Jungle safaris, jeep safaris, elephant safaris... and still no tigers! ;)

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Asia » Nepal » Chitwan
March 28th 2013
Published: May 19th 2013
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Once you walk around Kathmandu you can find Chitwan offers practically on every corner. Obviously you don’t need to book any tours and just do it on your own. It’s a matter of choice really. After spending two whole days in bed with my stomach all over the place and crazy Holi soon after, I just felt like I really needed to get away from Kathmandu for a while and since I didn’t really want to waste time searching around for best options, I just went for the easy option and booked the Chitwan package through my hotel. The programme seemed pretty decent and the price more or less also, I thought why not?

My bus was supposed to leave at 7am. I got to the bus stop a few minutes before and was surprised to see a huge line of buses in front of me – I say 30 at least and it looked like all of them were going in the same direction. Of course my bus had to be at the very end of than line… I got my seat and after a short delay, due to some passengers deciding not to make it on time, we set off to Chitwan. Despite the short distance, it usually takes around 6 hours to get there – no surprise really as the roads are not exactly in the best shape and it took a while before we left Kathmandu itself as well. It sure is a very picturesque route – curvy road set along the river with beautiful rice/wheat fields and small villages all around. The route is very beautiful indeed, but the drive itself definitely not as exciting… Or maybe way too exciting actually – the road is pretty bumpy and all the drivers seem to be slightly crazy! Honking all the time, overtaking right on the curves and missing other cars by centimetres only… it sure is a different style of driving in here, it would certainly take some time to be able to hit the road on your own, but then somehow this kind of driving seems to be working here pretty well, all the crazy drivers seem to be on the same page and seem to understand each other's manoeuvres…

Once we were getting closer to Chitwan there seemed to be a bit of panic creating in the bus as many people simply didn’t know where they were supposed to be getting out – booked through some agency, got no ticket, just were told to get on this bus and that was all… But then I didn’t exactly know where I was supposed to get out either, so I guess we were all on the same boat. I actually thought at the time of booking that the bus I would be taking would be going straight to my resort and I would at least have a chance to see who would be joining me on my adventure. But that wasn’t the case at all, as everybody was going to different hotels. Still it looked like everyone was waiting until the last stop, so I thought I might get out there as well. Once we got off the bus a number of people approached us calling out different names of resorts or offering taxis. People started disappearing quickly, but there was no sign of anyone from my place, so I started thinking of maybe taking a taxi, but then the taxi driver said he was almost sure there was someone from my resort here so started asking around and directed me to my jeep – wow! Didn’t expect that! He could have easily just charged me for a taxi instead of helping me out! Amazing! Apparently the people from my resort were expecting me to come on a different bus… Ah well… After all I made it to the right place… There was another person going with me to the hotel, Liz from UK, and we actually found out we would be doing the same programme the first two days! Some nice company, great! As looking at how empty it was at the resort I thought I might be doing it on my own actually! 😉

On the first day there wasn’t much going on, a lot of free time in the afternoon and a village walk in the evening. As much as I liked Kathmandu it sure was nice to sit outside in the sun and enjoy peace and quiet all around. Two more people joined us for the village walk later on – a guy from Israel and a girl from the States (sorry! New York! – it always surprises me that New Yorkers can’t simply say they are from the States but they just have to underline they are from NY…trying to feel superior or what? Don’t get it!). Still a nice group of people! We walked to a close by Tharu village – an ethnic group which lives in Chitwan area but in India as well. We walked around the village listening to our guide, Jeet telling us a story of his people. Very simple lives they lead, but quite impressive how self-sufficient they are as well – growing their own products, only relying on the goods from the nearby forests and river. What I found quite interesting was the fact that Tharu people seem to be quite immune to malaria – apparently not because of their knowledge of medicinal plants but to some factor in their genes… Then there was dinner and a couple of beers with Liz, really incredible woman, at the age of 60 taking a year to travel around the world on her own! Quite inspiring for sure!

Next day wake-up call at 6am, just in time for sunrise. Even though it was pretty early for me, still it sure was worth it to wake up at this hour as the sunrise was absolutely beautiful! With a bit of mist that morning hanging just above the river, it looked quite mystical I'd say... First thing on the list that morning was canoeing. It was a traditional canoe made from one piece of wood only, once we started getting into it one by one I thought it would sink as it was getting deeper and deeper into the water until it finally stopped leaving only a centimetre above the water level – any movement and we would be taking in water for sure! And it wasn’t exactly a comforting idea on a river supposedly full of crocodiles! We were slowly moving along the river with our guide Jeet pointing out all sorts of birds all around and a few crocies of course (some of them looked quite fake though… hmmm… maybe they didn’t want to have tourists disappointed so put a few just in case?). Once we were getting closer to the shore we seemed to have a bit of a celebrity moment as a bunch of Chinese tourists were snapping tens of pictures of us sitting in the canoe… Pretty funny! 😊 Then we set off on our jungle walk. We were walking for two hours not spotting any animals at all (well no surprise really as doesn’t matter how quiet we tried to walk, there were so many dry leaves and branches on the forest floor that it was just impossible not to make a noise). Even when we got to the lake there were no animals there either – apparently there is a 75% chance to see some there as they come there to cool off… Well wasn’t our lucky day then… But then once we started making our way back suddenly Jeet with a bit of a freight in his eyes said ‘Run!’ and started running in the direction we just came from… He???? What was that all about???? There were a few moments of confusion obviously as we didn’t really know what was going on, but then we saw it! A bit further in the middle of our path there was a huge rhino! They don’t have a good sight but sure can smell pretty well and one thing that you don’t want is an angry rhino charging in your direction! So even though we wanted to take some photos (yep! Silly us!), Jeet said no time and ordered us to get away from there as quickly as possible – obviously he we was worried about our safety, but wasn’t his reaction a bit exaggerated? After all the rhino was pretty far away… Anyway… Once we got to a safer place, Jeet said we could try to approach him from a different side. So we started walking slowly closer to the lake until Jeet said that was close enough and if we wanted to see a bit more we would need to climb a tree… haha! I thought it was a joke but he was actually pretty serious about that. Whaaat? I definitely wasn’t going to climb anything – it’s as if it was a skill everybody was born with… Finally we saw some more people around, so got even closer to the lake after all – the rhino was cooling off in the water already, so it was safe to get that close especially since our numbers doubled by now. It sure was nice to see a rhino in an environment like this! We spent there a while watching the animal chilling in the water and headed back to our resort as more attractions awaited that day!

Next on the list was elephant safari! I have to say I wasn’t exactly too excited about that as first of all the little platforms attached to the elephants’ backs looked pretty uncomfortable both for the animals and for the passengers and what’s even more it looked like elephants had quite a tough and long day of work carrying people around… There was no time to think though as the moment we got there the four of us were squashed onto a platform and the safari begun. Just as I thought - it was very uncomfortable and bouncy, didn’t really see much either as was sitting in the back. I had a pretty good view of the elephant’s tail though and what’s more had a chance to see him ‘going to the toilet’, twice! The highlight of the day I’d say! 😉 We saw two rhinos cooling off in the pond which was pretty great, especially that it looked like it was a mother and a baby, with the little one turning around in water and in general showing off a few tricks. If there were any other animals around, there was absolutely no chance of seeing them as just in front of us we had two more elephants packed with Chinese tourists and they just didn’t seem to be able to keep the volume down… The girl from NY even gave them a few ‘shhhh…’, which I found pretty funny as it didn’t seem to have any effect on the Chinese tourists whatsoever, while she was getting more and more annoyed by the moment… Thankfully the safari came to an end as it looked like a war might have started any moment now. 😉

In the evening we were taken to one of the nearby villages to see the Tharu show. I wasn’t really expecting much from it, but have to say that I really enjoyed it actually. We saw a few traditional Tharu dances – with the stick dance being the most heard of, and we heard some local music and singing as well. The dances were quite impressive as they required quite a bit of precision – like hitting a stick and not a guy behind you. They were even more fun to watch as some of the boys were really putting all their energy to it and there were a few laughs here and there, which meant they were really enjoying themselves while performing as well. Then it was time for the girls to dance and sing. Everybody was wearing traditional costumes which only made the show more interesting. There was one part of the show that got me a bit confused as I thought that the dance was supposed to be connected with death but it seemed to be some kind of parody as one guy dressed as a clown was running around the stage making silly faces, talking and laughing to himself while the other one, dressed as a woman (with full make-up and fake boobs on) was constantly turning around??? Sorry, but didn’t get that! Maybe I would’ve if I could understand the whole introduction before the dance as there was a guy that was coming out before each performance and I guess his job was to explain what we were going to witness next, but even though he was speaking English (it took me a while to figure it out!), not the accent but the actual intonation of his sentences and in general the way he was speaking was so bizarre that it was just impossible to follow and understand. We decided that he must have learned his way of speaking directly from Borat but he decided to add a special twist to it and exaggerate it hundred times more! 😊 I say he was one of the highlights of the show as well! Simply impossible to repeat that! After the last dance the public was welcome to join the performers on stage for a final dance. It certainly was fun trying to follow some of the steps and watch other people do it as well. Fun evening for sure!

Sadly my group was splitting in the morning – meaning all three of them were leaving and I was staying for another night. Ah well… A couple more attractions planned for that day so no complains… The first one – jeep safari! And it turned out that I would be doing it on my own – with Jeet (my guide) and the driver only that is! Hmmm… I wasn’t expecting to see many animals as the jeep was making quite a bit of noise, but then at the back of my mind I still had a bit of hope left. We did see quite a few birds, crocodiles, barking and spotted deer but that would be about it – no tigers and even no rhinos this time…I did seem to be quite an attraction for a Nepali tour though. First time we passed them all the people in the bus were screaming ‘Namaste’ to me and waving with faces full of smiles. It happened a few more times actually later on. And finally once we got out of the jeep to walk around the lake, we met the Nepali group again. And then all sorts of questions started – all the young girls wanted to know where I was from, what my name was, if I liked Nepal, and so on and then there was my absolute favourite: which grade are you? He? I kind of finished school a while ago… And then the men seemed to take interest in me as well – their questions were more on a professional level though: what do I do, where do I live, what degree do I have… And then one guy, taking out his notebook, asked me what my last name was! He? Why would you need that? Looking for facebook buddies or what? That was becoming quite an interrogation at this point and I started feeling pretty uncomfortable, but thankfully Jeet noticed that also and told them that was enough. After a few pictures with the girls we quickly walked away and it was time to finish the safari as well…

Next Jeet took me to the river where the elephants were bathing in the mornings. It was nice to see some elephants, but there sure were lots of tourists around here! Jeet in no time at all organised an elephant for me and shortly after I was sitting on his back and he was splashing me with water. And that would be about it actually! The guy was shouting at the elephant constantly and I was constantly being splashed with water… I thought elephant bathing was about bathing the elephants… Hmmm… I definitely thought there was going to be more interaction with the elephant. But then even though it was totally tourist orientated, still I have to say that I did enjoy even this little interaction I had with this beautiful animal, touching his skin, patting him on the head and even being splashed with water was a nice experience. Elephants are simply amazing animals!

In the evening I went to the Elephant Breeding Centre to see the baby elephant – only one month old! He sure was very cute – running around, throwing dust on himself, scratching, but all this time staying close to his mother… Really sweet! There was also a one-year old baby and 2-year old twins in here! Quite a few successful pregnancies in the last few years then! It was quite sad to see that the one-month-old baby was the only one that was running loose – all the other elephants were chained! I asked Jeet if they were chained all the time and he said that in the mornings they let all the elephants loose to the forest but later on they come back to be fed… Hmmm… Quite difficult to believe that but it looked like at least he believed his story… All you can do is hope that they are treated well at the centre but then I guess you’ll never know the truth about it…

My time in Chitwan had come to an end… I was hoping to see wild animals and I did see some after all, but I guess I was still hoping to see a tiger, so there was a little bit of a disappointment there when I was leaving this place… Also it did seem way too commercial… Would I come back here? Hmmm… Maybe, but on my own then I guess…

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