22 September 2009

Going wild in the Chitwan

We've just arrived back in Kathmandu after 4 days out of town at the Royal Chitwan National Park. The park is the former hunting reserve for the nobles of Nepal and sits in the South of the country on the border with India.

The journey to and from Chitwan was a bit of a pain as it involved spending far too much time on a clapped out old bus on dangerous twisting roads.

The journey is only about 150km but took 7 hours to get there. However, the journey back managed to take 9 hours when we got stuck in a jam in the mountains when a bus went off the road. Although the delay was more than a little annoying we were just thankful that it wasn't our bus that had gone AWOL.

Unfortunately we've had to back track to Kathmandu to pick up our Indian visas. It was either that or wait in town for another week until they were ready. We decided to press on anyway even though Pokhara, our next destination, is annoyingly back they way we've just come.

We stayed at great hotel in the Chitwan called Hotel Parkside which is located in the village of Sauraha right on the edge of the park. The staff were really friendly and also acted as our guides when we went out into the reserve.

Whilst we were there we visited the Elephant Breeding Centre where they breed and train Indian elephants for use in the tourist industry. Although the big adults are tethered, the babies are free roaming and came over to sniff everyone out for biscuits.

They were incredibly playful and once all the biscuits were gone proceeded to have an elephant style wrestling match, nearly squashing several people in the process!

Getting to the breeding centre was a bit of an adventure in itself. The centre is reached by taking an incredibly unstable dug out canoe across the Bhude Rapti River.

Back on the other side of the river we got to partake in the daily elephant wash where we got to play mahout and scrub 5 tons of pachyderm clean with stones out of the river.

In reality the elephants spent more time washing us as with a call of "chhop, chhop" from mahouts the elephants would fill their trunks with water and give anything in range a good soaking.

We had yet more elephant action when we took a safari on elephant back through the park.

The Chitwan is one of the few places on Earth where you can see the one-horned Indian rhino in the wild. The Indian rhino is highly endangered and 30% of the worlds remaining 2000 are found in the Chitwan.

After only seeing rhinos at a distance in Africa it was great to be able to get up closer to them, and somewhat surreal to do it whilst perched upon an elephant.

Although we were lucky enough to see a few rhinos, the other big draw of the Chitwan, the Royal Bengal Tiger, remained elusive.

It wasn't all elephant based action though. We also did a jeep safari to Bis Hajaar Tal, the so called 20,000 lakes. If there was ever a case of mis-advertising then the 20,000 lakes has to be it. Despite being there for over two hours we only saw one.

It wasn't quite the safari experience of the Serengeti but we still got to see a fair few beasties including more rhinos, snake eagles, spotted deer and the mash mugger, a sort of small crocodile.

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