Gorkha and

Chitwan Jungle

Episode 2: Chitwan Jungle and Back to Kathmandu

After many days of walking, laughing at all Derek's & everyone else's terrible jokes & sleeping in tents, we moved on. The bus was waiting for us on the highway & accompanied by our Sirdar Rinji & 2 guides, Chhiring & Dilli, we took to the highway again, back part way on the road we had arrived on 9 days before. We took the road south to Chitwan along a fast moving river where we saw several rafts on the river side waiting to start the morning rafting adventure. It looked like fun. The road we were on was high above the river & just as winding as before with several washed out areas and attempts at repair. Passed the main town for that area where we spied a cremation taking place on the river bank. Reached a police checkpoint and after a delay while the directions to our lodge were straightened out, we reached the Tharu Village Lodge & checked in. There was a mixup in the reservations & the Village Lodge was over booked, so Ian & Pat volunteered to proceed to the Jungle Lodge for 2 nights. The rest of us drew lots for 3 rooms: 3 women in one, 3 men in another & one couple in the 3rd. It was all rather fun as the rooms were all spacious and had a full bathroom with a real toilet. What luxury. We had a good Nepali lunch beside the swimming pool, then hit the gift shop to buy t-shirts, shorts & a few souvenirs. Just had time for a short swim in the pool before joining a naturalist on a nature walk through the forest. Got driven to the start of the walk on an ox cart across a small stream. Didn't see any rhinos yet, but did see a fish eating crocodile sunning on the river bank and some monkeys, deer & birds. This village is on the buffer zone for the Chitwan jungle, a national forest and game preserve. Most of the food for the lodges is grown using organic methods by the villagers who live surrounding the resort. After a good continental style dinner, we were treated to more dancing. This time a group in Tharu native costume who performed to different music that we heard previously. Like some of our evenings, the group made sure everyone got up with them & tried out the steps. It was fun.

The next morning, there was a delay in transferring us to the Jungle Lodge for our 2nd night, so some of us took a w alking tour through the Tharu village. It was almost a show village, most of it cleaner than the ones we had passed through on our walks, but still primitive with no running water or electricity. The wealth of the inhabitants is indicated by their roof, from straw thatch to tin to a few that were tiled. Went inside one home, apparently lived in by a staff member, that looked quite large. Some of the young men were having their morning bath at the family water pump in the front yard. They strip down to their undies & do a good job of soaping down & washing their hair. The A kitchen fire. Click to see big picture.house had a common living room & a traditional kitchen on the ground floor; dirt floor, very small windows and double open fireplace in the kitchen but no chimney to let out the smok e which still hung in the room. Upstairs were 2 bedrooms & a storage room above the kitchen. The people sleep on straw mats which were neatly rolled up & have cotton filled comforters for warmth. The house seemed large until you discover that 12 people live there. Took the ox cart, then a river boat (no motor) and a jeep ride to the Tiger Tops Jungle Lodge. Pat & Ian were there & all excited about their stay. They had already been out on an elephant ride & seen a mother Rhino with her baby. Also had shared the lodge the night before with a group of 46 on a 21 day 'Lost cities of the World' excursion, travelling in 2 private jets at a cost of $35,000 USD each. Even so, they were rather rushed from one place to the next & only had the 1 night at Tiger Tops.

We had lunch, then checked into our rooms in cottages on the property. Our large room opened up into a living room shared by Derek & Josie. Just time to get organized & attend an elephant briefing given by one of the naturalists & elephant handlers. They have 10 Indian elephants at the lodge, 2 males called Tuskers & 8 females. One male was born at Tiger Tops 21 years ago, the only baby so far. Very interesting talk. Next we all went on our first elephant ride out to the grasses. We sat 4 to an elephant in a seat like a playpen on the Riding elephants. Click to see big picture.elephant's back with the handler riding behind the head guiding the elephant with his bare feet behind her ears. Once you learned to roll with the elephant's gait, it was comfortable enough. Saw a one horned rhino, then we turned off at a spot the handler said there had been a kill by a tiger. The baby rhino was the victim & the tiger was still around enjoying his meal. As we got close to the spot, the elephants each emmitted a low rumbling sound that reverberat ed in their heads and several trumpeted their displeasure. All of the elephants have met up with a tiger at one time or another & are not that keen on them, even though they are much bigger. All of a sudden the tiger jumped from his hiding place, but all I saw was the grasses move. We stuck around for a while but the tiger was well hidden.

Had an elegant candlelight dinner of quail in the dining lodge, then retired early to bed because we had booked to go again on an elephant ride at 6:30 AM, which came early enough. Started out in the morning in heavy mist, back to the same spot as the day before. The baby rhino carcass was still there and so was the tiger. This time most of us were able to just see the tiger hiding in the grasses. The elephants circled the tiger, but were not pleased doing this. My elephant tried to go the other way and had to be persuaded by her handler to stick around. The handlers tried to flush out the tiger again without hurting him or destroying too much of his cover, but he stuck his ground. It was exciting anyway.

We had planned to walk to the Tented Village, our last stop at Tiger Tops, but because the tiger was still around, we were driven part way in a jeep. We got out next to a river with 2 guides and after reconstructing the partly destroyed walkway, crossed to the other side & started up the path. Just a short distance away was an elephant eating in the trees. One of the guides went ahead to investigate & returned quickly with a look of fear on his face. He said it was a wild elephant that had stayed into the area & he wasn't taking any chances. We had to make a detour by clambering up a steep bank in the opposite direction. The guides were not wasting any time getting us out of there. We walked the rest of the way safely, arriving in time for lunch again.

