by Nick Thorne
In December of 1979 I happened to find myself in Nepal, and as the saying goes, "You can't keep a good man up", I decided to see whether the country was as spectacular underground as it is on top. Being on my own, I was obviously not in a strong position to do a great deal, and as it transpired, I don't think I did much/anything original. Still, it was fun, and went something like this.
I entered the country from Gorakhpur in India via the border at Sonauli - a collection of mosquito-infested huts and a 'hotel' - surely the last place God made. After an overnight stop there, the local bus slammed into first for about 12 hours and crawled up, down and around some pretty hairy mountain roads all the way to Pokhara.
On this drive, one of the many chai stops was at a place called Kurabarish, about 130km along the road south of Pokhara. Here, on the left hand side of the road facing Pokhara, about five metres up the bank, I saw two small but distinct cave entrances. Although I didn't exactly have time to give them a close inspection, at least I knew then that Nepal wasn't totally non-cavernous.
Once in Pokhara visits to the tourist information bureau and the local trekking agencies proved helpful. A guidebook provided the following snippet about Pokhara's Phewa Tal lake: "The lake is fed by the Harpan Khola, and flows out as the short, swift Marse Khola. The Marse flows through a shallow, twisting gorge and disappears underground at Devi's Fall. Emerging 200m away, it immediately confluences with the Phusre..."
On inspection this Devi's Fall proved to be the Harpan River Cave, explored by the 1970 British Karst Research Expedition. This must be one of the most spectacular pothole entrances going. An enormous surface stream, (perhaps three times the average OFD stream size) flows along a deep, narrow gorge in a conglomerate rock, and where the downcutting suddenly reaches the underlying limestone the water plunges down a fine 35m entrance shaft.
The resurgence is a multiple one at the head of a gorge, containing several wet and dry entrances to the lower system. The vertical range between the sink and the rising cannot be much more than 50m.
Also in the Pokhara Valley is Mahendra Gupha (cave), investigated by the 1976 Speleological Expedition to the Himalayas. The site has been developed as, well, not exactly a show cave, but still a tourist attraction. Accompanied by a guide from a local trekking agency, I was shown around the easily accessible parts of the cave by a six-year-old, barefooted Nepalese kid with a candle. He assured me he was a "Good cave guide, cave guide, Sahib, good guide, one rupee, 'ello, 'ello ?"
Unfortunately as soon as the passage lowered from its customary 3m by 3m square section, the rest of my party mutinied with cries of "Much danger, much danger", and I was then limited to seeing what I cared to, solo. Points of note were the guano scattered around the cave, the candle smoke graffiti on the walls, and the air temperature underground. The place was quite hot and sticky, something possibly attributable to the cave's proximity to the surface.
Before I left Pokhara I also took a look at the nearby Seti Gorge. The gorge is a very sharply incised active, surface stream course, perhaps five to six metres wide and up to 60m deep. It looks for all the world like a tall, meandering vadose stream passage less the roof. This I think must be its most probable mode of formation.
From Pokhara I took the bus to Kathmandu, and there the tourist office yielded some useful stuff, again amidst cries of "Much danger, much danger'. So feeling very brave I followed their instructions, hired a bicycle for the day, and pedalled off on Uhe road south towards a place called Dhakshin Kali.
This road follows the West bank of the Bagmati River, and after a couple of kilometres the river becomes rejuvenated and cuts down, whilst the road climbs. The river flows into the Chovar Gorge, over 80m deep, and much wider than the gorges of the Pokhara Valley. The sides of the gorge are steeply cut into very good limestone, and the appearance of the landscape is very much reminiscent of the gorge at Cheddar in the good old Mendips.
Try as I might I couldn't identify the 'big cave entrance' that the tourist information had told me of, but I did see several entrances amongst the clints at the top of the gorge. Most of these are less than a metre across and had outward blowing draughts. With the moisture in the warm cave air condensing in the cool air outside, locating the entrances became amazingly easy!
walking in this area is potentially hazardous as the cliff top gradually slopes down before over steepening into the vertical face of the gorge - very deceptive. The other bank of the gorge also looks as if it would prove speleologically fruitful, but access to it is considerably more difficult, and I didn't venture to go there.
At this time my caving activities in Nepal were curtailed by an attack of dysentery. By the time I was fit again my visa was running out, and I left Kathmandu by bus, for the Indian border at Raxaul.
So although Nepal's most easily accessible and obvious speleological sites have been looked at, I think there must be plenty of very interesting locations still left to be explored. However, due to the expense and/or difficulty in travelling to Nepal, and the fact that the main caving regions are located in the valleys, without any spectacular, 'glamourous' depths to be gained, exploration of the country's caves will probably have to wait for many years yet.
I would like to thank the following: The chief of reporting staff of Mendip Publishing; The Tourist Information Service of Nepal; Yeti Trekking of Pokhara, particularly D. Satyanadhan, and my guide for the area, Ramcisna and Tony Waltham for permission to reproduce the Harpan survey.