Sunday, April 22, 2012

Chitwan National Park

Michelle and I arrived in Kathmandu, Nepal at mid-day, nearly 20 hours after leaving Vietnam. Perhaps needless to say, we were a bit beyond being merely over-tired. The mob-scene of shady taxi drivers outside the airport did nothing to remedy our still-looming, post-SE Asia funk.  After nearly 30 minutes of fending them off and trying to have silent conversations with each other, (if you ever watch How I Met Your Mother you know what I mean when I say silent conversations. Sometimes we successfully communicate just by looking at each other kind of like Marshall and Lilly do occasionally on the show.)  we actually found a guy holding a sign for the hostel where we had a reservation. I walked up to him and asked if he was indeed from Khansar Guesthouse and if, as his sign read, the ride there was truly free.  He said “yes.”  By this point we really had no choice but to believe him, so we took the ride.

Upon arriving we learned that the ride was not really free, “Only free if you stay two nights.” Baah! Oh well, at least we got to the right place safely.  We proceeded to consume a delicious dinner at the guesthouse but were frustrated  upon trying to go out and wander about.  It just wasn’t going to happen.  It was dark out.  There was no electricity in town, and we were just too tired to embark on exploring for fear of getting lost in the dark in an unfamiliar city.

Okay, so about the electricity.  Quickly explained: Nepal does not have a whole lot of it.  There are blackouts for up to 16 hours a day in Kathmandu, Pokhara and their surrounding areas.  The “On” shifts from district to district throughout the day and night so power is available for periods of four or eight hours at a time. Interestingly, and thanks to this being a fact of life around here, many establishments have a schedule of when power will be available.  And, many also have back-up batteries and generators for when the power is out. So, while people like me can’t charge computer and camera batteries on command, you can at least usually turn on a light in the dark.

Okay, this has gotten way too lengthy. Let’s fast forward to the more interesting stuff.
The next morning we were on our way to Chitwan National Park. It was an early morning as well -- so early, in fact, that there was no place open for breakfast. So we took our hungry selves to the guesthouse lobby, paid for our room and reluctantly paid for the taxi from the day before. We had a ride arranged to the bus station thanks to our yet-to-be-met, new friends at Chitwan Village Resort.

The bus ride to Chitwan was rather uneventful. Well, it was uneventful if you’re already familiar with our experiences on buses thus far and you don’t count the many times I watched my life flash before my eyes every time looking out the window only to see giant trucks coming right at us with their horns blowing or the number of cliffs our bus could have very easily gone right over, a threat we seemed to face every time we made a turn around a switchback on the mountain road.  After I decided I was not going to be killed on this bus ride, the bumps and turns and honking and views of toppled-over trucks actually became rather entertaining.

We arrived in Sauraha, the town on the edge of Chitwan National Park, and were greeted once again by a swarm of aggressive and shady taxi drivers wanting to take passengers to their hotel.  This was a great situation in which to already have a plan in place.  We got off the bus and didn’t walk 10 meters before we were politely approached by one of the nicest people I have ever met in my life who asked whether we were Michelle and Katy. Yep, that’s us! It was Rajendra, right there looking for us just as promised. Things are looking good now. 

Rajendra showed us to his truck. When we mentioned that we still needed to get our bags off the bus he advised that he had already sent a few of his co-workers after our bags.  We tried to explain how heavy they were and that we were just fine carrying them ourselves.  No.  It wasn’t to be.  Someone already had my bag, and despite my insisting I could carry it myself, I didn’t carry my bag a single time until I got off the bus back in Kathmandu a few days later.

A short drive, and within minutes we had arrived at Chitwan Village Resort (CVR). Unfortunately I don’t think I have the writing skills to even begin to explain just how fabulous this place is.  There are eight rooms at CVR, able to accommodate up to, I believe, 24 people at a time. I believe we were two of maybe 15 to 20 other guests. However, from the moment we got off the bus we were treated as though we were the ONLY people staying here.

Here are all the room at Chitwan Village Resort.
Ours was second level, all the way to the left.

Inside our glorious rooom

Fanciest bathroom we've seen in weeks

View from out balcone of the resident elephants at Chitwan Village Resort

View of the entire resort from our Balcony

We were welcomed with cold beverages and a menu from which to order some lunch.  Rajendra explained that it takes about 30 minutes to prepare the food so it would be best to order our lunch and then settle in to our room. So we did just that.  And let me tell you, the food was well worth the brief wait.  EVERY meal I ate at CVR was fantastic, each a little bit tastier than the last. After lunch Rajendra sat down with us and wrote out and explained everything we would be doing for the next three days.  He even wrote out an electricity schedule for us, a most valuable piece of information.

