After a couple of days in the sleepy town of Lumbini visiting the birth place of Lord Buddha and playing cricket in the pitch black it was time to get on our way again and head for Chitwan National Park.
There was a petrol shortage in Nepal at the time so the bus drove around for a while before finding a ‘completely legit’ sales man selling fuel at the side of the road. An hour or so into our journey we traded the public bus for a small minivan which had a state of the art entertainment system with a pull down TV screen in the back – Not exactly what we had expected. As we wound our way up the mountain roads and around the fearful hairpin bends we were entertained by a 1993 MTV video which supplied us with the likes of Rhythm is a Dancer by Snap, No limit by 2 Unlimited and Shaggy’s – Oh Carolina. Just brilliant!!
The journey was a good 4 -5 hours so we made a brief stop at a rustic roadside ‘restaurant’ situated at the top of the mountain pass. The makeshift shack was home to some super happy locals who seemed delighted to see foreigners. No sooner had we seated ourselves on the uneven and broken chairs, food was placed in front of us. I have to say I am not entirely sure what most of it was but it tasted delicious. As we stood up and turned to walk back to the van we realised that the cows and goats were ‘washing the dishes’. No water required here, the animals simply licked the metal trays clean and they are good to go for the next person!
On arrival in the village of Chitwan we made our way to the accommodation situated on the outskirts of the national park. That afternoon we headed out to an elephant breeding centre, which has been introduced due to the depleting number of elephants in Nepal. The centre provides a safe environment for the elephants to give birth and nurture their young; they are not held captive here and are free to roam the jungle. We were lucky enough to see a perfect little ellie who was less than 24 hours old.
As we wondered around the sanctuary a few boisterous and curious calves came over to say hello and check us out. In their playful manner they pushed us around and tried to stick their trunks in our pockets to see what you have to offer!
Back at the resort that evening there was time for a few drinks and some tasty buffalo steaks before hitting the sack in preparation for an early start the next day.
Wakey wakey, rise and shine… We set off at 5:30am taking a short walk to the Narayani River where we met our next mode of transport – long, narrow canoes, carved out from old tree carcases. We climbed aboard one by one, precariously balancing ourselves in the attempt to not capsize. Sitting extremely low and close to the water we proceeded on our journey down river for around one and half hours spotting wildlife as we went. With the river full of fresh water and rare long snouted Gharial crocodiles you feel a little nervous when the canoe rocks as they swim beneath you.
Now far enough into the jungle we could continue our adventure on foot but before that could happen we were required to undergo some intense jungle training which consisted of nothing more than standing looking at one another wide eyed as our unarmed guides gave us instructions…
1) If you see a tiger, leopard or other jungle cat then maintain full eye contact and back off slowly
2) If you see a Rhino within 15 feet then climb the nearest tree but if you don’t have chance and it starts to charge then stand your ground until it gets very close and then jump out of the way at the last minute as they can’t make sudden changes in direction. (I guess that all depends on how long you can keep your nerve).
3) If an elephant comes within 15 feet and starts to quickly approach you, then turn around and run as fast as you can
I wasn’t overly keen on testing out any of these theories to be honest! Never the less filled with ‘an abundance’ of confidence we set off through the long 8ft high Elephant grass. If the truth be known my biggest fear was coming face to face with a spitting King Cobra. Thankfully this did not happen!
We made regular stops to check out the sambar deer, wild boar, sloth bears, langar and rhesus monkeys, antelope and various bird species. Although at this stage we hadn’t actually seen any of our ‘potential threats’ we did come across some pristine rhino tracks and fresh tiger poo which apparently indicated that both creatures could be in close vicinity. Every little sound we heard our guide would tell us to get back and get down while he went ahead to investigate. Imagine eight nervous travellers all huddled together, crouched on the ground – Hmmm… Obviously if you look vulnerable to predators then they are going to leave you alone right??? What happened to that all important jungle training?
As we made our way towards one of the lookout towers where we would stop for lunch a thunderous roar echoed around us, the roar of a TIGER. Now we’re talking!!! At this point I think adrenaline kicked in and our hearts began to race. Where did it come from, how far away was it?? Unfortunately or fortunately I should probably say we didn’t catch a glimpse of this magnificent creature. Booooring!!!!
From the lookout tower we had an infinite view of the park allowing us to appreciate the vastness of our lush surroundings. After lunch we nervously continued our trek for a few more hours before finally reaching our camp for the night. The barbwire fenced camp consisted of several mud huts with thatched roofs. We were hosted by an incredibly hospitable Nepalese family who had a camp fire going in no time. A simple but exceedingly tasty dinner was served and the Khukhuri Rum flowing. There was lots of storytelling, dancing and all sorts of shenanigans; it was an interesting night that’s for sure!! As we like to refer to it, ‘Jangal Mein Mangal’ (fun in the jungle).
I recall going to bed and shining my torch in the doorway of the hut to find an enormous Orb Spider (one of the world’s biggest spiders) which must have had a body size of around 4-5cm in diameter and these really long gangly cartoon legs. This is the stuff nightmares are made off! Anyhow, I climbed into bed and tucked my mosquito net tightly under the indented mattress and fell swiftly asleep, but not for long. At 4:15am we were awoken by the holler of our guide shouting ‘Rhino, Rhino’… I dived out of bed almost breaking both legs in the process and quickly made my way outside to check out the huge rhino which was just outside our compound. It may have been an earlier than planned wakeup call but I think it was worth it.
As we were already awake there was no real point in going back to bed. Instead we sat and watched the world go by as the sun came up over the river. After breakfast we were again off on foot exploring the jungle and trying to consciously stay fifteen feet or more away from the Rhino’s and elephants which were peacefully wondering around collecting branches from the trees and letting out the occasional fanfare.
Later that morning we visited a crocodile breeding centre before hopping into our 4X4 vehicles and heading back to Chitwan Village.
Following a delicious BBQ lunch back at the resort we made our way down to the river where we were to have a close encounter with some very playful elephants. I had ridden elephants before in other countries but this experience was something of a different kind. Myself and two fellow travellers climbed onto the back of one these mighty animals and made our way down the river bank and into the water. Wading deeper and deeper until his legs were fully submerged he then proceeded to blast us full felt with high pressured water from his trunk. The force of the blast was enough to see us off his back and into the water where we swam and bathed with a group of them. For such huge creatures they were be extremely gentle and elegant. Having said that they suddenly become a lot less elegant when you spot a mass of elephant poo floating down river towards you!
That evening we played more cricket in the rain and watched a huge electrical storm as we sat on the terrace talking about the adventures of our last few days.
The following day we left Chitwan and headed for Kathmandu. Our bumpy five hour journey was compensated by the stunning scenery that surrounded us. Driving through the foothills of the Himalayas and catching a glimpse of the incredible Mount Everest was simply breathtaking.
As we drove down the valley towards Kathmandu it gave us a chance to gage just how big the sprawling metropolis of Nepal’s capital was. Our next experience was upon us, one that would overwhelm the senses leaving us wonderstruck.
Nepal is blessed with an incredible diversity of natural beauty and cultural heritage which is just waiting to be explored. Without a doubt this is one of my favourite countries. – Go see for yourself!!!