Rhinos, Tigers and Elephants, oh my!
Chitwan is a large national park that creates a large part of the southern border between India and Nepal. It is well known for its inhabitants – tigers, rhinos, elephants and the Tharu people – who amazingly enough have a natural resistance to malaria.
Since I was headed by land to India anyway – I thought this would be a pretty exciting – since I have never seen (in the wild) a rhino, tiger or elephant. I left Kathmandu on a morning bus full of Germans and Nepalis. Our ride was going well until a car, trying to pass a truck, side-swiped our bus. All I heard was swerving tires, felt our bus jerk to the left and then screeching of brakes. Nobody was hurt – though we ended up being on the side of the road for an extra hour or so. For a seemingly remote section of the road – it was amazing how many people showed up to say their part and stand around the car and the bus. The police showed up, paperwork was filled out and eventually we were on our way. I was able to follow the progress as I befriended my seat-mate — a young Nepali woman headed to Bangalore where she goes to school for physical therapy. We exchanged email addresses and promised to be friends on facebook! 🙂
Eventually we reached Sauraha, the town outside of the park entrance. There are all sorts of fancy places in the park where you can stay for multi-day packages, but that didn’t quite fit into my $30/day budget (by a long shot….). The place I ended up staying at was just outside of town and was opened by one of Nepal’s leading ornithologists. The courtyard was full of plants and gardens and had a few hammocks — really quite lovely. I was in the budget room, but it was pretty nice (as compared to the two places I have stayed since there! who knew I had it so good…)
The first day I was there, they sold me on my package – an elephant safari ride and a canoe with a jungle walk back. The price was a bit of a splurge for me, but staying with my friend in Kathmandu, I was able to save money – so I am still within budget (for all you yankee spendthrifts out there — you know who you are! 🙂 And they provided a free walk the first day – which was to go look through the community forest (that surrounds the park) for a short walk and then see some of the govenment elephants and learn some facts (for instance, did you know that elephants only sweat through their toes? and that Asian elephants age by turning white on their ears and nose?). We also saw a rhino chillin’ in the water — which was pretty damn cool.
The next morning, we went out for the canoe. It was short – but pretty cool to be out on the water. The canoe is carved out of one sal tree that is manuevered with a mix of poling and paddeling. We saw a bunch of submerged crocodiles – and then – a big one out of the water sunning himself! WHOA! it was pretty awesome! and a bit scary. Next to it, there was one in the water that the guide said was even bigger – and I think that they were all a little frightened because they all reached for their sticks!
We also saw a bunch of birds — couldn’t tell you what they all were but egrets, storks, kingfishers, peacocks, etc. I couldn’t understand the guide fully and then when they are birds you don’t know…. yeah, not so much.
Then we started the jungle walk – which frankly wasn’t all that exciting. The most exciting part was the guide telling me about the dangers – i.e. if we see a rhino, you should run but if we see a tiger, we should just pray, and as for the sloth bear – well, not much you can do because they can run, climb, etc. and they don’t like humans’ faces.
It was more of a sal forest, which was cool enough, but not very jungle-y (as one would imagine it to be). We didn’t see too many animals up close – but in the distance we saw spotted deer (I didn’t have the heart to tell him about how many deer we have at home), monkeys in the tree. And cool enough – we saw a tiger print and signs from where a sloth tiger had climbed up to a bee’s nest.
As for the elephant walk…. well, it was interesting. There were 9 of us going out at the same time. The elephant platform can handle 4 – so I got an elephant to myself. which was cool b/c it was super quiet. If anyone ever tells you that riding an elephant is fun, tell them they are wrong! No, it is pretty cool but definitely not comfortable! We ended up seeing 3 rhinos – including a mama and her baby, which was very cool!! I couldn’t get over how cool the rhinos were. I know this sounds stupid, but they look just like they do in pictures! (and before you laugh at me, let me say this — they are such strange looking animals that you almost expect the pictures to be caricatures…. but they aren’t!!!) The elephant rides are cool b/c you can get up closer to animals (they are not as freaked out by the elephant as they would be if you were on foot).
The ride was for about an hour and a half and took me through the grasslands (which is pretty awesome – though being taken over by an invasive) and then into the forest — where I saw some hanging orchids which was really cool! Right before the ride ended, something must have scared the elephant (the guy said monkey, i think?) and the elephant started to run! I had a brief image of the elephant stampeding through the village with me hanging on, just, for dear life! Fortunately, the handler got it calm in a manner of seconds!
The next morning before I had to leave I went for a great run near the river – through Tharu huts as people prepared for their day and passed a bunch of elephants and their handlers (so now I know, I run faster than an elephant saunters along. Good to know).
And that was that — it was time to leave Nepal and head out to big ol’ India and start that adventure! Who knew it was such a calm before the storm?! (ok – anyone who has been to india knew!)