Lucky us, the rain didn’t stop the entire night or the next day and we actually considered staying in Tansen – the weather really was that bad. After contemplating staying we came to our senses and decided we’d rather risk it than stay another day. The roads in Nepal are infamous for buses falling off the side, a search of the top news stories each day confirms this. Pair this with the highways we need to travel on being prone to landslides [as its Monsoon season] make the chances of surviving the journey slightly lower than average, hence the slight hesitation to depart.
We had however, apparently already drove on Nepal’s 2nd biggest and most notorious death road. The Tribhuvan Highway which links Kathmandu to Pokhara and we faired pretty well with our lives. So we stacked our chances of survival at an ok level to travel.
By the time we set off it had been raining nonstop for nearly 16 hours and there was no end in sight. It was a continuation of the Siddartha highway experience for today’s journey, only the 10th longest highway so maybe slightly less deadly.
The rain didn’t stop and the down pour had wreaked havoc with the hill sides. We passed many villages scurrying to gather what they could to stop the looming threat of mud/rocks/trees wiping out the little wood and corrugated steel structures they call home. We saw no evidence of people being hurt but at we passed at least 30 landslides all on different scales. Some just a few rocks had fallen but others has made the roads impassable to any vehicle other than the small two wheel kind. Bonus for us as there was definitely a lot less traffic on the roads. On the other hand it was really testing Paul’s ability to keep the bike upright as it was deep, thick, sludgy mud. We got through all of them without harm but the gigantic boulders that had come tumbling down really made us feel lucky that we weren’t passing when they fell. A quick perusal of the news later in the day confirmed that we really had been lucky as 5 people had died and 5 were missing because of the landslides – so not something we would recommend doing.
At the foot of the hills the landscape becomes flat plains that you can see across for miles. Of course they bear the brunt of the rainfall and with nowhere for the water to escape it floods the majority of the plains.
Once on the flat landscape, a very rare sight was seen – signage. Granted it was very scarce, the font was tiny and it was a major highway but it was actual signage – which shared how many km there were to go. There’s been the odd hand painted sign but nothing more throughout Nepal. When we set off we were unsure if we would make it to Chitwan which is a big National Park [rumoured to be one of the best to see Tigers, Deer and Elephants but the real stars of the show are the Rhinos] whilst it was only 200 something km away from Tansen the roads are so unpredictable its best to plan for short journeys. We skipped the birth place of Buddha – Lumbini as it was a bit off course and I’d read a funny comment on the internet that said ‘it was a pretty crappy place and clearly the Bud-Momma was desperate, as there ain’t no way I’d want to stick around long enough to drop any sort of load there’. The road under the rare signage also looked in better condition than most so a decision was made try and make it to Chitwan.
After passing field after field with houses that had become marooned and inaccessible by land we reached a road that was completely submerged and no longer a road but a shin deep sea for about 500 metres. We followed a bus which created a slight parting in the sea but as ever there was no patience from the other road users and the buses travelling in the opposite direction created a nice tidal wave shower as they passed by. It was actually quite fun to pass through and being wet isn’t such an issue when the temperature is around 30 degrees.
The temporary gushing rivers spurred on some finishing activity with DIY fishing nets – basically a curved bamboo cradle creation and a net attached. Not sure they catch much but it looked fun.
Randomly a single dancing lady in the middle of the road was rejoicing something which I doubt was the incessant rains which are flooding many a home in this region.
Lunch provided a bit a rest bite from the rain. It’s not heavy rain nor is it cold. But it pelts you sharply in face if you don’t have the visor down, but having the visor down causes it to steam up immediately. I’d rather not as my helmet does not smell of roses. We stopped only because we know Paul can be a knob without food. We risked our [so far] healthy stomachs with samosas from a slightly less than sanitary looking little place, but that’s as far as we went and stuck with crisps and chocolate for a nutrient filled lunch.
Once we got going again the rain had stopped and the sun was starting to surface. I didn’t eat my chocolate from lunch so Paul pulled over and handed it to a poor boy who had dropped his load of grass from his push bike on a steep hill. He didn’t look impressed with the chocolate to be honest, he didn’t even look confused as to why I was giving it him, he just took it and got on with loading the grass back on the bike. Clearly a white person handing him chocolate is quite common. I had read not to give kids sweets as of course it only encourages them to ask for it. On more than one occasion particularly in the more tourist prominent areas, there are frequent demands for ‘one chocolate’ or ‘one biscuit’ usually from the street kids.
Not far from the entrance from Chitwan a large river had burst its banks, which wasn’t too surprising with the amount of rainfall over the previous two days. However, what was surprising and a little heart breaking was seeing homes being washed away and vain attempts at rescuing whatever possessions they had on ageing little dug-out boats and seeing an excited crowd form along the bridge to watch others misfortune. It was too dangerous to be in the water as it flowed angrily and was laden with debris that had fallen along the way. A little hypocritical as we didn’t exactly hop of the bike and jump in to help the rescue party.
With all the hysteria was traffic, all congregating on the bridge making it very difficult to weave through. Just as we could see the end of the traffic jam the bike cut out. This was possibly one of the top three worst places it could have broke down [the other top two include on an inclining hill or on the last 25km stretch on the Prtivi highway into Kathmandu in-case anyone was wondering] Thank god it started on the first jump start attempt.
