Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Chitwan - bugs and baby rhinos

Six hours by car, south of Kathmandu, lies Royal Chitwan National Park. We took a flight from Kathmandu which took approximately the same amount of time to get there. The main attraction, and what we originally came to see, were the endangered one-horned rhinos.
After arriving to the park, we were taken across the Narayani river in a small dug-out boat, then by jeep to the Chitwan Jungle Lodge. The lodge with it's 30 bungalows was originally built in the mid 70s and from the way it looked, not much had been changed. There is no electricity in the rooms so we relied on kerosene lamps in the evenings. The lodge is surrounded by sal forrests (shorea robusta) and grasslands, and there was no doubt that we were in a remote area.

All our meals were taken at a community dining area in a mosquito netted tent. We seldom ran into other guests during our week there. Small groups of four or six would come and go after a day or two but most of the time it seemed as if we were the only guests there. "You come here for a very long time" we were told by some of the staff. "What can we show you today?" we were asked midway through our stay there. Indeed, they felt they had exhausted what they could possibly show us but in our eyes, there was so much to see.

After our fifth night at Chitwan, with no other guests around, we were asked if we wanted to "walk through the jungle". So we said yes.
Very early the next morning we were taken by elephant down to the river, all along being told we had nothing to be concerned about, and boarded a dug-out boat that took us down the river through a light covering of fog. Soon the air cleared and we stopped to take our breakfast on the banks of the river. After our breakfast we began our three hour trek through the jungle back to the lodge. Once again we were told that it was all safe and not to worry.
Our party of six, Alan and myself, two guides, and two men carrying crates with the supplies and remains of our breakfast spread, was sandwiched between three rifle-armed scouts (one fifteen yards ahead and two others fifteen yards behind). We made our way through the jungle on the forested upper plain, 10 to 25 feet above the grassy wetlands where the rhinos were. The misty morning air and the deafening sound of wild birds contributed to the excitement of our hike. We did see plenty of rhinos below and were told that there were wild elephants in the area but we didn't see them.

There are more than 43 species of mammals, over 450 species of birds, and more than 45 species of amphibians and reptiles in the park. The park is especially renowned for its protection of the endangered one- horned rhinoceros, tiger, and gharial crocodile along with many other common species of wild animal. The estimated population of rhinos is 400. The park also secures populations of endangered species such as gaur, wild elephant, four horned antelope, sloth bear, striped hyena, pangolin, Gangetic dolphin, monitor lizard, and python.

Safaris are generally taken by riding on elephants at Royal Chitwan. A wooden platform is mounted on top of an elephant like a saddle. You would ride straddling a wooden post mounted on one of the corners of the wooden platform. The advantage is that the elephant can plod through the jungle without startling other animals. One-horned rhinos were everywhere in the wet grasslands. At times, our elephant would be driven within 10 feet of mothers with their young. We would see no fewer than 15 rhinos on each trip out.

The only downside at Chitwan, for me in particular, were the bugs. Lucky for me they weren't mosquitoes, but unlucky for me they were tiny enough to get through the mosquito nets. Insects seem to migrate towards me naturally, bypassing Alan altogether. These tiny little nats, or bugs would get under my clothing and proceed to forge a trail of bites all over my body. All it took were a few of them and I would have over 200 bites scattered from head to toe. I would slather my entire body with insect repellent each night before going to bed - to no avail (which by the way is something you're NOT supposed to do).
Royal Chitwan National Park was for us an unforgettable experience. We didn't see any tigers, although there were a couple of sightings while we were there, but there were plenty of one-horned rhinos and we did get to see a sloth bear.

Royal Chitwan National Park, Nepal time

**Memories: Elephant rides, hike through the jungle, Rhinos, and bugs

**Visits: November 2001

World Heritage
Royal Chitwan National Park

No comments: