Chitwan National Park
Saturday May 11, 2013 – Tatopani to Pokhara via Beni
Still raining heavily we ascended the stone steps from the Old Kamala Lodge to the bus area near the hot water springs and caught the 7.20am bus to Beni. Joining us where about 30 other people including trekkers crammed into the tiny bus like sardines. I grabbed one of the last seats while Wayne had no option but to sit in the suicide-seat next to the driver staring death in the face through dirty windscreens and nothing to hang on to! We stopped briefly for the trekkers on the bus to sign-out from the trek at the nearby ACAP check-point.
The bus to Beni made its way precariously along the landslide-prone dirt road. Trucks, buses and other vehicles toot their horns constantly to alert others coming the other way on the road, while I anxiously sat looking at the massive drop on the port side into the river way down below.
Relieved to have arrived in Beni alive, we then took another bus to Pokhara. While I fought to get tickets at the bus counter (some people just don’t know how to queue!), Wayne grabbed our backpacks and made sure they were safely transferred to the next bus. Luckily the trip was only 3.5 hours, much shorter than the estimated five hours. The Lonely Planet guide recommended the Hotel Travel Inn at Pokhara so we decided to stay there for the duration of our stay.
Monday May 13, 2013
Today we hired a taxi to take us to the prominent World Peace Pagoda (Shanti Stupa) situated on the hill overlooking Phewa Lake in Pokhara and the surrounding Annapurna Range. This monument, which is one of eighty around the world, was built by Japanese Buddhist monks. The Pagodas are intended to inspire peace and provide a focus for people of all races and creeds, and help unite them in their search for world peace.
High in the Annapurna Range high above Pokhara stands the 6993m mountain of Machapuchare (also known as the ‘Fish Tail’). The local people believe that Machapuchare is sacred to the god Shiva, so climbing is not allowed at all.
Our driver also took us to the strange and interesting Gupteshwor Mahadev Cave and the Devi Falls. Unfortunately at this time of year there was no water at the falls because they had damned the river to clean all the rubbish out of it so we used our time to look at lichen covered caves and rocks. Our driver told us that in the monsoon it’s quite fantastic! He then drove us out to the very informative Gurkha Memorial Museum where we learned more about these incredibly resilient fighters with the motto “It is better to die than be a coward”.
Our driver rested in his taxi while we sauntered around the museum on our own for a couple of hours. We paid him Rp2000 for his trouble which I imagine is considered quite generous as he was quick to pocket it and speed off in his taxi. I left Wayne to return to the hotel while I went out looking for some souvenirs to buy. I ended up going to a ‘salon’ to have my hair washed and dried and a little trim. The girls seemed so inexperienced it was a bit like having your baby sister play hair-dresser – the two girls kept giggling and playing with my hair. Apparently it was interesting to them!
Throughout this part of the world are many Royal Enfield motor-bikes. Wayne has been drooling over them as they thunder by, and I must say they are classic looking bikes. We spotted a few lovely bikes – some fully chromed, another a beautiful jade colour – all immaculate.
Thursday May 16, 2013
Wayne didn’t feel like going out so I hired a bicycle for Rp300 and rode to the International Mountaineering Museum on my own. It was interesting and I wandered around the museum and grounds for a couple of hours reading about the local tribes, geology, climbers and various mountains in Nepal. I’ve read a few books of Everest attempts and it was all very interesting. The ride to the museum took around 20 minutes and as long as you don’t get hit by a passing or oncoming bus, it was enjoyable to be out with the locals. I had a few funny stares mind you – I guess they don’t usually see too many middle-aged white women riding a bike on her own in these parts.
With still a couple of weeks up our sleeves we agreed that we’d visit to Chitwan National Park. We booked our bus ride to Sauraha and decided not to purchase a package tour on the basis we’d probably get a better deal once we arrive in Sauraha. We would leave the following morning.
