Chitwan National Park, protected from poachers by army patrols and watchtowers, is where you go to gawp at one horned rhinos in their natural habitat, and it’s not like most places where there’s a high chance all you’ll see is some birds and a terrified deer. At Chitwan, you’re pretty much going to see a rhino, they’ll even tell you there’s a 99% chance of it. And there are three ways to do it; you can take a jeep which means you have to stick to the roads, you can go on an elephant safari but elephants in slavery make me sad, or you can go on foot and risk getting trampled by something much larger than you with a temper that’d rival mine before breakfast and a sufficient quantity of tea. I opted to go on foot and I booked through the place I was staying, Chitwan Forest Resort.
Yes. Resort. They have dorm beds which I think are usually used to accommodate tour leaders when they bring their mob to stay, but when it’s quiet they rent the beds out to backpackers which basically means you get a lovely garden and a hot shower for ₨300 a night instead of having to traipse around town looking for a cheap guesthouse. What’s also awesome is the fact the touts have to stand well away from the buses when they arrive in Sauraha so you don’t have to force your way through hoards of blokes waving leaflets and business cards in your face. As I started to walk back to town a taxi driver offered me a ₨10 ride and said, “then it’s up to you where you stay. Or do you have a reservation?” I said I did and showed him my booking and he said, “Ah, well you speak to these guys then,” and indicated the mob of men. A guy holding a Chitwan Forest Resort leaflet stepped forward, escorted me to a jeep and took me to my hotel for free. So far I really liked Chitwan.
So this walk then. It was just me and two guides because the other chick in the room, Annemiek, was ill. They lead me down to a small river which we crossed by canoe then I was taken into the jungle, one guide at the front to lead the way and one at the back to make sure I didn’t get kidnapped by monkeys or some shit. I was told that there were 56 different species of mammal at Chitwan and four of them were dangerous to humans. The rhino, obviously. If one of those bad boys spots you you have to run for the nearest tree and either hide behind it if it’s big enough, or climb it if it isn’t. Rhinos are lazy and will soon lose interest. I smiled and tried to say “Okay, cool,” in a way that implied climbing trees was totes something I could get down with and my complete lack of upper body strength would in no way hamper me. We also had to watch out for elephants. Apparently if you run behind bushes with thorns or vines then that’ll deter them and I hoped that there’d be plenty of these bushes should we spot one. Then there are the sloth bears. If one of these takes a fancy to your flesh you have to stand your ground, shout a lot and the guides will beat their sticks on the ground. Aaaaand finally, there are tigers here. Not many though. We probably won’t see a tiger I was reliably informed. And off into the jungle we went as I wondered exactly how we’d stop ourselves from being mauled from an over-sized feline should the need arise.
The first creature we saw was a peacock looking for a shag. He had his tail out and I was handed a pair of binoculars to get a proper look at him as they told me all about the mating rituals of the peafowl.
“He will throw something on the ground and she will eat it and become pregnant,” the lead guide said, “Never any sex. They are very clean birds.” I raised an eyebrow. Riiiiight. I have trust issues with tour guides since that time in Peru when our guide tried to tell us that South America suffers from a lot of earthquakes because it’s positioned between two oceans and the pressure of these two oceans’ waves causes seismic activity, so I Googled this when I got back and no. This is not how peafowl mate. They mate like any other bird does but it turns out that it’s a common myth.
The best thing about being on foot is the fact that there’s no limit to where you can go. My guide frequently wandered off the trail and I wasn’t sure whether to follow him or if he was just nipping off for a piss. Then we saw one, right ahead of us. We stopped and watched it and you do find yourself sizing up trees that you could use for safety but there wasn’t a single one where I thought, yeah, I could easily monkey up that fucker. The rhino turned around and seemed to look at us and the guide grabbed my arm, ready to run. It took a few paces. We bolted but then it stopped and turned around so, with the guide still holding onto my arm, we ventured forwards again. Turns out they’re quick fuckers for their size. Stealthy too. By the time we’d gotten to where we’d seen it it had totally vanished. We carried on with our walk through the forest. The next one we saw was asleep but as we shuffled around it it raised its head. As soon as you see them you pretty much have to rethink your route. I was lead in a very wide circle around it. The walking was generally uneventful though. We saw plenty of deer, we took breaks to chill out and relax and eat some food. Sometimes the guides would pick these sour tasting berries for us to snack on too but I drew the line at eating a lemon like an apple. No, lads. No. Lemon is garnish. It’s something you squeeze over your fish. It’s an ingredient in many fine cocktails. It’s not, however, a tasty snack to enjoy whilst strolling through a forest. Weirdos.
