I met up with my Dragoman group the previous night for a brief meeting. There’s 13 of us on the tour which for me lasts until the middle of November, but most people in this group are only here for a couple of weeks. Only three of us are doing the full tour ending in Kathmandu. However, we’ll pick up additional people along the way.
Dragoman is known for their distinctive trucks which seat 22 on top of the group leader/driver and second driver/mechanic. There are also two seats on the roof that are used on safaris. The truck has a storage locker, camping gear and a massive tank with chemically treated water. Here’s a full view of the truck:
This day’s destination was Chitwan National park, a seven hour drive away. The truck is bumpy as hell and I know it’s not due to the roads because I did 75% of the exact same road on my trip to Pokhara in a normal bus and in a minivan and while the ride in those vehicles was still not smooth due to the continuous curves, it was not at all noticeably bumpy. Though I also imagine that local drivers make for a smoother ride because they are anticipating certain aspects of the road and driving behaviours particular to the area.
On the road we stopped for lunch. The first place I stopped into strangely only had plain rice, so I opted for a second place. I pantomimed eating, and the teen aged boy’s eyes lit up and he pointed with purpose and proceeded into the kitchen. He then disappeared for the next half hour as I sat in one of the tables. The food never actually arrived and I believe the owner was next to the counter at some point so I have no idea why he was cool with me sitting there for 30 minutes not buying anything. I guess people in Nepal are just that friendly. Having run out of time, lunch consisted of a Nepalese spicy variant on Cheetos. Probably for the best as the place did not look particularly hygienic.
We made good time to our hotel so we still had time to catch a quick tour of the village and surrounding landscape.
The people who live in the park are ethnically Muslim Indians who were given asylum by the Nepalese government during a period of anti-Muslim violence in the 1930’s. Here is a girl with her sibling outside of their home:
At some point the villagers were planning on returning to India but they have now settled in Chitwan for good. However, in the beginning, when they were still planning on a return, they would tattoo themselves as a reminder of their Indian heritage. Note the tattoos on the grandmother’s ankles:
Elephants play a key role in managing the parks. In the denser parts of the forest where poaching and illegal logging are likely to occur, the only way for rangers to cover the territory is on elephants. Sections of the village are therefore dedicated to training and feeding the elephants used by the rangers during the day. The elephant you see up front is approximately three years old and is in the process of being trained:
The elephants are kept in enclosures like the one below during the evening feeding and overnight. It is unfortunate that they chain them down at night:
They are fed several kilograms of molasses, salt and uncooked rice, which is bundled up into a green pellet the size of a football so that the elephants can get it into their mouths efficiently. I’ve seen them also feeding on grassland, and it’s a painstakingly slow process. They pull out the grass slowly, beat it against their legs to knock off any sand or soil, and then very very slowly put it in their mouths. Here’s a picture of the fellow in charge of preparing their food:
The tour of the village concluded with a lovely walk of the surrounding countryside. We got there very close to dusk so the landscape really was brilliant. This is yet another instance where photos alone do not do the place justice so I’ll try to upload some short video pans when I have a good wireless connection. Here are some inadequate photos:
In the photo above you can see the boats that we took the following morning in crocodile infested waters. Luckily the crocodiles eat mostly small mammals and lots of fish so they are not known to attack people.
We were able to spot a crocodile that evening, as well as some deer and a rhino in the distance.
We finished the night off catching a cultural show in the village with some dancing and music. I recorded the three songs that I found interesting.
The clapping dance song:
The war dance song:
The post-harvest song:
That night I did a little photo editing in a cafe across the street from the hotel. As I was wrapping up, the dogs in the village went crazy and I could see the locals rushing to the side of the second-floor cafe to look out onto the street. When I asked what was going on they told me that the dogs bark when they see rhinos coming into the village at night. Apparently they come into the village and even into our hotel every night to feed. Given that they come to feed on the grasses, not on garbage, it is rather odd that they choose to come into the village and risk being disturbed by people given that it is apparently the wet season so they have a ton to eat in the park.
The following morning we made a 7:00 am departure on a three hour jungle walk. The walk started off with a 30 minute canoe ride which was definitely the nicest part of the visit to the park. The landscape looked amazing at that hazy time of the morning and we were able to spot several crocodiles as close as 10 metres away just relaxing on the banks. That being said I was quite paranoid of going into the drink because the canoe itself was pretty narrow and unstable with the water level maybe 15 centimetres away from the top of the canoe. Also, there were eight of us in the canoe, and several had no experience on canoes so you could feel the canoe tipping massively whenever they leaned over to take a photograph. I put my camera in a ziplock bag pretty quick, so I only got a couple of shots from the canoe. Here’s one:
The walk itself was not too remarkable. I was expecting very dense jungle but the portions we went into really felt more like marshland as the vegetation never got particularly thick. Also, having grown up in B.C. it takes a lot for outdoorsy stuff to impress me given that our forests are so ridiculously beautiful out west.
Nevertheless, there were some interesting sights. In the photo below you can see a massive 1 meter high structure made by termites:
In the photo below you can see an aggressive vine in the process of killing a tree. Generally, rhinos in the area eat the vines before they get to this level of destruction:
So that you can get a sense of what much of the jungle walk looked like:
Below you can see a picture of our guide. He got pretty cranky by the end because some in our group were too chatty during the walk, which scares the animals. However, he didn’t exactly set a good example because he’d often yell out to his co-guide and when we ran into some rangers he engaged in a pretty long and loud conversation with them as he was walking. Also, we were walking at a pretty fast clip at his behest so I’m guessing that the sound of 10 people rampaging through the forest did a pretty good job scaring the animals in itself. Nevertheless we did see a ton of deer and some rhinos during the walk:
We also spotted a fresh tiger paw print from the previous night. It’s not very big, but you can get a sense of the 150-190 kg weight of the animal from its depth:
In the late afternoon we went off on a jeep safari deeper into the jungle, but because it was a well-traveled road with lots of noisy vehicles we did not see much aside from some more deer and crocodiles. We also saw a wild boar that crossed the road in front of our jeep. It was ridiculously cute for such a dangerous animal.
One neat sight was a crane perched up some 20 metres up on a tiny branch:
View from the back of the jeep:
Near the end of the safari we stopped at a gorgeous man-made lake with an area designed to look out onto where rhinos regularly eat and bathe:
We saw two rhinos in our brief time at that spot and then departed. On the way back to the hotel I saw a great boss move by a guy on a motorcycle. His cell phone rang while he was going 50 kmph and he fully answered the phone and casually just tucked into his helmet by his ear, and then just continued riding away.
The funny thing is that we went on a jungle walk and a safari mostly to see a few rhinos generally 50-200 metres away. But that night, as we were sitting outside in the patio of the hotel having a beer a beer, a rhino came right into the hotel to eat, metres away from us:
Apparently, the hotel owners flash lights on them when they come into the hotel but the rhinos are totally undisturbed, this one just kept eating away and even got closer.
There hasn’t been a lot of culture on this trip, so I’ll finish this post with some appropriately nature-themed carvings from one of the temples that I checked out in Bhaktapur:
Yup, animal eroctica. That’s a first for me too.