Friday May 17, 2013 – Bus, Pokhara to Sauraha/Chitwan National Park
The Mountain Overland bus was Rp1500 each to travel from Pokhara to Sauraha and the Chitwan National Park. The trip was to take around five hours. After a quick taxi ride to the Tourist Bus Station (a paddock really), we left promptly at 8am and headed east along the main road out of Pokhara.
By 9am, one hour into the trip, the bus slowed and stopped behind a stream of blocked traffic. No-one told us what the problem was initially, but the news filtered through from those outside that a young boy had been killed in a road accident about 0.5km from us, allegedly by a speeding bus. A well-spoken Nepalese young lady on the bus told us in very good English that a road blockage such as this was common as there is no real road laws in Nepal, at least none that are properly enforced. In this situation, the locals including the family of the deceased prevent all vehicle traffic until the responsible party is identified allowing the family a chance to negotiate compensation for the death. Although the police were present and carried shields, guns and sticks, they did not appear to be progressing the negotiations, merely bystanders hoping the crowd didn’t become violent.
At 1pm our bus was still sitting in the row of traffic when we were told to get off the bus and carry our belongings further up the road, through the blockage to the other side where we’d be met by another bus. About eight of us all bound for Sauraha grabbed our backpacks and suitcases and lugged them passed the spot where the boy was killed. We had heard that his body had been taken away earlier, but Wayne said he saw a small blanket covering his lifeless little body – five hours after his death and still laying on the warm dirt. I was busy looking around at the locals to gauge the mood of the scene, and fortunately didn’t see the blanket. As it turned out, after walking half an hour, the blockade opened and our original bus came by and picked us up. What a shemozzle! With the backlog of traffic now clearing, it was dangerous enough to walk along the road and I was fully expecting another accident to happen. Without seeming callous, I’m glad it was not our bus that hit the poor boy.
With a five hour delay, the bus driver seemed keen to reach Sauraha by dark and unfortunately his passengers were treated to the ride from hell, as he pitched the bus around corners, overtaking trucks and missing head-ons with motorbikes by inches. Finally able to let out our breaths, we finally reached Sauraha by 6pm – ten hours since we left Pokhara. Thinking we would arrive early afternoon and with no-where booked to stay or any taxis available at the bus stop, we were invited to go along with a fellow who owned the Chitwan Village Resort. Although we said we’d decided to stay at another hotel, he hijacked us and took us to his hotel first and suggested we at least look at the place before he would take us any further. As it turned out, we were too tired to argue and it looked very nice so we decided to stay. It turned out to be a very nice place to stay with views of two resident elephants and breakfast included in the price of the room. Unfortunately the electricity in this region (as well as Pokhara and Kathmandu) is intermittent so we often didn’t have electricity to run the fan in the 35 degree Celsius heat.
The Mahouts (elephant looking men) have a special bond with these large animals built up from living with them for many years. The elephants make a chirping noise, which we first thought was the result of being hit was sticks, but turns out the noise is common to Asian elephants and is a comforting sounds they make to reassure each other. Here’s a link I found where you can listen to elephant sounds!
Mahouts keep the elephants sleeping area clean and each day spend time to make elephant ‘sweeties’ made from molasses, salt and grass. It’s wonderful to sit on our upstairs balcony and watch the elephants in their pens get their sweeties at the end of the day.
Saturday May 18, 2013
Today we took a walk around Sauraha and went to the river to watch the elephants bathing in the river. KC’s Restaurant in Sauraha looks very grand but as usual the menu and prices are similar to anywhere else. With very cold beers in the fridge, this turned out to be our regular eating place while in Sauraha.
Sauraha has a number of souvenir stores, ATM available at the Himalayan Bank plus internet cafes as well where you can print boarding passes, etc. There’s also a store that sells souvenirs and a good assortment of second hand English books. A local store owner was sitting outside his shop so I spoke with him for some time and ended up buying a wooden elephant and a wooden ‘sun’ from him.
