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Published: April 30th 2017
Taken from the back of our elephant, out of harm's way.
We left Kathmandu and traveled southwest, flying via Buddha Air to Bharatpur and then on by bus to Chitwan. On the way the bus blew a front tire. While the crew replaced it I wandered off into a small village of a combination of very nice and very limited homes. As I was wandering the streets a woman and friends saw me from their backyard. She came to me and asked if I would join them for lunch. Alas, I could not, but the hospitality of the country shines through again.
In Chitwan we are housed at the Temple Tiger Green Jungle Resort, on the banks of the Narayani River and next to Chitwan National Park. The park is a UNESCO heritage area, a jungle of some 932 sq km preserved to protect from hunting and logging. It needed protection, prior to 1973 it was a hunting preserve for the rich and famous. In 1911 King George V managed to kill 39 tigers and 11 rhinos during one hunting trip. Today all hunting is off limits and lucky for the wildlife-- at one point were only 20 tigers and 100 rhinos; today there are 200 tigers
and 600 rhinos. On our first day here we boarded elephants for a safari and did see hog deer, peacocks, kingfishers, black ibis, and, wait for it, not one but three rhinos. I would be willing to argue that the best place to view a rhino is from the safety of an elephant's back.
The evening featured a demonstration of traditional Tharu people's dance, that Marcia and I joined (you really do not want to see the video), and a meal of water buffalo and curried veggies. Day two in the jungle started with a Jeep safari on which we saw monkeys, deer, boar, rhino and more types of birds than I could keep track of. We left the Jeeps for a walking tour through the jungle and, as so often is the case with travel, another of my preconceived notions was destroyed. Think, 'jungle', what comes up? Humid, dripping wet, mud holes, brush so thick you cannot get through. Well, not quite. It is nearing monsoon season so it is at the very tail end of the dry season here. So the forest we drove through was open and dry, the forest floor covered with the large leaves
of the sol tree. In addition, large open grasslands amidst the hardwood jungle, with grasses well over the top of your head. We had lunch in the jungle, back on the Jeeps, and across the river that borders the park in heavy, wooden boats polled and paddled by two boat men.
Before we got to the boat, however, the naturalist said he thought he heard rhinos fighting, and just that moment the Jeep died and would not start. Of course, at lunch the naturalist had told us about nearly losing his life to a rhino that attempted to trample him and he had to crawl in a hole and hide. There were six of us on the Jeep, each thinking about who would be first in the sloth bear holes that we just a few yards up the road. (No worried, the Jeep started and we left without seeing the rhinos that time.)
On the walk back to the bus that brought us to the river we were met with two of the elephants we had ridden the day before. Their handlers were bringing them to the river for their twice daily bath. The younger of the two
trainers spent the time standing on the back of the elephant, taking her deep into the river while she bathed herself with her trunk. The older handler, displaying the wisdom of age, walked his elephant in to about three feet deep and had her lay down while he bathed her.
Continuing our walk we passed several flat piles of rocks with the remains of funeral cremation fires on them as this river, flowing from the Himalayans to the Ganges, is considered holy water. We made our way back to the resort by ox cart after a stop in a Tharu village to visit homes and see their way of life, much subsistence farming, first hand. However, we were told that over 40% of the youth in the village was in the Middle East, working, in order to elevate their status.
Final stop for the day was a visit to a village school to meet with children and teachers.The first challenge, however, was to get there. About half way there we came to one end of the village and the villagers were busy rebuilding a bridge; as in about 40 people watching while one young woman shoveled away. What
to do? A guy came up to the bus and told the driver he was headed on past the bridge to his home and, if we gave him a lift, he would show us the 'long cut'. We backtracked and went downstream to where they are building a larger bridge, using a cement mixer, no concrete trucks here. We had to enter the river bed downstream of the bridge round the far end of it and then go back up the river bed...all in the 24 passenger over-the-road bus we were in. All the way there children came running from their homes, stunned to see such a large vehicle in the road, and waved and gave the 'praying hands' salute we often see. While I have great admiration for the school bus drivers in our school district, I have even more respect for our driver who took us over terrain I would have doubted a four wheel drive truck could make.
Once at the school some 50 children and some parents greeted us, we conversed with them, and enjoyed their rendition of the Nepal national anthem. Then Marcia took them all outside and led them in a rousing, laughing
rendition of the "Hokey Pokey"--we probably left them with the impression it is our national anthem. Then we distributed school supplies and made a group donation to the school as well as talked with parents. Schools, the hope for any society the world round. We felt right at home.
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