hypothermia or any other cold related diseases patient, tell them about your health problem before-hand.
They allow carrying of cameras and other electronic gadgets with you. They provide you with water-proof bag to keep them. However, I didn’t find them water proof. Especially during water fight and crossing higher degree rapids, water get inside the bag.
However, when your boat nears the destination, the view of majestic Punakha Dzong is something you shouldn’t miss.
In conclusion, rafting at Punakha may not be as wild and rough as rafting in other geographically rough terrains like that of Nepal. However, on positive note, it’s safer and you’ll enjoy the slow float over one of the silent and clean rivers of Bhutan.
Recommend to read following travel experiences and more exciting stories from Bhutan:
- 17 best places to visit – CNN has included Bhutan in the list.
- Dochula Pass – Travel experiences with Indian Tourists.
- Eastern Bhutan Travel – My experiences at Yonphula Airport.
- Bumdeling – winter residence of Black-necked Cranes in Bhutan.
- Bumthang Travel – Experiences and stories of a traveller.
- The largest Guru Statue – Travel map to Lhuentse Takila.