Sunday May 19, 2013
After watching everyone having a ball on the back of the elephants yesterday, today I eagerly climbed atop an elephant in the river and each time the mahout commanded ‘chhapp chhapp’ I would be squirted with a trunk-full of dirty river water. It was a lot of fun but I was wary that the big pachyderm may decide to roll-over to wash his back and squish me like a bug, but the mahout had him under control. In the afternoon we hired crappy push-bikes and rode the dusty road to the Elephant Breeding Centre where we saw mother and very cute calves.
Tuesday May 21, 2013
The Chitwan area is considered jungle so as you can imagine there’s plenty of mosquitoes. Therefore our room comes with mosquito nets. Unfortunately I often woke up tangled in my mozzie net, like a moth in a spider web fighting my way to freedom.
After my morning wrestle with the mozzie net, each morning we were served huge breakfasts – bananas, porridge, two eggs, toast, jam, butter and a pot of coffee – all included in the room price of around $20 per night (we began stockpiling the bananas so we could later feed the elephants!).
Today we took an afternoon jeep safari into the Chitwan National Park. The jeep was very uncomfortable and had seven guests in total plus, guide and driver and we followed tracks in the park looking out for the fauna and animals. Through the high grass and trees we saw a few Rhino and an assortment of birds, deer and boars, but I think the noise of the jeep was off-putting.
Wednesday May 22, 2013
Skype is a wonderful tool and today I managed to contact my brother for his 50th birthday and also show our resident pachyderms to my dad as they arrived back from their morning jungle trip. It’s great to be able to show scenes from Nepal to my family in Australia.
There are around 45 elephants in Sauraha and although our hotel has two elephants, these were not the ones we would ride for our afternoon safari. The elephants in the region are managed by the Elephant Management Cooperative in Sauraha designed to improve the tourism and conditions of the elephants in the region.
The elephant ride which took around two hours was far better than the jeep ride. Besides seeing five Rhinos, we also saw animals/birds including Paradise Fly Catcher, Large Stork, Eagle, Spotted Deer, Ghalias (crocodile), Peacocks, Samba Deer. At the end of the walk, Mr. Elephant received four of our breakfast bananas from us!
Thursday May 23, 2013 – Bus, Sauraha to Kathmandu
Our final day in Sauraha and another massive breakfast before leaving. The cost of accommodation and all the treks plus bus fare to Kathmandu turned out much cheaper than the package deals offered from Pokhara. The owner, Rajendra, was extremely polite and well spoken, and thanked us for choosing his venue, then quickly corrected himself remembering he’d originally kidnapped us!
A hotel jeep ride to the main street in Sauraha and we caught the Greenline bus to Kathmandu. The road out from Sauraha passes through forest before following a very steep valley. A couple of hours of horn tooting, overtaking, near-misses, sweating and a quick stop for lunch of dhal bhat, we were then back on the main highway to Kathmandu. Seven hours of bus ride followed by a short taxi ride through pelting rain had us returned to the Blue Horizon Hotel off Tridevi Marg in the cooler climate of Kathmandu.
Monday May 27, 2013 – Kathmandu to Kuala Lumpur
After a few days eating, relaxing, and once again dodging violin and Tiger Balm peddlers, plus stocking up on wonderful paintings and other souvenirs from the Thamal district, we left Nepal to return to Thailand via Kuala Lumpur. Despite websites to the contrary, including the Tribhuvan Airport Website, we didn’t have to pay a departure/airport tax from Nepal, however the exchange rate at the airport was not good for exchanging my final rupees into Thai Baht. I’d suggest exchanging any remaining funds in Kathmandu and not the airport.
Tuesday May 28, 2013 – Kuala Lumpur to Krabi
Back ‘home’ aboard Blue Heeler with my trusty laptop and bursting with memories and experiences I will treasure for a lifetime, I’ve had a hard time trying to capture every sight, smell and emotion of this wonderful trip.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this leg of our trip. Our next trip will be a little less electrifying, as we plan to spend our time in a Melbourne winter. So unless something radically exciting happens over the next few months, you may not hear much from me until later in the year.
Until then – namaste…