Yesterday morning we boarded simple dug out canoes from our base at Surahah to head into Chitwan National Park for some wildlife spotting. Chitwan was Nepal’s first national park being declared so in 1973 after having been set aside as a rhino sanctuary in 1962. The area had once been dense with Rhinos but poaching and a trebelling of the human population in the valley to 100,000 saw thier numbers fall from 1,000 to just 200. In the early 20th centuary hunts had been popular with King George V killing 39 tigers and 18 rhinos during an eleven-day shoot in 1911.
According to the guidebook Chitwan now boasts more than 500 rhinos, the Nepalise army have posts throughout the park and no one goes in without a permit. This has resulted in zero poaching in 2010/11 and 2013/14 with just one rhino lost since then. Our guide also assured us there is also zero poaching of tigers within the park.
There are thought to be more than 120 tigers in the park – although sightings are incredibly rare, it also has at least 400 gaur (Indian bison) and is a part-time home to 45 wild elephants. You can also find the sloth bear, leopards, languar and four kinds of deer. Not to mention 544 species of birds, two types of crocodile and 150 types of butterfly. Butterflys really do seem to be abundent here, just walking around the accommodation you see them fluttering around the gardens – beautiful.
Sailing down the Rapti river was a fantastic introduction to the park, along the banks we spotted numerous Crocodiles, some of them the endangered long nosed variety, and even caught a glimpse of a rattle snake crossing from one bank to another. Kingfishers darted around the banks, their vibrant blue and orange colouring so much brighter than pictures are able to do justice. Unfortunately they are quick and evaded my camera.
After an hour or so of floating gently downstream we boarded jeeps to take us deeper into the undergrowth. The park foliage is thick jungle and very tall elephant grass. At one time Intrepid offered walking tours into the park, but these were stopped a few years ago after a local guide was killed by a rhino. The tall elephant grass makes it impossible to see what is around you and the animals are far better adapted to the environment than people – I don’t think I’d have like to have been walking through it.
Aboard the jeeps we passed through luscious greenery for around an hour but any kind of mammal semed to be evading us until we spotted some bambi deer in the undergrowth. Then half an hour or so later I spotted a large grey shape around 50 metres from the road. The vehicle stopped and reversed and sure enough partly obsecured by huge elephant grass was a rhino. The huge animal was munching loudly on grass, trampling the area as it went. It seemed unconcerned by our presence as we stopped and watched silently from the safety of the jeeps. The jeeps left a clear path between them in the hope it would come out into the open, but it wasn’t to be and after about 20 minutes of us watching the rhino decided the show was over and moved off into the undergrowth.
We continued along the bumpy track to a crocodile breading centre. Here they breed the long nosed Crocodile, which is endangered, and after four or five years release them into the wild.
Before this trip I had been preying to the tiger gods for a big cat and this is where I was rewared. Jayne had told me to make my intentons very clear, which I thought I had: While in jeeps, safe distance etc… what I had neglected to make clear was the size of said cat. So instead off a tiger the gods gave us this…
On the road once more our quest for wildlife began afresh and soon we were rewared with another rhino siteing.This time they were far away but the spot was extra special as it was a mother and baby. Mothers can get very agressive and protective of their young so this particular duo being very far away was probably a very good thing.
At the end of the safari our jeeps dropped us off a 10 minute wallk from the river, here another canoe took us across the water to our accomodation for the evening – Gumtree Riviera Resort at Chatgain. Here we were given very simple rooms that appeared to have been built in the traditional way, with elephant grass smouthered in clay (a mix of cow dung, mud and water) but after asking our guide I discovered the rooms were built of brick than ‘plastered’ in the clay to hold them together. Not quite as authentic but they still had a certain charm about them. The ony thing I wasn’t sure about was the spider I found whilst going to bed, but I had a mozzzy net to sleep inside and he wasn’t invited!
I slept remarkebly well considering the number of insect bites I aquired the previous evening sat watching the sun set over the river with a beer and chatting to Amanda.
A bufffet dinner was served at the homestay, which was apparettly basic but seem far from, after which we chatted to the son of the owners. His english was incredible, pretty much fluent, and he had no problems answering our myriad of questions. He was in the ninth grade at a private school (because his parents could afford it and he was top of the class so had a kind of schlorship). He was top of his class because he always does his homework. When he was younger her didn’t used to do his homework and that woud result in a slap round the face from the teacher – but this meant a bad report wasn’t sent home to his parents so it was preferable to get a beating than a bad school report.
His favourite subjects were science and maths and he wanted to go on to colleage to study more in these areas, his older sister was already at college. He also explained that the Nepalise calendar is different to ours (they also use different characters for numbers to us, which make money confusing). They are something like 87 years ahead and four months behind – something else for Google when I get back.
This morning a mist was rising off the river making for a fairy tale look to the valley. Then it was back in the jeeps for a final jaunt around the edge of the park via 20,000 lake.
No sooner had we entered the park than we stopped to look at a dead deer. This deer had a chunk taken out of its side, not particulary strange in park full of animals, but none of the meat eaters would leave their prey behind, tigers leopards etc woud have taken it with them. So it was mysterious as to what killed this deer. So much so the guides spent a good few minuutes looking over it and taking pictures.
This trip treated us to many more deer but no big game. At one point we stopped to look at a deer and I saw what appeared to be a tiger shape in the far distance, but by the time I picked up my camera to zoom in and see what it was it had disappeared again – maybe I did get my tiger sighting afterall.
Back at the hotel, the Royal Park Hotel in Sauraha, a spare hour before lunch to catch up on writing about the previous days.
So we arrived in Chitwan the day before yesterday and spent the afternoon shopping – the shopping here is great and as they rely on tourists for survival, and tourists have been staying away since the earthquake, it seemed like the perfect place to shop. But the shopping had to come to an end for a bicycle tour to a nearby village.
Around 25 minute of peddling took us to a Thari village where our guide showed us around. The village was much cleaner than the one we visted in India, the people seemed much less inclined to sare and the atmosphere felt much more friendly.
We saw the crops they are growing. I would imagine the harvest we are seeing is rice as this is the start of the rice harvesting season. January is thatch gatering time, which the villagers use to repair rooves before the monsoon season and in early March mustad, wheat and lentils are planted after the rice crop is harvested and are ready and maize is then planted to be harvested in July for animal feed, flour and meal.
As we wandered around the villagers carried on with their daily business and seemed almost not to notice we were there. I would imagine an awful lot of tourists trapse through their village. An old lady was sat outside her house, our guide showed us her hand and explained that the tattos on her hand and forearm were a symbol or marriage – someting else I will have to look up when I get back – he said the youngsters don’t do this anymore.
The cycle tour ended back at the river at sunset, although the sun disappeared just as I was getting off my bike. Down the river, in the far, far distance, was a patch of slighlty broken water which contained a rhino.With the naked eye it was impossive to see and even full magnified zoon on my camera could only really pick out a rhino (ish) shaped grey blob!
From here it was time for dinner, then bed – all plans of an evening having a few beers have been scuppered by Jayne and Amanda being unwell. I’m sure if nothing else we will manage a few on the last night in Katmandu…