standing strong on the shores
A leading rafting and kayaking guide in Nepal, who’s also a businessman, Mahendra Singh Thapa dreamt of a place in Nepal where people would enjoy themselves under the sun and in the rapid waters of the rivers of Nepal. When one goes to Sukute Beach Adventure Camp Resort, one is actually reveling in Thapa’s dream.
When you think about a beach, the image that comes to your mind might not be of that of a white river sand beach two hours drive away from Kathmandu in Sindupalchowk District. But we are talking about the mighty Bhote Koshi River here and although Sukute Beach Adventure Camp Resort might not be your postcard-perfect holiday beach destination, it nevertheless is a beach enough for a weekend away from the stress of everyday life in the city. Surrounded by lush green hills, with the Bhote Koshi River right in front of you, opportunities of adventure and ample facilities, Sukute Beach Adventure Camp Resort, named after the area that it is located in, is the one stop where you can have adventures, fun as well as relaxation.
Sukute Beach is popular amongst Nepalis and foreigners, students and corporate groups, adventure-seekers and fun-lovers alike. Sukute Beach is a place that is always alive. In this private beach space owned by Equator Expeditions, you will see a different mix of people having a good time at any given week. Some might be taking their first rafting or kayaking trip, some might be enjoying themselves at the bar or on the dance floor, some might be socializing over a game of pool, while others might just be sunbathing and whiling away their time, enjoying the view.
This was the vision that Mahendra Singh Thapa, Founder of Equator Expeditions always had for Sukute Beach. Having worked and lived in the US, he wanted to build a place that is similar to outdoor camps in Colorado, USA. With this vision in mind, Thapa established Sukute Beach Adventure Camp and Resort.
The start of Sukute Beach Adventure Camp and Resort
In 1992, he bought the six ropanis of farm land and the private beach area that makes up a little less than half of the Sukute Beach today and started building the camp. An additional nine ropanis was later added to complete the camp. Sukute Beach started off as a rafting and kayaking school and camp, targeted only for foreigners. Such schools and camps are relatively more expensive and hence, Sukute Beach had a price advantage.
“Foreigners come to Nepal basically for the mountains. Apart from a rafting and kayaking school, the idea of Sukute Beach was also to provide a space for relaxation to tourists after their trekking and mountaineering expeditions,” shares Thapa who believes that the growing popularity of Sukute Beach also owes to the fact that the way people seek adventure has changed over the years.
No matter at what altitude you are or whatever you’ve done through the day, at night, you look for comfort and luxuries, believes Thapa. Keeping that in mind, he has ensured that his camp is full of facilities that make the trip to Sukute Beach, a comfortable one.
“I was sure that this idea of an outdoor beach camp would do well in Nepal and it did. In a matter of few years, Sukute Beach started operating in full swing,” shares Thapa.
The mind where Sukute Beach was built
Tall and robust, one can easily guess that Thapa is a sportsman. Modest and perhaps an introvert, Thapa doesn’t smile that often. But when he does, his smile continues on as a hearty laugh. While in conversation, he will surprise you with a joke or two.
Thapa has over three decades of experience in the field of adventure sports and tourism. He has also served as the President of Nepal Association of Rafting Agents (NARA) and both the Vice President and President of Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal (TAAN).
While in the President’s and Vice President’s seat of NARA and TAAN, Thapa has lobbied for many changes in these sectors in Nepal. “During my days at NARA, I raised a voice for changes in the regulations associated with rafting guides, lobbying for a rule that gave priority to Nepali rafting guides when it came to employment opportunities in Nepal,” shares Thapa.
Born in Solukhumbu to a comparatively well off family in the community, Thapa came to Kathmandu after completing his SLC. He lived in Kathmandu with a group of his friends and pursued a higher education, ultimately studying Bachelors in Commerce from Saraswati Multiple Campus in Sorakhutte.