The fun began less than hour after lunch. Jagat, one of Rajendra’s co-workers would be taking us on a walk through the Tharu Village, followed by a visit to some of the resident elephants, a walk through the wildlife display and information center.  After the walk, Jagat took us to a beachy area, along the Rapti River  where we could put ourselves in a couple comfortable chairs, order some local brew,  watch the sun set into the haze and relax while reminding each other how great life is.

Walking down the main road in Sauraha, Nepal

Resident captive elephants...
An angry elephant did that...

Riverside sunset on the edge of the park boundary...

Plus the local beer...

Following the village walk and sunset, Jagat walked us back to CVR.  We ordered our dinner so it would be ready after we returned from the Tharu Culture program we would be attending shortly.  Once again, we headed out the door and down the road with Jagat and three others.  We took a short walk to a small theatre where we watched a program of traditional Tharu music and dancing.  Tharus are an ethnic group of about one million who inhabit a large part of the land around Chitwan National Park.

Following the culture program, Jagat lead us back to CVR (in the dark) where we had a delicious dinner perfectly timed with our arrival to be fresh out of the kitchen as we sat down, hungry, and ready to eat again. Served with a smile by Gagon, another of Rajendra’s wonderful co-workers.

We were up early the next morning to get a jump on our day of exploring the jungle. After our simple American breakfast (two eggs, potatoes, toast, and juice) complete with the perfect cup of milk coffee we jumped into the jeep and were on our way into the park. First attraction?  A canoe ride along the Budhi Rapti River. We saw many birds and had plenty of close encounter with crocodiles. 

Empty canoes waiting for passengers in the early morning hours
This is probably of my favorite pictures of the entire trip so far. That's Jagat enjoying his morning with us on the river
Michelle and I trying to laugh our way into being comfortable in this canoe
 Knowing crocs, like this guy, are nearby!!!!

Sun rising over the river

Still looking a bit eerie in the opposite direction
Some of the more friendly things along the river...


I really like this picture
... and another crocodile, just for fun!

Following the canoe ride was a jungle walk.  I was pretty excited about this until Jagat gave the briefing on what to do if/when we actually find some of these animals.

Rhinoceros: These guys don’t have very good eyesight so if one is encountered, it is likely you will see him before he sees you. But don’t count on it. It’s best to drop your things and climb the closest tree as quickly as you can.  Rhinos have a good sense of smell, so if you drop your bag it may be distracted by the sniffing of the bag, giving you time to climb a tree where he cannot reach you.  Throughout the weekend, I did not speak to one local who had not on more than one occasion climbed a tree, escaping a rhino.  It’s actually a quite common event. There are about 435 wild rhinos in Nepal and nearly 400 of these live in Chitwan.

Sloth bear: Yep, these critters can be pretty dangerous too. If you come across one of these guys, though it’s not likely at night due to their nocturnal ways, your best chance not to be attacked is to huddle with the people with you, becoming one large group so you appear as one bigger, scarier creature to the bear.  Then you hope your guide can successfully scare it away by taking to it with a large stick.

Elephant: As far as I could tell there were not many wild elephants in the areas we were visiting.  Fortunately, however, the warning if you see one isn’t complicated: run away as fast as you can!

Tiger:  Should you encounter a tiger, that’s the end.  The guidebook says, don’t run, maintain eye contact and back away slowly. The guide, however, says if you see a tiger to simply put your hands together in the center of your chest, close your eyes, bow your head and say Namastye.

After hearing all of this I was a tad more apprehensive about walking around in the jungle.

Jagat leading us into the jungle 

Thankfully, this was our closest encounter with anything too exciting on the walk

As much I still wanted to see a rhino at this point, we thankfully did not have any dangerous predator encounters.  Rather, we saw many birds, insects and a few more crocodiles.

Leaving the jungle we paid a short visit to an elephant breeding camp where, among other things, we watched a nine-day-old elephant spin in circles around his mother.  Delightful!

         The 9-day elephant and his mama...

In the afternoon we went back into the jungle, on a jeep this time. Now I really wanted to see a rhino, because I didn’t think I was going to have to climb a tree if I came across one!  While the jeep ride was fun and the park is nice, we unfortunately did not come across any large animals on this jungle visit either. We did see many monkeys, deer, birds and more crocodiles.  In addition, however, we did manage to come across what can only be described as an uncontrolled forest fire.  Don’t worry.  We made it out just fine!

on the way into the jungle

One more crocodile
Headed into and through the forest fire...

