Published: December 11th 2008December 11th 2008
Hello again! It's only been a few days since we last wrote, but a lot has happened, and we're trying to make up for the 2 1/2 weeks without word.
At the moment we're in Sauraha - a little village just outside Nepal's Royal Chitwan National Park. We've been here since Tuesday, and we move on again tomorrow to Lumbini. But, before we get on to that, we'll pick up where we left the last blog - Pokhara! In total we spent 4 nights there, having a very welcome break from non-stop trekking, and spending most of our time shopping or lying down. Somehow, between the two of us, we managed to come away with 4 new tops, another pair of shorts, more flip-flops, and a new bag/headband/bracelets/necklace/earrings that Hannah needed very urgently
The plan to give the porters some of our trekking gear to save space in the luggage hasn't quite worked out! Apart from shopping, we spent a large proportion of our time rowing about on the lake. It only cost about 4 pounds (no pound icon on this computer!) to hire a little boat for the day and, with the sun shining and good books to read, we couldn't think of a better way to spend our time.
On our second day in Pokhara, the manager of the hotel called our room and asked us to come and meet him in his office. Hannah was worried that we'd broken some unknown, obscure cultural taboo, but (despite her frankly racist suspicion and prejudice) it turned out that Raja had told him about our plan to visit Chitwan and he was offering his services to book our trip. In the end he got us a superb deal - travel to the park and onward to Lumbini, 2 nights accommodation, 3 day activity programme in the park, and all meals included for just $75 each (note the availability of a dollar symbol!). A little internet research revealed that this is close to half the usual price, so we were very happy with that!
We left for Chitwan at 7.30am on Tuesday, this time on a bus in an even worse state than the one that took us from Kathmandu to Pokhara. Most of the roads along the route were also pretty horrendous, and the punishment of our rear-ends was only amplified by the non-existent suspension. Despite this, everyone on the bus (mostly other Westerners) were all in high spirits, and coping very well. However, this bus driver wasn't going to let us get away that easy, and he unleashed his secret weapon..... The Vengaboys! You remember them - The Vengabus is Coming, We're Going to 'Ibitza', My Uncle John From Jamaica - all the hits from this 'band of the moment's seminal debut album! This was played, on repeat, at a volume just loud enough so that no personal mp3 player could drown it out, for a good 3 hours.... We were very glad to reach our destination.
On arrival at the hotel we were treated to our first inclusive (fancy!) lunch, which was very tasty. Then, straight out on our park activities. First was a dug-out canoe ride down the river, and we spotted lots of rare birds and a couple of crocs. Then we had a 2 hour jungle walk, where we saw some monkeys, lots of bugs and fresh rhino poo, but a grand total of zero large mammals (although, apparently, the park is home to quite a number of elephants, rhinos, leopards, bears and tigers). Nonetheless, it was all very interesting, and a good way to start the trip.
Yesterday, we had a more successful day on the large mammal front. We started with a trip to the Elephant Breeding Centre, where one female has recently given birth to twins (for only the second time on record! - photos will follow when possible). After this, and an 8km bicycle ride (more torture for the buttocks), we went on a 3 hour safari on elephant back (still, no let up for the cheeks!). This was a truly amazing experience; we saw a wild rhino extremely close up, lots of deer and monkeys, and a few more crocs. Our elephant then escorted us all the way back to our hotel, just in time for dinner. We assumed that the fun was over for the day, until our guide reminded us that our 'Cultural Programme' was scheduled for after dinner. The two of us were very tired and skeptical, but, begrudgingly, we went along. What followed was half an hour of the most bizarre, absurd and unintentional hilarity either of us have ever seen. Luckily, we took a camera along and have videos to share - the events are quite indescribable without visual aid (highlights include a compere speaking in a ridiculous attempt at 'Queen's English', a dancing ladyboy, a stumbling jester, some very cringeworthy audience participation, and a guy in tights pretending to be a peacock). We love culture!!
This morning we had another early start, and were out 'birdwatching' by 6.30am. Not many birds were watched however, due to a thick fog, but we did get some good sunrise photos. After breakfast we had more fun and frolics with elephants. We were meant to be 'bathing the elephants', but this actually involved us sitting on an elephants back and getting soaked by its trunk! All good fun though, and another great experience.
Now we have some free time and an extra night booked in our hotel, before we depart for Lumbini tomorrow morning. We've hired a couple of bikes, and intend to explore the area, before enjoying a riverview sunset. It seems like we're leaving just in time though - our guide has just told us that one local woman has died and a guide is in a serious condition after being attacked by a rhino. Quite disconcerting after being in such close proximity to these animals, but he assures us its a very rare occurrence.
There's just enough time for a quick outline of our plans for the next few days: As mentioned already, we head to Lumbini tomorrow, spend 2 nights there, and then cross the border into India on the 14th. From there we plan to get the train to Varanasi, another couple of nights there, before heading West to Agra and eventually Rajasthan. But, we should have found time for another blog update by then.....