DAY 53 - CHITWAN (SAURAHA)
After two days of rafting, we felt that we deserved a day of rest, so resolved to spend our first full day in Chitwan relaxing and enjoying its calm and serene atmosphere. After a nice breakfast at our guest house and a while spent reclining on our room's porch, we gathered a few books and strolled down towards Sauraha, the local town. We spent most of the day on a stretch of chairs and tables opposite the river that separated the town from the National Park. It had a beach-like feel about it, and a few bars and food stalls were dotted about in huts nearby, serving us drinks as the day wore on. Every now and again, a man would pass on an elephant and wash it in the river, a spectacle that always brought tourists to the river's edge to observe the beast in action. After a lunch of tuna sandwiches, we slowly made our way back to our room and continued reading and drinking tea for a while until it was time to be driven to a nearby 'stick dance' culture show in the evening. The stick dances were a tradition of the local Tharu villages, a kind of martial art-like swinging and bashing of sticks, full of frantic energy and beating drums. Some of the performances were quite unique, like the peacock dance for instance, which had a man dressed in a lavish peacock costume dancing and pecking away at the audience. Others included a fire stick dance and one which involved a man dressed as a woman. All in all, it was a pretty enjoyable and enlightening show. Afterwards, we headed back to our guest house and had an evening meal, before spending some time chilling in our room with one of the young members of staff who was pretty cool and chatted with us for a while. We got to bed at a decent time in preparation for our early start the next morning.
DAY 54 - CHITWAN NATIONAL PARK
We met our guide at our guest house at about 7am and set off on our two day walk which would take us through the heart of the National Park. As was the park regulation, we were required to have two guides with us at all times, one in front and one behind. Both had to be armed with sticks at all times. After crossing the small river on a canoe, our guide briefed us on the park we were about to enter. Upon asking him of the dangers that we may face, he told us that there were many, and that his sister had, in fact, been killed by a tiger two years before. The dangers, we realised, were not to be taken lightly. The scenery was, as you would expect, excellent. On the first day we passed through three different sections of the park which were called, I think, the north forest, the grasslands, and the south forest. The first section was a mass of vegetation, of tall thin trees, bracken and plantlife grappling for sunlight in the long shadows cast by the immense branches above. We saw barking deer, spotted deer, wild boar and a couple of types of monkeys as we slowly trekked along. The flat land of the park was a welcome change after our mountain trek, and we found the walk pretty pleasant and, at times, quite relaxing. The grasslands were areas of the park covered in grasses that can grow up to 22ft but had luckily just been cut, so we had a great view over the surrounding area, catching glimpses of animals as they passed. We came across our first rhino relatively early in the day. As we crept round the dense plants and shrubbery to get a better look at it, the rhino suddenly turned towards our position, ready to charge. We quickly back tracked and crept back onto the path just seconds before the rhino found the spot we had been standing at. Luckily, this was the nearest we got to any real danger on the trek. The weather was incredibly hot and we found ourselves sweating as the afternoon wore on, not helped by the fact that me and James were dehydrated on account of our forgetting to bring water, fanning ourselves every time we stopped off at one of the wooden tower view points. Upon approaching a lake near to the village we were to spend the night at, we sighted a couple of crocodiles lurking at the banks, as well as a small family of rhinos ambling around. Happy that we had seen the animals that we had despite the heat, we finally arrived at the village before dark, crashing out in our room before grabbing a nice dinner and playing cards as the sun set over the traditional village huts and strange hay bales that were strewn out everywhere, nestling goats and dogs that slept next to a number of locals who sat out in chairs enjoying the last few hours of the day.
DAY 55 - CHITWAN NATIONAL PARK
We arose at a similar time to the morning before and met our guides over breakfast, before setting out into the forest once again. As before, we crossed a variety of different landscapes - flat fields, deep forests, jungle thickets and areas of open shrubbery. The morning possessed a thick mist which sat a few feet off the ground, swilling around the feet of the arching trees, darkening the shadowy road ahead, giving the path a kind of eerie look that resembled in my mind the landscapes of Burton's 'Sleepy Hollow'. As the day progressed, however, the sun rose to its peak and the mist dissolved and gave way to a flat light that broadened and created dappled rays through the branches above. Although we saw a few deer, monkeys and wild boar, we didn't see as many animals as the day before, although the walk itself was pretty leisurely, stopping off occasionally at small streams to cool off and take a breather. Slowly but surely we made our way back to the town, arriving late in the afternoon, before getting some money out in order to spend our last full evening in Nepal in style, enjoying a satisfying meal in town and a drink or two at a couple of local joints. When we felt that we had done the evening justice, we headed back to our room to rest our heads in Nepal for the final time.