Then at one point, as we were wandering completely off track, the guides saw a sloth bear through the trees. It was quite a way away but dude, this was the first one I’d ever seen! It was awesome! I mean, I’d been to a few places where they loved and I’d seen their shit that looked all shiny because of all the termite shells in it, and all over Chitwan there are massive holes which they’ve dug in search of root termites, but I’d never actually seen one in real life. The lead guide took my arm again and we started moving towards it. The bear carried on about its business for a while until it realised we were there and strolled off in the other direction. We ran after it. Wait… what? We’re chasing it? Why are we chasing it? Doesn’t it want to rip all my skin off and wear it as a wedding dress or something Apparently no, all it wanted was to be left alone and as we scrambled over ditches in pursuit it easily lost us in the woods. Still though, it was so cool to see one.
It wasn’t long afterwards when we heard a rhino in some long grass. Shit dude, it was close. Really close. I was half lead, half dragged back to a tree and was asked, “Can you climb that?” I looked at it, there was one branch just above my head. I could reach it but then what? “Just grab it and pull yourself up,” I was told. Ah shiiiit. The grass was moving so I sighed and reached for the tree as the guide changed his mind and said, “Hold on.” He disappeared to find out exactly where it was, it was actually moving away from us. Ohhhh thank fuck for that! I don’t think I’ve ever been so fucking relieved.
Let’s talk about the weather than shall we? It was perfect walking weather to be honest. Cloudy, not too hot. There was a bit of spitting in the morning. It stayed like this for most of the day until around 2.30pm when suddenly all of the clouds in the world decided to dump their contents unceremoniously on Chitwan. Fuuuuck. And not only that it was massively fucking windy all of a sudden, the rain came in sideways, like someone had let loose with a pressure hose on us. We legged it and took shelter behind posts supporting a watch tower, all of us were soaked down one side. We chilled in the watchtower for a short while until the rain stopped, wringing out our clothes. Meh, this is nothing. That’s a pleasant spring morning in Brighton, is a spot of sideways rain. They guys said a few words in either Nepali or Tharu to each other before one of them said, “Anyway, we are already wet, there is a river with a place where people can cross easily.” Cool, sounded good. I envisioned an ankle deep crossing point and off we went.
We saw this little cutie on the way too. It was enjoying a bath, bless it, and blowing bubbles in the water. We stood and watched it for quite a while and then it looked at me funny so I fucking legged it. As it pulled itself out of the water the guide said, “Oh it’s just a small one. It can’t attack us.” Poor thing. Can’t have a bath in peace these days ay.
Then we came to this river. Yeah, I probably should have asked how deep it was but he was right, we were already soaked, so in we waded up to our knees. We walked a little more and watched a mahout washing his elephant which apparantly has to be done every day otherwise “there is a terrible smell.” It was done with minimal shouting and/or hitting though, and the water came up over the elephant’s head when she lay down so she used her trunk as a snorkel. I’ll admit it, it was kinda cute, I had to keep reminding myself that her spirit had to be broken to domesticate her like this.
We saw a couple more rhinos before we headed back and I asked the guys about the local food here which triggered a momo craving and we headed to a proper little local restaurant to get some. Probably some of the best I’ve had to be fair. We had a few beers too and the lads ordered an amazing snack which basically consisted of buff (which is what buffalo is referred to) and beaten rice, which is flat rice that can be eaten uncooked. You take a spoonful of beaten rice and a spicy, delicious ball of buff and eat them together.
Talking of food though, the day before I’d been to Tharu Kitchen, a restaurant in town. Tharu is the name of the local people and I fancied trying some proper local food so I grabbed a menu and sat down. Under the Tharu section there was something called chichar which was served with all of the other things such as buff, veg, chicken or something called ghonghi. Ok, cool, I’ve no idea what any of this is but I’m just gonna go ahead and order the alien dish. Maybe. Probably not. I’d better check…
I asked the lady what chichar was and she told me it was sticky rice. Ok, cool. I can totally go with that, so in the name of potentially trying a proper, authentic Tharu dish I asked her what ghonghi was.
“Snail,” she replied.
“Ok. Soooo… could I get the chichar with chicken then please?”
Ah stop judging me, there are many new dishes that I’ll happily try but until I can get over the mental block, snail ain’t gonna be one of them.
Another local thing is elephant dung paper. Do not adjust your sets, I am totally referring to paper made from elephant shit. I bought Tarrant a notebook made from the stuff, just so I could tell her I got her a literally shit gift, unlike the tiny Taj Mahal snow globe keyring I got her from Agra which was simply just shit. I decided to hang around in Chitwan for an extra couple of days, partially to just chill out and partially to wait for Annemiek because we both wanted to head to Lumbini next. It’s not like there’s much to do here once you’ve wrapped your eyeballs around a few rhinos. I did briefly consider renting a bicycle to have a look around but my pores ejected about 40% of my fluids at the mere thought of it and I was forced to replace them with a Gorkha beer so I pretty much spent my time chilling in the garden and playing my favourite new game of zapping mosquitoes with the bum gun whilst having a poo. Life, guys. Life is a non stop adventure.
Sauraha, Chitwan, Nepal
Stayed at: Chitwan Forest Resort