Trip Start Sep 25, 2003
Trip End Apr 23, 2005

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Flag of Nepal  ,
Tuesday, December 7, 2004

Left (finally) Kathmandu by bus for Chitwan national park. We very much wanted to see rhinos, our wish was fullfilled straight away, we were talking to the manager of our hotel, taking tea in the garden, when thundering footfall echoed through the air. He said 'elephants coming...no, rhinos RUN!' and the staff scattered, us following, as a rhino ran through our guesthouse's garden...The following couple of days included an elephant ride through the park, where we saw Rhino, a bear, the nepalese people all got very excited and started yelling 'Baloo baloo!' of couse not just a character of Kiplings... also saw peacocks and deer. On a river walk we saw rare crocs and lots of birds... On our last morning to round our trip off nicely we were awoken by the villagers shouting and dashed out of bed to watch at 10 metres a rhino wander along the beach in front of our lodgings! very exciting....

Nitty Gritty :
Finally left Kathmandu, feeling footloose and fancy free with small light backpacks and headed to Tadi Baazar, the gateway to Chitwan National Park, where we arrived frazzled after a long bus ride on which Rach suffered badly from travel sickness. It was noticably warmer than in Kathmandu and a lot quieter, and the guest house we stayed at was on the outskirts of the village and overlooked a bend in the river and offered great sunset views.

The river marks the southern boundary of the park, but understandably the animals that live there do not abide by boundaries and when the river levels are low and the grasses in the park too dry and undigestible, the resident rhino cross the river to raid the vegetables of the village on the opposite bank (villagers displaced when the park was formed). We were sceptical when told this, but changed our minds later that evening, when sat outside eating and chatting to our hosts, there was a commotion close by and the owner suspected wild elephants were coming......suddenly he realised it was a rhino and shouted 'run!' and we were grabbed by the hands and hauled into the brick built restaurant until the coast was clear. As it was dark, all we saw was a hulk and heard snorting and stamping of feet. We later discovered the rhino was a male and chasing another male throught the village, so pretty dangerous !

Having asked around and considered all options, we decided to take a goverment elephant ride into a protected part of forest, where we hoped to get a better view of a rhino. We awoke to a misty morning and set off on a huge elephant with a nepalese family in tow. The elephant handler was excellent as he used a stick to guide branches to stop us braining ourselves as we crashed through the undergrowth in search of animals. Our first sighting was of a beautiful peacock in the early morning sun and secondly a sloth bear in undergrowth. Sloth bear sightings are rare during the day as they are nocturnal so we were delighted and even more so when the nepalese children started shouting 'baloo, baloo', the nepalese for bear and a character of Kipling's Jungle Book. Surprisingly the bear wasn't too scared of the elephant and pottered through the undergrowth as we pursued it and we got a good look. Next the search was on for a rhino which the elephant man found easily in amongst the undergrowth and again we got a great birdseye view - mission accomplished ! Finally we saw a huge Samba deer and her faun. The elephant was amazingly nimble and would take off through seemingly inpenetrable undergrowth, with no marked paths, stripping saplings of their leaves and stuffing them into his mouth as he went.

That afternoon we took a canoe trip down river for an hour with a young guide who was a keen birdwatcher and we were amazed at what he managed to see with the naked eye in the bright sunshine - kingfishers, herons, parrots, orioles, emerald doves..We were lucky enough to see two types of crocodiles from the safetly of the canoe, one similar to a salt water croc in Australia and huge and man eating, and the other a rare freshwater type with a much longer , more pointed snout than its Australian cousin. We also saw a mother and baby elephant crossing the river after a day in the park. The mother was protecting the young from the swift current and was incredibley tender guiding the babe with her trunk. Very sweet ! This was followed by a couple of hours walking back to the village through a section of the national park, birdwatching as we went. The vegetation really reminded us of Cape York in Northern Australia and suppose it is not surprising as the continents were once Gondwanaland. Although we saw leopard, bear and rhino tracks in the sandy ground, we luckily didn't encounter any animals as we wouldn't fancy our chances on foot and felt much safer on the back of an elephant.

The village has a number of privately owned working elephants and it was strange to walk down the dusty street giving way to elephants. Each day at lunchtime the villagers bring the elephants down to the river to bathe and tourists can help scrub them and as some of the elephants have been trained to squirt water and roll over, it can be quite amusing to watch tourists getting doused in water. G decided to have a go, but his elephant had had enough and wasn't keen on playing, which wasn't such a bad thig as R wasn't keen on him gulping river water. The elephants really enjoyed themselves and one in particular stood on its own, up to its belly in water and with a smaile on its face, squirted itself with water and blew bubbles through its trunk. We hired some bikes to visit the nearby elephant breeding centre where 10 weeny baby elephants and their mothers reside, spending the days across the river in the national park. The babies were adorable and hadn't quite mastered how to use their trunks and it was hilarious to watch them trying to lift grass to their mouths and how to get their trunks out of the way so that they could suckle. On the way to the centre the village kids ran alongside our bikes and lept on to the luggage racks at the back for a lift, which was really fun.

On our final morning we were awakened to nearby shouting and suspected a rhino might be in the area so leapt out of bed to see a huge male rhino stood overlooking the river close to our lodgings. It didn't seem bothered by all the spectators and must have stood there for 5 minutes before a villager arrived with an elephant and it wandered off. Understandably the villagers were livid as it had been munching their cabbages. It really was an awesome animal stood there in the morning mist and really looked prehistoric.
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