Chitwan, Nepal (5th Nov 2007)
After waking up just in time we set out to drive to our next destination, Chitwan, which, and I quote the trip notes, "An approximately 6 hour ride that takes in all of the traditional sights of the Himalayas with rice terraces, deep gorges, fast moving rivers and the ever present mountains". Granted the mountains, they were there, but the other sites were very few and far between, meaning most of our time was spent either reading or sleeping. After a lengthy journey we arrived at our hotel and were pleasantly surprised to find that it was more like a resort that consisted of little bungalow's scattered around some very beautiful landscaped gardens. We were given half an hour to ourselves and then it was off out again with the group to an elephant breeding centre within Chitwan National Park.
For the first time in well, a long time... we were made to exercise and our latest mode of transport was some rickety old push bikes. After a 15 minute ride in the unbearable afternoon heat we arrived at the riverbank in totally different moods, Mark was elated since he was the first one there and Kara was miserable as the chain fell off her bike three times and so arrived last and covered in oil L We stopped at the side of a river which we needed to cross to get into the park and the boat guy told us the river marked the boundary to the park. As we walked around the centre we were told not to be alarmed at the elephants been chained up as they are free to roam throughout the day in the could easily cross the river and run riot on the local area, and it's not hard to imagine as some of them were massive and already had broken some of their own enclosures. The elephants were so cute, the first baby we saw couldn't keep still, constantly looking like it was doing a funny little dance, and there was even one running around the pathways. Since we had arrived later than expected in to Chitwan we didn't stay too long and after half an hour so made our way slowly but surely back to the hotel.
Having had limited access to alcohol in India we decided to go out for tea and have a few drinks and so picked what we thought was a nice restaurant, unbeknown to us that our food would take over 2 hours to arrive. In hindsight this was probably their plan as we managed to work our way through a few cocktails and beers in that time which bumped the bill up a fair bit! We were all ready to head back to the hotel until Raj our leader spotted us and called us up to the roof top bar he was in to have another drink (this was after thinking it was a genius idea to buy official 'Chitwan National Park' hats for our trip into the jungle!) Sometime later we wondered back to the hotel, packed our overnight bags for the following night's adventures and got some sleep.
As is typical we awoke very early today to start our jungle adventures and we didn't get off to the best start ever! Kara had not been feeling well all night and this morning was no different, that combined with another rickety canoe led to her being sick over the side of the boat three times which was most embarrassing as all the group were sat watching, this was followed by hyperventilating, all before 9am! When we reached our destination we were split into two groups and given our own tour guides, still not feeling well Kara had her bag carried for her as we made our way into the jungle. Reaching a large stream, we were told that the log usually used to cross it had been washed away by the floods in the monsoon season, so to cross it we had to balance precariously on various bits of wood before scaling an almost vertical, 10 foot tall riverbank. Following this we had to create our own path, through the next section of jungle before hitting a clearing where the existing path began. The entire day was spent walking through, in no particular order, a mix of grass lands, jungle, forest, swamp and 6 metre high reeds and shrubs. This was to say the least, 'Not what we were expecting' for our day at the park. It was a long hard and tiring day but definitely worth the exertion, the main two animals that we were hoping to see on the hike were the rare and endangered one horned rhino and the Royal Bengal tiger. We saw the rhino and it was huge... Our guide said it was the first one he had seen this season but that is what he probably says to all the groups he takes around, none the less it was still a great sight to see and what we might never see again in the wild.
The word Chitwan, translated means 'The heart of the jungle' and it certainly applied here. The park itself was home to some outstanding biological richness and great wildlife. One of the most frightening but awe inspiring sights came when we took our first break for a rest. Up at the top of the tree right next to where we were sat there were at least 200 bees swarming around making honey, the noise was so loud and just watching them made you feel dizzy. The frightening thought was that although they were happily going about their own business, not caring about us they could still kill us easily if they attacked. As we continued our hike it was much of the same kilometre after kilometre, just on a different surface with different birds, bugs and animals to see, although when we were going along silently it was a great natural soundtrack we had to listen to with birds singing monkeys screaming and water splashing. After about 5 hours trekking we reached our home for the night and again were very surprised with where we were staying. The sun soon set and when the power went off for the 3rd or 4th time, we decided to call it a night, so at about 8 it was lights out.
After another early morning wakeup call it was back into the jungle for an hour trek to a crocodile breeding centre. We were pretty much left to our own devices to wander around and see what the centre is all about and see the creatures for themselves. We were eased in slowly with the babies measuring between 2 and 3 foot before being confronted with the big daddies' measuring nearer 12 foot!! We were also given the option of seeing a tiger in a cage at an additional cost but it didn't seem quite right going all that way to then see a tiger in a cage, something we could have quite easily done at Chester Zoo back home! After a short walk we were thrilled to see three jeeps waiting for us to take us for an hour and a half back to the hotel. A more accurate description of the jeep would be 'a 1930's Russian war vehicle' which provided an entertaining, if not a little bumpy end to our trip into the jungle. The jeep had to be started with a crank on the front and on our way home even broke down as the throttle stuck open and overheated the car.
Again we had a quick turnaround in our room before going down to the river nearby so that we could do some elephant bathing, one of the highlights so far! Mark was first to climb aboard the biggest elephant there along with 2 other guys from the tour and it wasn't long before water was been pelted at them all from the elephants trunk, soaking them to the bone, then the elephant waded into the 10 foot deep water where it decided to hurl everyone into the river. Kara had pretty much the same experience except nearly being dragged down the river by a single strong currant. It was an amazing experience that you couldn't recreate if you tried and for less than a pound, who could refuse! The trainer would call out commands to her and she'd roll over and throw us off into the water and then wait for us to climb on again only to then stand up (which was the biggest challenge for us - staying on her when she went from laying to standing position as shed go up on her 2 front legs first which would put us on a 80 degree angle until she brought her back legs up to stand). The trainer would then give her a command and the huge elephant would go from standing to a complete roll over onto its side - resulting with us being thrown backwards, front wards sideways depending on how ready we were for it. It was amazing to watch all the elephants in the river, they lay completely flat with their heads under the water and now and then the end of their trunks would appear above the waterline like a snorkel, for a quick breathe then they'd submerge it again... such clever animals.
We headed back to our room quickly as we were told that we would start itching soon from the river water if we didn't shower soon as the elephant poo in the water was bad for the skin! In the evening we headed out for tea with the group to celebrate Ben and Aran's 9th anniversary at the rooftop restaurant near to our resort, the food was pretty good compared to usual and our tour guide even made/bought a cake for them all iced with a big heart on it. After dinner we left early as Kara wasn't feeling well and in hindsight was probably a good idea because in the morning some of the group looked a bit worse for wear having stayed out drinking all night.