We stood huddled on the edge of the jungle while our guide delivered the safety message detailing how to save ourselves in the event of meeting a rhino, tiger or sloth bear.
For the rhino we were directed to (1) look for a small tree to scramble up, or in the absence of a small tree (2) to look for a large tree to hide behind, or in absence of any trees whatsoever to (3) run in a zig zag fashion as fast as possible away from the approaching rhino! Because of their weight rhinos find it difficult to change directions quickly, so while you may look ridiculous running through the jungle in a zig zag pattern the rhino will have less chance of catching you! If we encountered a tiger we were encouraged to stay calm and back slowly away while maintaining eye contact, and if we were to meet a sloth bear we needed to huddle together and make loads of noise!
It would be the next day that we would have a close encounter of the rhino variety and Dave would climb a tree (to take photos!) but for the jungle walk into Chitwan National Park
the only wildlife we encountered were some elephants, birds and bugs.
To get to Chitwan we booked a package tour from Pokhara. As independent travellers were initially really dubious about this as we're not really package people, but it turned out to be really worthwhile and money well spent. We stayed at the fabulous Hotel Parkside who deserve a plug because their staff were so knowledgeable and friendly, and showed us some of the best hospitality we've had.
They arranged everything for us in what became an action packed three days. We explored the jungle on foot, and on the backs of elephants, we took a canoe ride down the river, did a spot of early morning bird watching, fed the super cute baby elephants at the breeding centre, snuck up on a mother and baby rhino while they were lunching, got doused in water (and elephant snot!) during elephant bath time, checked out local village life, and took in a cultural music and dance show. Chitwan was ace!
After Chitwan we headed to the non-touristed Manakamana to witness a spot of ritual goat sacrifice at the ancient Manakamana Mandir, one of Nepal's most religiously significant temples.
Hindu pilgrims believe that the goddess Bhagwati has the power to grant wishes so people make the pilgrimmage to pray to the goddess and offer up goats and chickens for ritual sacrifice.
We headed up there to see what was going on, and found ourselves to be the only white faces there amongst a sea of pilgrims, chickens and goats. Access to the temple is via an Austrian engineered cable car which ascends 1000 metres over two ridges on the 2.8 km trip up the mountain. There are also special carriages designed for hauling your livestock up the mountain, and you can book your sacrificial goat a one way ticket for the hefty sum of 130 rupees! The views on the way up are simply stunning. We could see the mountains disappearing in the distance, the Trisuli river winding below, and the tiered hillsides and farming villages as they rose alongside the cable car.
We stayed at the tiny village at the top and woke to more stunning mountain views. We explored the village and headed to the temple: shops lined the path up to the temple selling last minute souvenirs, trinkets, bangles, goats and chickens.
watched mesmerised as families led their sacrificial animals into the temple, blessed them with tikka and then took them out the back to be slaughtered. Young children were involved in the process, leading animals off to the slaughter and reappearing with a goat head in one hand, and a chicken head in the other seemingly unfazed by the process!
The death wasn't all in vain though - most people headed down the road to the butcher where their animals were skinned and diced and returned to them in plastic bags ready ready to be the next meal: chicken curry or goat stew.
Next stop - Annapurna for a spot of trekking!
Pokhara > Sauraha (Chitwan) > Manakamana > Pokhara
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