After our stay in Pokhara, working hard to compile a group paper/presentation which we presented to the 3 Sisters, we took a little vacation down to the jungle. Fortunately this time, it only took four hours (by bus) to get down to the terai & our jungle adventure began pretty much as soon as we stepped off the bus.
We stayed in bungalows at the “Lama Lodge” which is located right in the Chitwan, Nepal’s first national park which was declared a World Heritage Site in 1984. It wasn’t an hour later we were enjoying a late lunch in the thatched restaurant before heading out for our first excursion. What originally was supposed to be a village tour, ended up being a rhino excursion when we were informed by some locals that we should take a detour to an elephant place nearby. And, it was so worth it! Not only did we get to see our first elephants – which got us excited for our upcoming elephant ride – we also got to see two one-horned rhinos, an endangered species native to the area. In Chitwan National Park, there are 400 of these rhinos (out of 2400 one-horned rhinos in the world), making it the second largest population of this species. At first, they were just grazing a hundred-or-so meters away, but eventually made their way down to the river near-by. Though we were careful not to draw attention to ourselves (at that point, some of us were wearing bright colors which, despite their poor eyesight, rhinos can see) & gave them their space so they wouldn’t charge, we were able to get within about 5 m of them as they went for a swim. And, what interesting creatures! We learned that we were seeing a male adult rhino who was traveling with a male 6-year old rhino to protect it. We were told later that getting that close to rhinos is most definitely a rare occasion & people could go to that same spot everyday and never see rhinos that close.
We stayed and watched them for a while, joined by many other tourists also wanting to take advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity. Then, we headed off for the rest of our “village tour” which ended up being a sunset walk through the jungle where we saw a bunch of birds including some peacock and hornbills.
Our next day in the jungle (“the mighty jungle”) marked our official jungle safari…and safari we did! We split into two groups and were taken on an all-day walk through the jungle by two different guides. The guide estimated that we walked ~22 km (13 miles) which made sense because we out from 8-4 stealthing through the trees. Throughout the day, taking occasional breaks on the raised platforms (which were there for farmers to fend off tigers) & by the river, we spotted a bunch of different wildlife. We saw several herds of deer, wild chickens, a couple different types of monkeys, crocodile and a wide variety of birds including herons, hornbills, kingfisher, peacock, storks and parakeets. Though it was a long day, it was a really neat experience & we were grateful that this hike was through a terrain that was totally FLAT 🙂
Day #3 in the Chitwan was definitely a day to remember! After enjoying our 7:00 o’clock breakfast which consisted of Indian food & of course, tea, we jumped into the back of two open-air jeeps, hanging on for dear life as we zipped down the bumpy dirt roads of the terai. About 10 minutes later, we arrived at Baghmara Community Forest (the wealthiest community forest in Nepal) for a different type of jungle safari…..this time on elephant back. Though we had a bit of a wait when we arrived, we enjoyed watching the tourists (with huge smiles on their faces) and elephants return. The elephants would back right up to a platform, being steered by a “driver” who used his feet on the back of the elephant’s ears, let the tourists step off and then head over to the side to cool down a bit, sometimes getting thrown a snack which was cute. Eventually, our turn came, so we got into groups of four and hopped on.
The elephant that Brooke, Makenna, Anna & I rode was named “Pinky-kali” (Pinky for short) & she was 16 years-old (not to mention really cute). Our driver (who sat directly on the elephant right behind her ears) had been with her for 16 years, which is typical because young boys start out with young elephants and stay with them their whole life. They worked very well together and he even said they were “saatiharu” (friends). We all sat in a wooden rectangular seat on her back, straddling the frame for our two hour jungle safari. It was actually quite comfortable, though we spent the morning dodging branches and bracing ourselves for sudden dips which could be a little nerve-racking. We had a really fun time, especially trying to talk with our driver with our limited Nepali. However, we were able to say that Pinky was very well-behaved, perhaps a bit hungry, and ask if she had a boyfriend.
While out on elephant back, we walked through really plush forest (sometimes “off-roading”) & also through the grassland. We also got to cross right through the river and stopped by a watering hole. Like the previous two days, we also got to see a ton of wildlife. We saw more deer & chickens, lots of monkeys playing in the trees, more birds and a crocodile. As we headed back, we took different paths & some of us got to see some snakes. Others saw a wild boar. As we have the whole abroad, we once again had perfect weather for this incredible excursion.
As we hopped off our elephants, snapping our final photographs, we hopped back in the jeeps to head back to the lodge, and took another detour to hear a lecture about Chitwan National Park. We learned many fun facts about the park, as well as a lot of information about buffer zone management. It was a really great lecture and, of course, we enjoyed some tea along with it. After visiting a museum, we headed back to the lodge for a quick lunch and some down time before going back out for more adventures.
Our afternoon included of a canoe ride down one of three rivers in the Chitwan where we got to see many-a-crocodile, both sunning themselves and going for a swim, and kingfisher (and other birds). We all piled in ONE canoe….after getting a canoeing safety talk from Mike which basically was along the lines of “no sudden movements or we’re all going in.” Fortunately, all of us stayed dry and arrived with all fingers. We stopped to do another jungle walk and ended up at an elephant breeding center where we got to see twin elephants (the first two born into captivity in the world). Though it was sad to see so many young elephants chained up, we learned about the benefits of elephant breeding and got to see them do a little dance when they were hungry. We also got to see them being fed. As we headed back across the river to hop in the safari jeeps, we got to see the most perfect safari sunset ever! To finish off our evening (after some delicious Nepali food and tea), some Tharu locals performed stick dancing for us which consists of very fast movement while wooden sticks are beat together….very impressive! And, our evening ended by get to dance with these villages which was quite fun. What a day!
Before we hopped on the bus to head back to Kathmandu, about half the group got up at 6:00 am to do an early bird walk with “Lama” (from the lodge) and saw kingfisher, pipit, warblers and a green clover. What a great trip to the jungle we had!