This lodge has no electricity at all. Each tent is very large with twin or queen sized bed and a private patio overlooking the elephant grasses below. The bathroom is separated from the tent by about 3 f eet but had running water & a solar powered shower.

In the afternoon we chose between a river boat cruise or a jeep game drive. We all started by walking down to the river where one of their 3 elephantsElephant bathtime. Click to see big picture. was led out to be bathed. We were invited to get in the river & help bathe the elephant so all the women in our group took their shoes off & waded in. It was fun finding out what an elephant felt like, lots of wrinkled skin & soft spongy foot bottoms. The elephant just lay back & enjoyed the attention. Ray & I chose the jeep ride which was rather long & didn't yield any more tigers, but was interesting for the birds - parakeets, black stork, peacock, jungle babblers - deer, rhinos & rhesus monkeys. We returned after dark and found the way to our tent by flashlight & kerosene lamp left outdie our tent and in the bathroom. Dinner was a shish kebab barbeque cooked outside their dining lodge. We were joined by the current manager, a 30ish english women, who seemed to like our company. She said were the youngest & livliest group in a long time! And we thought we were all rather aged.

The next morning, we couldn't resist one more elephant ride before leaving. Out in the mist again, so heavy it seems that it is raining, but no tigers this time. There is a mother & cubs near the tented village but she was not to be seen. Instead, Kary n's elephant came upon a pile of peacock feathers & signs of a fight. The handler said the mother was teaching her babies to hunt & got the elephant to delicately pick up all the feathers & give them to the guests. Quite a souvenir.

After breakfast we left to take a short flight back to Kathmandu. The view from the small plane is great with the green hills below & the mountains to the north. As we approached the city we could pick out Durbar square with its temples & several other spots. Arrived at noon, with plenty of time to visit some of the shops & settle in.

The next morning we walked to Mike's for breakfast, passing by the King's palace just as a red clad horse guard rode out the gates pulling 2 coaches. Rather out of place in this city. After a huge breakfast, we arranged for taxis to take us to Patan, an ancient town that is now a suburb of Kathmandu. There we visited the Tibetan refugee center, where there is a busy rug factory makingCarpet factory in Patan. Click to see big picture. beautiful wool carpets. We visited the spinning & weaving halls where mostly women sit on the floor working diligently. The show room upstairs captured quite a few of us as the designs & colours are beautiful & the prices very reasonable. After buying several, the waiting taxis took us to Patan's Durbar square where we photograhed the temples & visited a shop selling singing bowls. Ray discovered this shop in 1998. The bowls are a metal alloy & when rubbed with a woden stick emit different resonating tones, depending on the size. There was even a huge one that when placed on the head & struck, sent sound waves from your head to your toes.

That night we had our farewell dinner at the Thamel House. We were joined by Nancy & Tashi Sherpa, Gord's Nepali partner in Everest Trekking, & their 2 boys aged 5 & 8. We had an excellent Nepali meal & said our good byes as Karyn & Mike were leaving the next day.

After the rest of our group had flown home, Ray & I explored more of Kathmandu. We started with a walk to the old Durbar square where we saw an Indian snake charmer with a cobra & python. Also revisited the temple of the Kumari Devi, the living goddess, a young girl of about 10, who has been the Kumari since she was 5 & will stop at puberty. She made her requisite appearance at the window complete in full makeup and hair do. Kind of creepy. We continued on through the real back streets heading for the Monkey temple Swayambhunath, a Hindu temple. The streets are teemingSwayambhunath temple. Click to see big picture. with humanity & garbage, but we walked on without any problems until reaching the very steep stairs of the temple. The steps for the first half are lined with souvenir stands & beggars, many carrying babies, which is a bit of a scam. We ignored them & puffed our way to the top where we joined lots of other tourists & many observant Hindus who were lining up at one of the temples to be blessed. The temple is on a hill overlooking Kathmandu & gave a good view of the city, smog & all. Walked around the southern entrance of the temple & watched a man feed the monkeys from a bag of bread, causing a near stampede of at least 50 monkeys of all sizes.

The next day we decided to keep our walking conditioning up, so we walked about 1.5 hrs to another Hindu temple, Pashupatinath, on the side of a river. The main temple is closed to non-Hindus, but you can catch a glimpse of the famous golden Bull from the door. The temple was crowded with many Hindu families coming to pay their respects. We walked to a hill where we could look down on the temple & observe the many activities there. Since the river is considered almost as sacred as the Ganges, it is the site of many cremations.Cremation at Pashupatinath. Click to see big picture. There was a military band on the hill that started playing the Last Post across from a pyre covered in a red & gold damask cloth with a canopy over it. One of the observers said it was a member of the Nepal Royal family being cremated so that was the reason for the extra pomp & ceremony. This temple was also the home of a large monkey population, but we kept our distance.

There is Buddhist Stupa, reputed to be one of the largest in the world, nearby so we decided to visit there as well. It took us about 30 minutes of walking through more garbage strewn back alleys to reach it. Welcome to Kathmandu. The Stupa Bodhnath is the site of the largest population of Tibetans in Nepal, so there were many shops selling Tibetan style souvenirs. In fact the Stupa is ringed with shops in between several active monasteries, where services were in progress complete with gongs & drums. We had lunch at the Stupa View restaurant, which has balconies almost at a level with the top of the Stupa, so you do get a good view.

Met Gord & Gail Konantz that evening on their return from 2 weeks visiting the Rajistan region of India. They had a fabulous time travelling with car & driver & stayed in restored forts & old Raj palaces. Nancy & Tashi & boys took us all out to dinner that night to Chez Caroline, which is in a rather upscale boutiques style shopping mall, reminiscent of Sedona, Arizona. We were sorry to say good bye, but we will return to Kathmandu, probably next year.

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