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Feb 01

A Few Days In Chitwan

As I promised, I would write about Nepal in Malaysia. I don’t have time to write about all the Nepal leg, so I will talk about a small part of the trip.

Nepal is known more for its mountains than its jungle. Nonetheless, Nepal has several “jungle” regions and we visited one of them: the Royal Chitwan National Park situated near the Indian-Nepal border. Chitwan is located in the flatlands, known as the Terai region, which contains rich plains primarily employed for agriculture. Inhabited by the indiginous ethnic group, the Tharus, Chitwan is also home to a wide variety of exotic (well, exotic to Westerners) wildlife including Rhinoceros and the elusive Tiger.

We stayed in Chitwan for three days, accommodated by the Eden Jungle Resort which, like most things in Nepal, has a name far more sumptuous than the real place itself. The resort, more which is more aptly called a lodge, was placed just outside the national park in a town called Sauraha. We were to follow a 3-day programme encompassing a variety of activities scheduled in at different times – not unlike a school camp, actually. After a bumpy 5 hour bus ride from Pokhara, we pulled into the lodge and were served lunch, a rather bland Western-style vegetarian meal that resembled fish and chips. Except, without the fish.

The first activity we engaged in was a Tharu Village Visit. A guide whose name sounded uncannily like “Dunny” showed us around. We strolled through the fields and Dunny identified for us the Lentil crops, the Rice crops, and then… a huge pile of Rhino dung. It turns out that Rhinos pick only one place to defecate and return to that place every time it needs to take another crap. It so happens that this Rhino had designated its toilet to be in the centre of a lentils field. I’m sure the farmers were impressed.

The Tharu village was a stereotypical village not unlike something you’d see in an Attenborough documentary. Houses were constructed of bundles of sticks cemented with a mud-water-dung mix (the dung adds more consistency to the mix). Rooves are constructed from bundles of grass thatched together. Although the roof is replaced every year, the nature of it means that they are also home to a multitude of spiders and other creepy-crawlies. Tharu houses also tend to have very tiny windows, or no windows at all. This was because, as the guide explained, the Tharu being the indiginous people, are very superstitious and large windows means bad spirits can get in. I guess this is not unlike the Chinese superstition that in your house, you should not be able to see the back door from the front door. This is because should there be a straight passage from front to back, good spirits will fly in the front and then fly right out the back. Thus, it is necessary to “block” the passage to trap the spirits. What I never understood is that, wouldn’t you also be trapping the bad spirits too?

I never was one for superstition.

After the village we made our way down to the riverbank to watch the sunset. Back at the village the riverbank was described as being a beach, and in preparation Kev, Emily and Yvonne brought their swimmers (I refused – you don’t get “beaches” alongside rivers). My suspicions were confirmed when we got to the river, and found that the riverbank was anything but a beach. The Rapti River itself was a wide, slow flowing, slightly polluted body of water which meandered lazily through the area. No worry. We picked a log fallen on the dusty riverbank and watched the sun go down. In our silence, we could hear in the distance the sounds of the jungle – whistling birds, bellowing elephants and barking deers. Dinner was again nothing special.

The next day Kevin woke up infested with lice. He was itchy. Damn itchy. Suspecting a dodgy bed blanket, he later hurried off to the pharmacy for a bottle of Scabex – “relief from scabies, lice…” and something else starting with “P” that we can’t quite remember. Nonetheless, he was incessantly scratching throughout the day. The rest of us were quite amused.

First up was a two hour elephant ride. The four of us crammed into a basket atop the elephant’s back, driven by a moustachioed Indian man brandishing a thick wooden pole and brutal-looking metal spike. Whenever the elephant misbehaved, was slow to obey commands, or (as we suspect) even thought of misbehaving, it earned a rather savage whack from the pole, followed by a series of jabs from the spike, followed by a loud whincing noise from the girls.

The novelty of riding elephants does wear off quickly as it is not the smoothest of modes of transport. In fact it was almost as bumpy as the bus we came to Chitwan on. I ended up with bruises on the undersides of my legs due to the way we were seated. Nevertheless being on the largest land animal in the world was a rewarding experience. A trip through the jungle culminated in chasing a pair of Rhinos: a mum and a baby. Whilst stampeding through the jungle in an effort to give us more photo opportunities of them, I got stabbed in the leg by a rather vicious thorn from an overhanging tree. Emily got her leg crushed when the elephant passed a bit too close to a tree trunk. We enjoyed every moment of it. We’d surround the Rhinos, only to have them break through the circle and run off, waggling their incredibly big asses in our direction.

Unfortunately I have to go now. Even though there’s more to say (steaming pools of elephant piss and other such details), dinner takes precedence!