Chitwan National Park
April 4-5, 2007
When we returned to Katmandu, we discovered that the temperature had risen over 10 degrees since we left and was now hovering in the low thirties. This had created an inversion effect and a heavy blanket of smog had settled over the city, making it hard to breathe. We still had almost ten days to go before leaving for India, so Bishnu organized a car and driver to take us to Chitwan National Park for a jungle safari and to Nagarkot and Bhaktapur for sightseeing. The five hour drive to Chitwan was interesting, to say the least, with cars, motorcycles and buses all competing for the narrow, winding road that clung to the mountain high above the Kali Gandaki River. Drivers passed each other with horns blaring on blind turns and I wondered how the people perched on top of the buses managed to keep from falling off as the buses careened around the harepin bends.
In Chitwan, we received a warm welcome at Hotel Parkside where our guide, Gupal, showed us to our spacious room. That afternoon, Gupal took us for of tour of a local Tharu village and we got to meet the people and even see into their homes.
I had to stop and take a photo of one of the indigenous plant that grows wild in the ditches here.
Apparently, the locals see it as a weed and have no use for it.
That evening we attended the Tharu Cultural Programme where we saw a male dance troupe perform traditional dances, even dancing the female parts themselves.
When I asked Gupal why there where no female dancers, he told me that there had been one, but that she had gotten married (of course!). The highlight of the night was the Peacock Dance when the peacock gave Claude a flower.
The next morning, Gupal took us on a cruise down the river in a dugout canoe where we saw countless birds and even a few saltwater crocodiles lazing on the banks of the river.
We got really close to one and I was a little nervous when it slid into the water only a few metres from our boat. However, Gupal assured me that they were shy creatures and avoided people at all costs. Finally it was time to start our jungle walk and reality was starting to set in as Gupal reviewed how to handle some of the potentially deadly creatures we might encounter in the jungle. “If you see a rhino,” he said, “climb the nearest tree or get behind a big tree so he can’t charge you. If you have to run away, run in zigzags because they can’t turn quickly. If you see a tiger, maintain eye contact and back away slowly. Don’t run away because it might mistake you for a deer. And if you see a wild elephant, pray to God, because nothing can save you from a wild elephant.”
With Gupal and his assistant, Kali, carrying nothing but sticks (weapons aren’t allowed inside the park), we began our jungle walk and all I could think was, “Walk softly and carry a big stick!” My heart pounded in my ears as Gupal pointed out evidence of recent rhinos in the area like huge steaming piles of fresh scat and flattened areas where they had rolled in the dust. We followed a trail of broken branches and flattened leaves and even spotted fresh blood on some leaves by the trail. It’s certainly one thing to look at wild animals in the safety of a zoo, but to be in their habitat unprotected is a whole different ball game. Gupal had told us that it was “baby season” and the mothers were very protective of their offspring and wouldn’t hesitate to charge if they felt threatened. Just to heighten anxiety, he also told us about a pair of German tourists who had been charged by a rhino protecting her baby not that long ago. A few moments later, Gupal told us to wait while he disappeared into the dense bush to find the rhino. As we waited anxiously, part of me was hoping he didn’t find one while the other part couldn’t wait to see a real live rhino in the jungle. When he returned, he nodded at us to follow him and we tiptoed cautiously through the dense foliage. The first thing he showed us was a pair of huge bee’s nests with thousands of bees buzzing around them.
Then, he carefully parted the leaves to show us a huge rhino dozing under a tree about 10 metres away from us. My heart was in my throat as he took each person, one by one to get a closer look at the sleeping giant. I went last, and as we crept forward, we suddenly heard a crackling of branches in the bush nearby and a loud snuffling snort. Gupal’s eyes were huge as he turned to me quickly and mouthed silently, “There’s another one – and it‘s not sleeping!”
We backtracked quickly and retreated to a large tree on the main trail, giddy with excitement as we contemplated how close we had come to an encounter with a real live rhino. Claude was upset that we hadn’t gotten a photo of the sleeping rhino and insisted on going back to get one so Gupal waited with us while Claude and Kali went back to take photos. I looked around anxiously for climbable trees while Alexa prayed, “Please keep Daddy safe!” over and over again until he returned with his photo.
After that, our jungle walk was fairly uneventful, although the adrenaline coursed through my veins the entire time we were in the jungle. We saw several crocodiles, deer, monkeys and a very colourful lizard as well as several rhino watering holes. As we followed the road out of the jungle, we heard a distant clanging and Gupal told us that it was the bell of a “mad elephant.” He told us that some male elephants can be unpredictable and have been known to hurt people with their mahouts (drivers) unable to stop them. After a violent incident, these elephants must wear bells to warn people to stay out of their way. Just then, the biggest elephant I had ever seen came into view and I had time to snap a single photo before Gupal hustled us off the road and about fifty feet into the jungle until after he passed.
Having seen news footage of an elephant on the rampage in India just the week before, we weren’t taking any chances.
To see the rest of the photos from Chitwan, go to our web album:
|Chitwan National Park|
Tags: Hotel Parkside, Nepal, Travel