Rhino hunt

The day starts with a safari ride from the back of an elephant. The elephants all have what can be described as an upside-down, low, table where you sit one person in each corner, straddling a table leg. I share an elephant with Monica, Piff and Puff. It’s a smaller, but speedier one and we’re off to a very bumpy ride.

The elephant goes wherever it likes, but most of the time there’s a little path they’re following. The elephants don’t necessarily stay together and often it happens that they choose to go off on an entirely different path. The drivers steer us in mostly the same route though so we meet the others every now and then. The forest is really incredible and everywhere is something to see. We see a large stork, monkeys and a large eagle before fording a river. The river crossing is exciting, especially climbing the really steep bank on the other side. But the elephants are really sure footed, so there’s never any real problem.

Going through really dense forest on an elephant means that sometimes you have to break stuff to get by. The drivers have special commands for that and on occasion we break down the odd decimeter-thick tree. We also see some spotted deer and really cool-looking ant hills. Suddenly the driver stops and points to some tracks in the mud: “Tiger, fresh from this morning” he says. So again the hunt is on, even though tiger is even more rare in these parts. We fail to find any tiger though and head back across the river. When we’re over on the other side, one of the other elephants starts tooting and brumming like mad. All the other elephants also start doing it and after a while one of the other elephants comes running out of the forest on the other side of the river, with its passengers holding on for dear life!

Turns out that they are sisters and don’t really like being separated for long. But once their back together we can move on. We see some more monkeys as well as beautiful scenery but the rhinos remain absent. A bit disappointed we head back to the hotel for some lunch. Just as we’re having coffee the guide announces that they’ve found rhinos nearby and we should hurry if we want to see them! We throw ourselves in the cars and head off to the river again. We arrive just in time to see a father and son team walk down into the river to cool off (something we could use as well, since it’s 35 °C and blistering sunlight. We take as many pictures as we can of the badass-looking creatures before heading back to the lodge.

There’s one more thing on the schedule this day, and it’s a boat ride along the river in hollowed out tree trunks. It certainly is peaceful and I almost fall asleep to the gentle rocking. We do manage to see two of the elusive crocodiles, as well as a suspicious-looking ripples on the water, almost certainly a swimming crocodile.

After a while we make landfall and start walking across the plains. The guide explains that there is a small possibility that we could run into rhino when walking, so we should stick close together. We don’t see any rhino but the guide shows us a large pile of rhino dung and explains that rhinos are solitary but not territorial animals and for some reason they like to poo in the same spot as other rhinos. Maybe it’s a form of communication or something.

We do see some deer on our walk, but at this point we aren’t too excited by that anymore. Last stop is a breeding facility for elephants where the elephants are tied to a pole standing on a hill. This is so that it’s easier for the elephants to lie down and get up. One of the elephants has gotten twins, something that’s apparently really unusual. The elephants are really fun and you can see that they clearly have different personalities. One of them is eating the packets of rice they’re getting and actually picking out the rice filling while discarding the straw cower! Smart guy! We also meet what must be one of the ugliest goats ever, he’s really charming though and a lot of people end up feeding him chips.

Back at the lodge we decide to go for drinks down by the river, it seems like the booze is cheaper than the soda though and the drinks are almost undrinkable. As it gets dark we gather back at the campfire with the Nepali staff. They say that they like us much more than the Japanese people that usually come here since we actually participate in the singing and dancing. The boss of the place has been calling me “Dancer Man” after last night so I guess I have to live up to the hype now…

We end up drinking Gin & Tonic, singing ABBA and teaching the Nepalese “Små Grodorna”, something they think is hysterically funny.

Chitwan Happens

Mahendranagar was only a stopover and we set off for Chitwan right away. We get to see Nepal in daylight now and boy is there a difference! Nepal is so much cleaner, the buildings look like they would actually withstand a hard kick, the roads are (mostly) nice and the people aren’t as pushy! This, and working suspension almost makes us forget the fact that there is no legroom whatsoever in the bus.

Ulrika buys grape juice at one of the stops but gives it away when she discovers that there are large pieces of grape in it. I take it and it’s a little bit like drinking tadpoles, but the taste is good so no problem really =)

Chitwan national park is reached in just three hours, a welcome change of pace. We’re staying in a little village called ???? at the Jungle Lodge. The staff welcomes us by drawing red marks on our foreheads, serving juice and giving us hibiscus flowers. The entire place is serene and as we have some free time before lunch we head down to the river. We’ve been cautioned no to do any bathing since there are more than a few crocodiles swimming around in there. Maria tells us that last year the entire group went swimming right away and instead of just telling them to get up the staff went and told Maria instead…

We don’t see any crocs, but three elephants are bathing just as we walk down. Their riders are scrubbing them with stones and thoroughly cleaning them. One of them, a younger one probably, has other plans however and is out in the middle of the river, spurting water, rolling around and playing submarine. It’s hysterical to watch and he’s obviously enjoying himself!

The lunch is great and to think that I read that the Nepali kitchen wasn’t much to bother with! Following lunch we all go down to the village and look around. The place is very laid back and even the salesmen are nice, there are also more or less fixed prices, which might be part of the reason. I find a painter that has some beautiful greyscale mountain paintings and I end up buying one with Anapurna mountain on it (especially fun since it’s there we will be trekking later on and in all likelihood we’ll see Anapurna for real). The price is only 1200 Nepali rupees (120 sek) which I gladly pay.

The whole village is filled with booze as well, which is a welcome change from the dried up India. I get a bottle of gin (550 rupees) and a few cans of tonic (much more expensive than the Gin). The schedule for the afternoon is a jungle walk where we hopefully get to see some wildlife. The most wild thing we get to see though is a stork and some beetles. The walk ends beautifully with drinks in the setting sun by the river. We are a few people who aren’t quite satisfied there though and Sara, Elin and me decide to go to one of the rooftop restaurants in town where there’s happy hour with two drinks for the price of one.

When we get there we discover that Fredrik and Thorstein are already there. The net result is that we’re all a bit tipsy come dinner. The staff line up the Everest beers and dinner is equally delicious as lunch. Following dinner is a Nepali dance show, naturally we were hoping to see some women but no such luck, the men seem to do the dancing here. They perform three dances before it’s time for a final one where they want us to join in. People aren’t too keen to begin with but by the time they get to Ulrika and Elin almost all of us are participating.

The staff are really happy that we joined in and we spend the rest of the evening drinking and singing around the fireplace. Håkan turns out to be a real dark horse and keeps coming up with weird songs that we all sing along to. The staff sings a couple of Nepali songs as well and all in all it’s a really pleasant evening.