Out of exhaustion, H and I decided to skip the 3 mountain passes and head back to Kathmandu earlier. Now with a few extra days, we decided to head to Chitwan National Park, another tick off the Lonely Planet Ultimate Travelist. Not that anyone’s keeping track.
So, we walked to the bus ticket office (Kantipath station) the day before to purchase tickets to Sauraha/Chitwan beforehand. It was one of those tiny sidewalk offices with a ceiling-to-floor windowed storefront that slid open. Inside was a roughly put together office with desks and desktop computers, almost like a startup. The 6:30am bus would be parked across the street and we were to look for “Loyal Tours.”
When we got to the Kantipath station the next morning, though, there was an endless line of buses parked along the curb. We walked a long way to the front, then back again, but couldn’t find “Loyal Tours” anywhere. We asked one guy and he just pointed all the way to the other end. Then, at the other end, another guy pointed back to where we started. Finally, we just found an unlabeled bus and, after shadily passing around our tickets to 3 other workers, the bus guy just said, “Okay, you can come on this bus.” “So, is this Loyal?” He mumbled an indiscreet answer. We took the risk and hopped onto the un-airconditioned bus and to our relief, reached Chitwan in 6-7 hr with traffic and road construction. As per usual, I passed out for most of the ride and missed seeing 2 overturned trucks and a smashed bus on the side of the road. Thank goodness our driver wasn’t reckless.
Travel tip: Book your Chitwan accommodation in advance. Once we got off the bus, we were all hounded by a swarm of guys, each shouting the name of their lodging/hostel and how much greater theirs was compared to the others. I just pictured a flock of flamingos marching in unison during mating season, their heads turning a pattern of left then right in individual rhythms. Chaos. We just stared in complete amusement before H relieved them and shouted “Gaida Lodge!”
Chitwan National Park (Sauraha), Nepal
We booked a full day (6:30am – 4:30pm) jungle walk for the next day through our lodging. Most of the morning was cloudy and relatively cool, which, given the consistent humidity, didn’t really help much. The above Indian rhino had the right idea.
And, so did this crocodile.
The walk started with a delightful 30 min canoe ride to the place where we were to start walking. Apparently, a tiger was spotted just a few days earlier and since they like to revisit the same area for several days, we were starting there to track him down. Once we started walking, the guide motioned for us to sit in a nicely hidden spot so that we could wait for the tiger. Upon looking at the jungle floor, though, I immediately pictured Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom where Kate Capshaw walks into the passageway of creepy crawlies. The ground was literally moving with all sorts of things that I do not like. But, I held my breath and put my ass to the ground, occasionally slapping an arm or a leg because of a phantom crawling feeling.
The tiger never surfaced. The guide swore that he saw some movement in the grass but, nothing came of it. What did show up, though, were ants on my pants.
We also ran into this Indian rhino who worked the cameras like it was a Kardashian.
Deeper into the jungle, the guide suddenly asked, rather rhetorically, whether or not we wanted to cross a knee-deep river to reach a seemingly better and more adventurous path. A very murky brown river, reminiscent of all things “Monsters Inside Me,” Animal Planet’s show on humans getting parasites. I reluctantly took my shoes and socks off, rolled up my pants, and put my feet onto the squishy riverbed. To alleviate the situation, I then proceeded to talk about one of the episodes where a parasite got into a person through his toenail. That didn’t seem to impress the other guy, David, who was also on this walk with us.
Well, the path on the other side of the river proved its worth. We ran into a mom and baby Indian rhino pair and then another 2 or so pairs. We got a bit too close to one, though, and the mom grunted at us as a warning. The guide told us to run, then started running himself as I trailed behind. But, the guide did turn around and make sure we weren’t too far behind him before leading us to a huge tree to hide behind.
Then came the dark rain clouds and rumbling thunder. It was a good time to have lunch in a slightly sheltered 2-storied wooden tower. The storm came and went, then came and went. I started falling asleep waiting for the rain to stop.
Mahouts, or elephant trainers/keepers, then came by and joined us in the tower as they let their elephants graze freely among the tasty tall grass. The rain finally stopped long enough for us to continue our walk. We were all restless and anxious to go.
In addition to deer, crocodiles, rhinos and a variety of birds (esp the white-throated kingfishers), we then ran into monkeys. He’s the tiny thing in the middle of the photo.
But, then, it started to downpour again. This time, the rain didn’t let up for an hour and all I had for protection was a rain cover for my daypack. We had no choice but to continue walking in the torrential rain. There were times when it sounded like the rain would lighten a bit but, it would only rain harder, harder and even harder. All the pathways became flooded and we were walking ankle-deep in murky brown waters again. I was worried about parasites before and completely didn’t give a shit anymore. I almost dared the parasites.
Finally, we reached the end of the walk but needed a canoe to take us back across. All the rowers were huddled together underneath a shelter across the river. The guide yelled for one of them to come get us and we’re pretty sure the guys drew straws or rock-paper-scissored this one out.
Back at the lodge, H found that his iPhone had become waterlogged in his pocket and we tried asking the restaurant for a small bag of uncooked rice to dry out the phone. But, 30 min later, the waiter came out with a plate of steaming rice. We explained again that we needed uncooked rice and they nodded in what seemed like comprehension. David got such a kick out of it and we bet on what would come out next. Another 30 min later, nothing came out.
Now that we had the rest of the day to chill, I decided to treat myself to a bottle of wine. Just the night before, an Aussie lady at the next table ordered a decent bottle and I wanted one after that. But, after placing my order, the waiter didn’t come back until 45 min later, his face all covered in beads of sweat. I suspected that they were out of stock and had to run out and buy one somewhere. He then happily uncorked the bottle and left me to pour for myself. One smell of the bottle, though, and I wanted to vomit. The description on its label: “Made from bananas and grapes, with a touch of plum and lime.” Fuck.
After a rest day, we decided to do a half-day jeep ride through the park, starting at noon. The whole trip was maybe about 4-5 hr and delightfully breezy in the open jeep. We encountered the usual suspects and covered a lot more ground but, to everyone’s dismay, the tiger and sloth bears eluded us. If we did encounter the latter, though, we weren’t supposed to run or climb trees to escape them. Sloth bears could do both better and quicker than you. Instead, we were supposed to stay in the group and make obscene amounts of noise and big movements to distract it from the approaching guide who would then knock it in its head with a long wooden bamboo stick. Sounded exciting.
And, per usual, I was getting eaten alive by mosquitoes while H remained unscathed, even if I had fumigated myself with bug repellant.
H: “This spray is my second form of protection. You’re my first, you giant bag of blood!”
We found out that for just 200 rupees more, we could get on the air-conditioned bus back to Kathmandu. Seven hours later, we were back in town but, instead of dropping us off near Thamel where we originally got on the bus, they dropped us off somewhere we didn’t know. Thank goodness for cheap cabs.
Travel tip: You must try the pizza at Fire & Ice.
On our 29th day in Nepal, we walked from our hotel to the Boudhanath Stupa, about 1 hr 15 min from the Thamel area. Again, we successfully bypassed the ticket booths demanding that we pay a foreigner’s tax. It seemed unjustified given that it was in a very public area, surrounded by cafes, hostels and small shops. You couldn’t even go inside and parts of it were still under construction after the earthquake.
Our last dinner in Nepal? Shin ramen instant noodles.