Sunday, 20 April 2008

Chitwan National Park

It was pleasant escaping from the heavy air pollution of Kathmandu which was giving me quite a sore throat by the time I left. Am continuing to have a wonderful time, though I won't be sorry to breathe clean, Canberra air and will not miss the filth that encroaches on every city and town. Only the countryside is relatively free of rubbish.

My bus left Kathmandu at 7:30am on Saturday, but after about 15 mins we were caught in terrible traffic jam that took an hour to penetrate. Once out of the city the countryside was striking as we wound along steep mountain sides between terraced farms growing rice and corn. The traffic was heavy - mainly trucks and buses, with much terrifying driving, but only one accident that I noticed.

I changed buses after lunch and we drove south, away from the mountains into lowland tropical scenery. Arrived at Chitwan National Park about 2pm. My hotel, Rhino Lodge, was in a small village across the river from the park, and was mercifully quiet, another contrast to Kathmandu. It was substantially hotter there, in the mid 30s with high humidity and quite a heavy smoke haze as Carolyne and I saw in Laos two years ago. The hotel was fairly basic but quite comfortable. My room was air conditioned, but the hotel didn't have its own generator, so during the twice daily 4 hour power cuts, I just endured the heat! The only others staying there was a tour group from the Netherlands that stayed the first night.

My package deal at the hotel included several activities in the National Park. For each I've had my own guide. Late afternoon Saturday we visited the elephant breading centre several kilometres away. At my suggestion we cycled there, using old Indian, single-speed bikes along the rough, stony roads. The local people were a different ethnic group from the majority Newari, being related to northern Indian groups. They speak Hindi rather than Nepali among themselves, though they are all fluent in Nepali. Their domestic architecture is different to that in the mountains and Kathmandu. Their homes are constructed of reeds rendered with clay, and the rooves are thatched. The elephant breeding centre was fun, but not nearly as good as the one Carolyne & I visited north of Ayutthia in Thailand.

At 7am on Sunday morning my guide and I headed for a canoe ride down the river for several kilometres, then walked back though the rain forest for several hours. It was great fun. The guide pointed out numerous species of birds on the river, and he lent me his binoculars. We saw a large stork, only metres from us, catch a substantial eel from the river, and try to kill it before eating it. We also saw the two species of crocodile - freshwater and salt - that inhabit the river. The salt (why? there's no salt water here!) one we saw from the river bank, we were right above him.

The walk was even better, particularly when we saw an old rhino about 30m away. We had to be very quiet, as it is potentially deadly. The guide had advised me of escape plans if we were to come across a rhino, so I was prepared. As we moved away from it, the rhino started to move through the scrub in the same direction. We took off at full speed, stopping at a large tree that I started to climb. The rhino stopped moving, so we crept away, my heart beating at 100%. Later I found that several people a year are killed by rhinos here!

We saw deer and monkeys, and lots of evidence of a small native cat, sloth bears and others. We saw even more birds, including eagles and woodpeckers, and a close encounter with with a wild rooster, a fine, brightly coloured fellow that appeared to be the ancestor of our domestic chooks.

When we crossed the river to return to the village, the working elephants were being taken for their twice daily bath in the river. It was wonderful to watch, and several tourists joined in. I was tempted, but was suspicious of the quality of the river water. The elephants splashed themselves and everyone nearby, and rolled and soaked up the cooling water. The handlers scrubbed them, which the creatures seemed to relish.

This afternoon, Sunday, I took an elephant ride. I'd been told it would be about 2 hours, but was on my elephant (unable to get off for a piddle!) for 3h 40m. It was also much more exciting than I'd expected, as most of the time we were in the national park, with all its wildlife. The elephant handler knew where particular creatures were likely to be, and the animals ignored the presence of the elephant despite there being myself and 3 Singaporeans on its back, a well as the handler. It was the same effect as being in a jeep on safari in the game parks of South Africa. We saw a total of nine rhinos - some only a couple of metres away - and including several very young ones. We came across several swamp deer, wild boar, wild peacocks and an eagle at close quarters. By the end of the ride I was filthy from brushing against the leaves, cobwebs and so on at about 4 metres above ground.


Post a Comment

<< Home