Raju from Spirit of the Himalayas is picking us up at 0830, what better time to do some more shopping than after breakfast and before 0830- gives us at least 20 minutes. We are revelling in our new found 'thinness' and Mary "doesn't have a thing to wear for the jungle". One shop open- perfect- 4 cotton long sleeve tops for NPR 800 (AUD $2.50 each). Raju loads up the car and we are off through Pokhara, Pokhara outskirts and many towns and villages along the way for our 5 hr (ultimately 6hr) drive. We meet up with our long lost Marsyangdi River and are introduced to the Seti River, there are lots of rafting tours in action - maybe next time? As is our habit there must be a tea and coconut biscuit stop. Very touristic- NPR 235!
Lots of traffic on the road, we finally reach Chitwan District and then have only 20km to get to our lodge. That last 20km takes an hour, the 'road' is a long and large dirt pothole. We go through 2 toll collection points- I have no clue what they use the money for - not the roads I am sure! The
road is also full of pilgrims heading towards the National Park, the festival atmosphere kicks in as we witness masses of people of all ages loaded into and onto buses, trucks, tractors, motor bikes, push bikes, carts, etc. Very cool. So, the terrain has now become African Savannah- hot, damn hot... dusty, flat and arid. Recent burning off and the dust has turned the sky grey. Such a country of contrasts.
We pull into the Eco Wildlife Lodge to be met by a cast of thousands (29 actually). There are 22 rooms here and there is only one other couple staying, and now Mary and I- a 7:1 staff to guest ratio!!!! We receive a very, very friendly but formal welcome by Kumar, he is the head operations guy and expert wildlife man (used to work at Timber Tops). We are given a drink (fluoro orange sugar water) and a formal orientation tour of the lodge and the routine for the stay. We are in Room 1, the Spaniards are in Room 2- cosy. There are comfortable rattan seats on the verandah- inviting (shame about the ashtray). Inside the room is a double and a single bed. Carpeted floor and
mat, flowers on the bedside table (!!!!!) and a jug of filtered water as well as bottled mineral water. Safari themed decor. The piece de resistance (???? spelling) though is the bathroom- slate floor, western toilet (normal height), shower, pegs to hang clothes on, basin and mirror, AND HOT WATER! But wait- there's more- soap, toilet paper and FLUFFY towels! (after the trek and even the Hotel Barahai it seems very luxurious). It is really, really clean.
We are on a 3 day/ 2 night package all inclusive deal. Our first meal is lunch (now a very late one) and it is HUGE, as in 3 courses- soup, main, fruit. It is the most we have eaten for weeks and our first meat meal in Nepal. Our vegetarianism officially goes out the window. Kumar asks us how it was and we tell him- "awesome, but we don't need so much food"- Kumar nods- "as you wish Madame" ...... and every other meal comes out in equally huge portions and 3 full courses (including breakfast!). There was a meal theme in place for each night ie- Monday is Chinese, Tuesday is .......etc,. The second night it is just Mary
and I (staff to guest ratio goes through the roof- 14.5:1) so Kumar asks what we might like- we actually asked for Dhal Bhat- and it was really good. That night we even lashed out and shared a beer (so, the no alcohol thing went out the window too).Logistically the lodge is very programme and time orientated - an individual programme is written up for each guest on a blackboard at the bar area and is utterly time driven (to the minute). It all ran very efficiently on a schedule, an efficient schedule! Our activities included
• Elephant bathing on the first afternoon (the elephants respond to Hindi, having been born and trained in India).
• Elephant safari through the bush also on the first afternoon- about 2 hrs in the late afternoon, it was really great, the warmth and the smell of the bush. It is a very undulating ride- like being on a camel but more undulating and definitely less smelly (camels stink). Lots of deers. The sun sets behind us. The staff are
very disappointed that we didn't spot a rhino- we weren't.
• 2 early morning jungle/bird walks (alarm set for 0545 and a staff guy comes at 0600 to make sure you're up), tea and biscuits at precisely 0615! The mornings are cool and misty, long sleeves weather. The forest is absolutely alive with bird life and we spot macaques and langour monkeys too. We take a different route each morning. The second morning reveals tiger prints (call me skeptical but I am sure there is someone out there with tiger prints on a stick imprinting away all over the park).
• A canoe trip (2nd mid-morning)- we take about a 20 min walk to the river, because of the Hindu Festival going on in the park we encounter lots of people and animal sacrifices- mostly goats, not people. We spend an hour or so on the river, another great excursion for bird watching. There are also several crocs- the long snout non-aggressives and the short snout aggressives. We pass a group of women wading across the river to get into the NP- they go to illegally collect firewood. We dock down river and walk about 40 minutes back to the lodge. We
pass a couple of villages and an orphanage- funded by Christian Koreans. There are a big group of little boys all throwing mud at each other and having a ball- little boys are sooo the same all over the world.
• A safari jeep ride (2nd afternoon)- this was so much fun. We hurtle through the park over and through the potholes and bounce around in the jeep getting covered in fine dust. My camera is about to die- it starts grinding in the fine dust- luckily the bouncing around seems to sort it out in the end! As the sun starts to go down and we have to think about turning around to avoid the curfew I think Kumar is going to have a nervous breakdown- he is utterly grief stricken that we haven't seen a rhino. We don't care- the air is warm and smoky, we feel great and we are really happy. Just as Kumar thinks all is lost the rhino is spotted- there are 2 in fact about 60m away. Kumar is exultant! Mission accomplished we turn tail and head for home when a 3rd rhino is spotted getting out of a water hole, then a 4th!!!
It is a veritable rhino convention! Kumar's reputation is restored, Mary and I are pleased to see them but in all honesty it wasn't that important to us. There is a large army presence in the park, Kumar is friends with one of the colonels and we end up giving the colonel a lift. The soldiers are now all saluting our jeep- surreal.
• A scrabble game- not on the programme- we thought of it all by ourselves (and Santos has the Yahtzee set)! Anyway, we did that after the jeep ride and before dinner. We tried to finish it after dinner but Kumar informs us that the generator is going off at precisely 2100hrs so we would have to pack up- just as well really, I had a Q and a Z and there were only 2 letters left. In summary-
Our wildlife sightings included monkeys- macaques and langours, rhino, several deer species, 2 croc species and an unbelievable number of birds. In fact more than 30 species of birds! This place is a bird lovers paradise. Kumar is a bird watcher and very knowledgeable, he is a great asset to the lodge. We also saw
lots of butterflies, moths and other assorted bugs. Some amazing sights!
We slept well and it was quite beautiful to wake to the sounds of the birds in the morning. Two enduring memories- the sound of woodpeckers pecking away throughout the day and the sound of the cuckoos- seriously like cuckoo clocks.A great 2 night stay- I would like to return and spend a couple more days next time on a less rigid schedule. http://www.ecowildlifelodge.com/ BIRDS
Eurasian cuckoo, Common hawk cuckoo, Indian cuckoo
Spangled drongo, Black drongo
Large cuckoo shrike (nasty peices of work)
Red flamed woodpecker, Flame backed woodpecker, Grey pygmy woodpecker
Red jungle fowl
Chestnut headed bee eater (divine)
Red vented bulbul
Oriental magpie robin
Chestnut bellied nut hatch
Great egret, Little egret
Asian open-billed stork, Woolly neck stork
Ducks???? lots of 'em
White throated kingfisher
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