Monday morning (the 26th) saw us heading out with yet another packed breakfast, this time to the bus and down to Chitwan Jungle.
Bus rides in Nepal are an adventure in themselves. The roads or should I say road to Chitwan – yep there is only one – are an experience in themselves. Winding up and down the mountainside, parts of it are sealed, other parts not. There are places that are barely wide enough for two cars to fit and yet here we were in a bus passing trucks. Did I mention we were literally on the side of the mountain! Rock wall one side, shear drop the other. On more than one occasion my toes curled! Add to this the condition of the roads. I am never going to complain about a bumpy road again. A fellow traveler managed to hit her 10,000 steps on her fit bit without leaving her seat!
It was the best way to see the ‘real’ Nepal. Passing through villages. What we would describe as shacks on the side of the road. Many weren’t fully enclosed with anything from rocks to old tyres holding down the tin for the roofs. The occupants cooking, washing, going about their daily business whist the highway traffic rattles past less than 30 metres from their doors. Goats, chickens, buffalo grazing in and around their homes. Kids dressed sharply ties and all for school, walking along the side of the road, how they managed to find the room always impressed me. Shops galore randomly littered along the road with people selling their wares, food and other items to both locals and tourists. Seeing road construction and retaining walls being built by people in high-vis vests with thongs standing on bamboo scaffolding on the side of the cliff. Most of the work being performed by hand. Trucks having broken down or had a flat being repaired on the same road, no where to pull over, the repairs happen where it stops. And yet it all just somehow works. Sure a bus ride going about 200km took about 8 hours but again I don’t think it would be Nepal if it didn’t.
We headed down to the river to watch the sunset. It was a great walk through the village of Sanraha. You can see tourists mean a lot with many souvenir shops, restaurants and hotels littered along the street. And yep this just came swaying past!
The sunset did not disappoint. It was incredible! The colour of the sky, pinks and oranges tickling the bellies of the clouds, contrasting with the grey above. All reflected in the river. There was a retired elephant making its way back from the jungle to the government run elephant park, slowly crossing the river and walking right near us to get home.
We were treated to a performance by the Tharu people. It was really lively and interesting. Lots of traditional drumming and signing whilst the performers demonstrated, through dance, how they used weapons in battle and tended to the land. We were treated to celebration dances and one of the performers dressed as peacock. How the hell he managed to stay bent over in that suit jumping around, using he’s hands to work the head and tail for the entire song was extremely impressive.
Tuesday saw us exploring the jungle! First stop an elephant Safari. I was super excited about this until it was time to get on it…. I get very unsure of myself at times and stepping onto the back of an elephant was on of those occasions. It was so high, we had to step over a wooden rail and the basket was moving quite a lot! Somehow 4 of us managed to squeeze into that basket. Chè, a couple we were on the tour with and me. They didn’t really weight it terribly well, the two lightest people on one side, so we were on a little bit of lean. Chè and I did have to really try and hang our weight over the edge to even it up. It didn’t ruin the ride though. Just under two hours on top of an elephant, making its way through the jungle. It was so peaceful. The gentle swaying. The birds. Green wherever you looked. The elephant we had was called Lucky Cali – Lucky Lady. She was lovely. Very considered when she walked and we got to give her trunk a great big hug and rub when we finished.
After lunch we headed back. A 30 minute canoe ride down the river. Again was just so peaceful. The sound of the water, the swoosh of the paddle, the wind in the trees. I was totally chilled out! The canoes are all made from a single tree. They are carved and hollowed out so you can sit in them. Very cool.
We hopped out and started our trek through the jungle. Before we set off Narian our guide gave us a little chat about what we may be possibly in for. ‘The jungle is home to a few big animals which ecologically don’t like us for food, but they can get a little jumpy if we happen across them when they aren’t suspecting it. You have 3 guides here for four people, you will be fine just do as we say, sometimes run, sometimes hide behind a big tree.’ Right… So off we set.
We walked into the jungle for about 30 minutes. Narian was pointing out tracks, rhino, tiger, jungle cat, some fresh some a few days old. We came across another group that had spotted a rhino drinking from a river. It was some distance away but with binoculars you could see it. Behind us another group spotted ripples in the river. Something was drinking there. We moved closer. By this time we were joined by a few other groups. It moved. The trees rustled and it was off. Behind a tree we went. A rhino was thundering through the jungle about 100m from us! When it passed we started to move again in its direction. Then we heard it again. This time everyone scattered including the guides! The heart certainly started pumping. Again it headed for the river. It went right in giving us the most incredible view! Swimming and drinking.
We trekked back through the jungle. Some fresh tiger prints made the journey a little interesting. Our guide was very conscious of what direction they were heading and how fresh they were. I liked my chances of hiding from a rhino, I wasn’t as confident as out smarting a tiger if we came across one…
We saw a bunch of monkeys playing in the trees, they were having such a fun time swinging around and just hanging about. There are actually quite a lot of monkeys in and around Kathmandu but it was cool to see them in the wild.
We came out of the jungle and headed for the Elephant Breeding Centre. It was a really informative place. There are only 130ish elephants in Nepal. The government was gifted elephants from other countries, mainly India to set up the breeding program. The elephants are well looked after, being fed and groomed daily with plenty of time spent in the jungle during the day. They are used for anti-poaching mainly and have successfully had 3 years of no wild elephant deaths.
We headed back to Kathmadu the following day. We were met from the bus by our guide for Everest, Mingmar. He said the weather looked good for our flight out early Friday morning. We had a good feeling about this! We spent a day in Kathmandu relaxing, washing and re-packing our bags ready to trek to Everest Base Camp. This was going to be our final chance to make it!