Two rivers can be used, including Ghandaki River crossing the border near Chitwan National Park, and Koshi River flowing into India west of Biratnagar. Due to the natural flow of these rivers and two massive barrages, it will not be possible to jump on a ferry or cargo ship upstream to go south directly. But downstream, some day it just might.
The two rivers carry tons of sediments washed out from the hills upstream not least during the monsoon. Sand and mud are deposited every year in the many bends that still characterise Nepal’s largely naturally flowing rivers, and the costs of digging it out to make upstream river sections usable for larger ships would be huge, analysts caution.
The Ghandaki and Koshi barrages just north of the border to India present another obstacle to upstream navigation. Built in the 1960s, they are now impassable barriers just as they cause disruptive floods during the monsoon. So, transportation will have to start just downstream of the two barrages. That, in turn, is still a big technical challenge.
But in April, prime minister Oli and the Indian government still agreed to look at all possibilities for river transportation, nevertheless. Technical teams started to examine the various options more seriously, and in July high-level officials on either side met and exchanged analyses as well as made plans for further studies. So, the process has taken off.
Stage one, all agree, is to focus on Ghandaki and Koshi rivers south of the barrages. From here, the question is: could it be possible and feasible to start up cross-border navigation of larger, motorised ships down to Patna on the banks of Ganges in India and, possibly, onwards to the harbour at the Bay of Bengal? Both sides seem determined to find out.
Other issues on the whiteboard in planning Nepal-to-India river navigation:
– docks and ports,
– river customs stations,
– immigration offices,
– quarantine facilities.
– regular clearing to maintain river depth.
– and more!
PS: Jet boats have proven their worth on Saptakoshi River already – see video – and might be a way to sail south too in future. Whether any navigation becomes possible, though, depends on the outcome of the process now in motion.
We’ll update this post as new developments in planning Nepal-to-India waterways reach the news.