Hanging with Rhinos
We've recovered nicely from the rigours of 16 days of Himalayan trekking. The feet have needed a serious break to complete the healing of blisters, and it's been great to do a proper load of laundry. Handwashing with a bar of Sunlight in glacier-cold water has some serious limitations.
After lounging in the lakeside city of Pokhara, we spent a few days in the southern Terai region of Nepal. We booked in for a three day safari that would take us to the wildlife preserve of Royal Chitwan National Park. Like all tourists here, we were anxious to see the native animals, rhino and especially, the tiger.
We were particularly surprised by the contrast in terrain that we experienced when we travelled to the Terai. It's much flatter and the temperatures are much warmer, so the polar fleece sweaters used for trekking were again deemed useless. On the southern border of the park is India, and culturally, the people here are predominately Hindu, like many of their southern neighbours.
Over the days of our visit, we got a taste of safari style travel; the next best thing to Africa. In the morning and evening, our hosts took us into the jungle to stalk wildlife, either on foot, or by elephant-back.
Our hiking excursion was a true adrenaline rush. When walking through the dense jungle, you hear constant rustling sounds - most often monkeys above, or pheasants/peacocks on the ground. When the nearby bushes began to shake, our guides told us to "climb a tree" and then they bravely stepped forward to ward off our aggressor with their mighty wooden sticks (it was a sloth bear that only our guide saw). Continuing further, we saw numerous tiger and rhino tracks but no live specimens. I think they were afraid of encountering the wrath of the stick-wielding Nepali guides! Only later did our guides inform us that there have been several attacks on guides and tourists doing these jungle walks. They didn't tell us beforehand because they thought that we wouldn't want to hire their services...REALLY?
The elephant back safari was a much safer version of the jungle tour, although 2 hours sitting on an elephant is far from relaxing. Although the novelty of riding aboard a giant beast is the best part of the trip, it's also a very practical way to see wildlife. Sitting 8 feet above the ground, our mount ploughed through dense forest, using her trunk to grab leaves along the way for snackfood.
When we came upon two feeding rhinos, they cautiously moved away. Despite their massive size and impressive natural armour, the rhinos are no match for Dumbo. We encountered another lone rhino, some spotted deer, and countless bird species, the elusive tiger was not to be seen.
One other very cool thing we did was bathe the elephants during one of their midday breaks. Although we were supposed to help wash them, the experience was a set up... as soon as we got in the water, their trainers were shouting commands to the elephants, and in no time, we were showered with river water. Once we were soaked, we hung out in the river, climbing aboard the elephants, and attempting to stay on while they followed their trainers' calls to get us wet. Despite their size, it was really quite safe. The only real concern was not making contact with one of their watermelon-sized droppings that came floating by every few minutes.
The peace and serenity of the jungle and its surrounds behind us, we've got to catch a bus back to the city. A return to the madness of Kathmandu!