I guess we did see a rhino, but he was buried behind some brush in the river

The closest we got to a tiger was this captive one. She was pulled from the wild because she killed three people in two months.

Cool spider wed on the side of the tiger enclosure
at the crocodile breeding center

The next day was one filled with elephant activities.  Rajendra had to leave unexpectedly the night before so Gogan appeared to be running the show, making sure everyone got to the activities and were otherwise taken care of.

To try to better explain how great Rajendra and the rest of his staff truly are, let me tell you this little story.  When he found out he would have to be leaving CVR for the night he sought out every guest and apologized for the fact that he would need to be gone until the following day.  He then assured everyone, individually, that the other staff members would be around and able to help us should we need anything.  Never before have I known the owner of such an establishment to be so genuinely concerned about his guests.

Anyway, back to the elephants. Our morning included viewing an elephant bathing experience, and our afternoon featured an elephant-back safari into the jungle.  Not exactly sure what we were getting in to with the elephant bathing, we packed swimsuits and agreed we would decide about entering the water when we arrived.  Mid-morning, just as planned, Gogan walked us down to the river where the baths were taking place.  We opted not to enter the water, but rather be entertained by other Chitwan National Park visitors as they were sprayed and knocked into the water by these massive, yet beautiful animals.  I think the most entertaining part of the elephant bathing session is that immediately following their baths, the elephants are not out of the water for ten seconds before they starting covering themselves in dirt.  They like to be dirty, I guess. Being covered in dirt also helps keep them cool.

A few pics of the elephant bathing...

After this elephant was clean his trainer hoped on and the elephant proceeded to give him all his things off the ground...

Following the elephant baths we had a rather leisurely afternoon, enjoying yet another fantastic meal at CVR and then wandering around the town and helping out the local economy by stopping in a gift shop or two.  It was at lunch we tried out the latest local beer, Everest Lager.

This afternoon was our elephant safari ride.  When I was 12 years old, my dad took me to an amusement park called Marine World, Africa USA.  It was here that I first rode an elephant.  The elephant ride in Chitwan National Park was a little bit different.  The Elephant “driver” sat on the elephant’s neck and the rest of us sat inside a square box on the elephant’s back, each straddling a corner of the box.  As one might imagine, this configuration didn’t result in the smoothest ride through the jungle.  In fact, keeping myself on top of the elephant, holding and using a camera and holding on to the box served up quite the abdominal workout!

This is what people looked like while on the elephants
Along the way we saw several monkeys, birds and some deer.  The highlight, however, was when we came across a pair of rhinos bathing in a pond.  It was very exciting to have finally spotted some rhinos.  It was even more exciting to be viewing them from a top of an elephant rather than face-to- face on a walking safari!

Locals on a walk  in the jungle

Spotted deer...

That's us and the elephant we were on

Following our elephant safari we realized it was still early enough that we could make it down to the river in time to take in another Chitwan sunset, just as we had two nights prior.  Sooo…  we did exactly that.  When we got there we found two chairs waiting for us! We also found Gogan and Jagat!  Gogan was waiting for a few people to finish their jeep safari and Jagat was at the river with a few others for the sunset following the village walk, an activity we had enjoyed previously.  When we tried to buy them a beer and invited them to join us, they refused the offer but happily accepted a Coke. 

After sunset we made our way back to CVR and enjoyed one more lovely meal.  Rajendra returned to the resort during our dinner.  It was nice to see him with a smile on his face, and he was very pleased to find that we had enjoyed our day and all had gone smoothly while he was away.  We again observed him checking in with each guest.  I can only assume, being sure that each of their days had gone smoothly, as well.  

The following morning it was time to say goodbye to Rajendra, Gogan, Jagat, and the rest of the staff at Chitwan Village Resort. We took a few pictures, said our goodbyes and Rajendra drove us to the bus station, personally seeing to it that we boarded the correct bus back to Kathmandu.  Ah, Rajendra, we're going to miss you.

Our stay in Chitwan was absolutely wonderful.  I highly recommend Chitwan Village Resort if you’re ever planning a visit.  They are not in Lonely Planet yet.  However, I promised Rajendra I would submit a recommendation so, hopefully, you’ll find them in the next edition of Lonely Planet – Nepal.

My brother took a beautiful photo of a horse from this angle a few years ago,
this is my attempt to "copy" it. PS, it's an elephant!

No comments:

Post a Comment