But the friends’ circle he grew up and lived with influenced his career path and soon he started to accompany his friends on trekking tips. These trips were fun and he could make some money out of it, which meant he no longer had to ask his father for pocket money. The young man became a financially independent adult. Thapa was also soon introduced to the water world of rafting and kayaking. He was more focused on this because comparatively, this sector had more job opportunities and there was more demand of rafting and kayaking guides abroad as well.
“Once you start living life in the outdoors and you travel with foreigners, you get to eat well and you even get good tips. At least in the 80’s and 90’s you used to get good tips,” Thapa humors, adding, “After being exposed to such an environment, you no longer want to go back to what you did before.”
Thapa worked as a professional rafting and kayaking guide, eventually joining Himalayan River Exploration. He worked in countries like Norway, Iceland and the US.
Life was good while working abroad. There was a proper system under which industries operated. Infrastructure was well-built. There was good money, too. “We used to earn about $100 for every trip and we made from 20 to 25 trips every month. Including the tips and the allowance we received, we earned a lot of money,” says Thapa. However, the thought of not working under anyone but being your own boss, having your own property, structure and base was tempting as well. Therefore, Thapa came back to Nepal.
Today, Thapa heads a mini adventure empire of his own – Equator Expeditions, which mainly looks after rafting and kayaking, Equator Nepal Expedition for trekking and mountaineering and Equator Travels which deals with ticketing. Apart from Sukute Beach, Equator Expeditions also has an adventure camp in Gorkha by the shores of the Trisuli River, which is called Himalayan Gorkha Outdoor Center.
Thapa considers this life of outdoor adventure, an addiction, with one adventure always attracting you to another. He is one of the pioneer rafting and kayaking guides in Nepal. Apart from great skills in navigating the rivers of Nepal, Thapa also is skilled as a businessman. After its establishment, Equator Expeditions has seen a period of low during the time of the Maoist insurgency in Nepal. Those were difficult times but Thapa managed to survive the period of conflict.
The sands of time
A few years after the operation of Sukute Beach, the insurgency period began. Thapa mentions those times time and again while talking about his business, perhaps because of the scarring impact it had not just in the adventure tourism sector but in the economy as well as the social life in Nepal.
“The conflict period was only about survival for us. That is all we were trying hard to do,” says Thapa who considers those years a waste of potential. “Sukute Beach would have probably become much better than what it is today, had the conflict not taken place,” says Thapa.
He believes that because his company was professional, he was able to bring in a good number of foreign clients even during the conflict period, which helped to ensure that he wasn’t bankrupt.
The post-conflict period changed many things for Sukute Beach as well. Domestic tourism started to trend and with this change, Thapa also began focusing on domestic tourists. Sukute Beach now, fully welcomes Nepali tourists as well. Taking this decision made a lot of sense for Sukute Beach. Foreign tourists only come to Nepal during certain seasons and being dependent on only that group would have meant only seasonal business. However, now that the focus was also on Nepalis and packages to Sukute Beach were being marketed accordingly, it meant that revenue would come in from two sources.
Sukute Beach, Thapa shares, also gained popularity amongst Nepalis after UCPN (Maoist) committee meetings were held at the venue. “I have to thank Prachanda ji, in a way, because after his visit, Sukute Beach became better known to the Nepali crowd,” says Thapa, breaking into a smile. After that instance, Sukute Beach became a popular spot for such meetings, seminars as well as corporate retreats.
The focus right now for Sukute is to refine the camp and manage its services. “Nepali tourists and foreign tourists sometimes have different wants when it comes to adventure and fun. Right now, I’m focusing on how to manage domestic and international tourists who come to Sukute Beach,” Thapa shares.
To talk of Sukute Beach’s success in numbers, Thapa says about 600 Nepali tourists come to the Camp every month. “60% of our sales are covered by domestic tourists,” says Thapa commenting that the business would be able to sustain itself in the current scenario, even if international tourists stop coming to Sukute Beach.
From an enterprise that solely focused on a foreign clientele, Sukute Beach has, over the years evolved into a favored Nepali getaway.