We made it to Sauraha and stopped in the first hotel [Hotel Parkside] we got to as it was late and we were wet. This area is the backpackers district in Chitwan, there are lots of fancy safari camps actually inside the park but they were way out of our budget range. Whilst there is more of a chance of seeing wild animals there is also more a chance of being eaten by them too. A walk in the morning revealed we were actually on the outskirts of town so we moved to the ‘Riverside Hotel’ instead and had our own little bungalow in the gardens.
Rather than cows its now elephants which have become common to see walking down the street. Sauraha has a very small village feel about it with shopkeepers and their families hanging out on the steps waiting for customers with women fixing each other’s hair or nattering away and men playing games. We haven’t really noticed a change in the clothing or faces here in Nepal like we did in Iran but then again it’s about 1/10 of the size. Kids tend to wear a motley of clothes, whatever still fits and doesn’t have too many holes. Most men dress the same, definitely no business suits to be seen in Nepal. For the most part, t-shirts, vests sweaters but mix it up with pastel-colored dhaka topis (caps). Women wear a mixture between salwar kamzees and saris all are colourful [predominately red] almost everyone bears their midriff no matter the circumference.
Once settled in the new place all we had to do was plan our next few days in Chitwan that looked like it was going to Pokhara Pt 2 – lazy days.
We decided to do some sort of jungle safari as what’s the point in coming to a jungle if you only lurk on the edge, plus its one of only two places in the world that you are allowed to walk through the jungle with such animals present. We booked a 45-mintue dug-out canoe ride and two hour jungle walk. Two guides are mandatory to fend off animals. As its monsoon we were warned about the ‘Elephant Grass’ it grows upto 8ft at this time of year and makes spotting animals a lot more difficult.
We were met at the hotel by our guides for the day serene Baloo and his young apprentice Tolubo; who liked to chat on his mobile – in the jungle whilst we were supposed to be creeping up on animals. When we set off for the river, it was not yet 7.30 am and the sun was beating down on us already. We were glad we didn’t book a full days trek. Monsoon season is also the hottest season in Nepal.
When down at the river all the guides appear with their Jungle explorers, some for full day treks others for the elephant breeding centre. Another guide and his group joked we were the crocodile bate and our quiet, timid guide unexpectedly replied “They prefer Chinese” and gestured back to their group. The canoe we boarded was made out of a hollowed out tree and we had to shift our weight to ensure we didn’t capsize. A lot of bird spotting later [there are over 500 species in Nepal] and a smiling crocodile perched on a sandbank later we disembarked into deep, sinking, sludgy mud. The guides swiftly removed their flip flops and went bearfoot a lesson learned not to what would normally be considered as ‘sensible’ footwear.
After a few minutes walking, Baloo came to a halt and began a little speech on the dangers of the jungle and what to do if we were confronted by the dangerous inhabitants that live there. Tiger – look at them directly in the ear and back away slowly, Sloth bear – form a group to make them scared of our size, Rhino – climb a tree, Elephant – run as fast as you can. None of those methods had to be tested, we were not charged at by any animal. We saw a lot of birds, the barest outline of a rhinos crossing the river, a few startled deer as they ran away from our footsteps, a crocodile at the edge of the river, some monkeys high high up dropping elephant fruit at us and the fresh faeces of a sloth bear and an old shit of a tiger.
We spent most of the 3 hours not really seeing that much, just being spliced in the face by the tall grasses. Nevertheless it’s the excitement of what might be lurking that keeps the adrenaline pumping. The walk was not all in vain just as we were heading back on a clear trail when Baloo stopped and we could hear something splashing. We headed back for the tall grasses. At first I couldn’t see anything ,but I could hear something taking a dip. I kept staring and could just about make out the scaly backside of a rhino, more than half submerged in the water, and his ears were flapping around. After we’d ogled his backside he started to emerge from his bath which meant it was time for us to go. The view was not clear enough for a photo and I don’t think I would have disturbed him with the sound of the lens shutter, though the defence for a charging rhino is to climb a tree and I’m not very good at climbing trees.
Safari over and we were exhausted the only thing we could stretch ourselves to do was go for lunch at KCs restaurant which has beautifully manicured gardens. We then spent the rest of the day reading, relaxing. The rain falls heavy in the afternoon anyway so there’s not too much else to do.
The next day we headed down the river for the elephants bath time at 11.00am which was conveniently infront of our hotel. Before heading down I was unsure if I wanted to do it. We’d seen an supposed ‘Elephant Sanctuary’ in Thailand and the elephants are beaten, tied up and one baby one had gone a bit mental. I knew it would be much the same here in Nepal. I guess generally any circumstance animals are used for tourists it’s going to happen. But when we got down to the riverside it all happened very quickly and before I knew it, I was mounted on top of the wrinkly grey elephant heading for the murky brown river for a bath.
It was pretty scary at first, the swaying motion 10ft of the floor doesn’t feel that safe nor does going down a hill. Once in the river the elephant proceeds to fill his trunk and squirt it all over you. This was only done because his master was poking him in the leg with a spear. The elephant than dumps you in the water when he tumbles over. I can’t deny it was a lot of fun and I did really enjoy it, but for that the elephant had to suffer being poked in the leg.
We ate at the sunset point restaurant two nights in a row as there wasn’t too much choice, plus they made the best chips chilly. One of the things that is a bit funny all over Nepal is paying the bill or generally paying for anything. The price will be calculated at least three times by the person at the till, they will then probably proceed to find someone else to add the bill up and then when it comes to give change it takes at least 10 minutes. Best to always ask for the bill at the start of a meal, as it might then be ready at the end.