Drums out in the wilds of the deepest jungles of central Asia! The beating will drive madness into the mind! Danger! Excitement! Wild beasts! And now, presenting a safari trekking excursion!
Our adventure began with the bus ride from hell: six grueling hours on bumpy, unpaved, dusty, twisting and turning mountain roads in a vehicle without comfort (no a/c, cramped seating, and some bad body odor). When we wiped our foreheads, our hands came back black with soot and dirt. We weren’t sure the bus would even be operating on the day we needed to go because the monsoon season had brought with it a fair share of mud and landslides, blocking the roads. The tourism company had to find out if the roads would be cleared first, before they would even consider selling us tickets.
The bus did end up going and once we arrived at the dirt parking lot of the Sauraha bus terminal (there was no terminal), we negotiated a taxi to the hotel with a local driver, hopped into the back of his “jungle jeep” (nothing more than a pickup truck with seats in the back) and drove through more bumpy, unpaved, and dusty roads to get to our hotel. Our backs and backsides were killing us, but as the rain started pouring, we just wanted to get into our room and get showered.
The hotel was called the River Bank Inn, aptly named as it is (as advertised) on the edge of the Rapti River. The staff, all three of them, were very helpful and friendly. We chose the hotel because the guidebook said they owned three of their own elephants and that idea sounded marvelous to Jen; however, when we got there we learned that only four months earlier, the owner sold the elephants because they were too expensive to keep and business wasn’t doing so well. During our time there we learned why.
The hotel had zero ambiance. Up and down the main strip in the town, you can find dozens of safari themed lodges and campgrounds – totally immersing visitors in a jungle experience. The River Bank Inn didn’t do any of that unfortunately (but their breakfasts were some of the better hotel breakfasts we have had over the past few years).
After the rain ceased, we wandered around the town for a while, checking out the local shops and restaurants. The town of Sauraha feels like you’re stepping into a time warp; it’s not just being in an exotic location, it had a very Bedrock vibe to it. We had dinner at a wonderful little place called KCs, which had an entire garden out back and a diner-style menu featuring Indian, Mexican, Italian, and American foods. They’re known for their tandoori dishes so we stuck with eating Indian food while we were there (we went back every night for dinner – it was the best restaurant in town). The sky lit up with beautiful colors of magentas and violets as the sun set across the river and we were treated to some unique sights: elephants walking down the town streets, something we had never seen, nor even fathomed seeing before. Jen’s reaction was priceless!
Our second day activities opened with the primary reason for our visit. Jen donned her bikini and we hiked down to the river so that she could meet and bathe with the elephants. Basically, there are two kinds of elephants in the Chitwan National Park area: government owned and privately owned. Private owners let the elephant handlers, aka mahouts, take their elephants out and around town for various money-making enterprises, one of which is the bathing.
Tourists can help scrub the elephants down while they lay around in the river, or they can get on the beasts’ backs and allow themselves to be sprayed with trunk loads of water. The elephants are trained to suck up the water and then blow it all over their backs and the people on their backs. It’s a lot of fun to watch and even more fun to be soaked. Needless to say, Jen had a blast, no pun intended, playing around with a couple of elephants and then we headed back to the room for showers again.
Southern Nepal (heading toward India), where Chitwan National Park is located is much closer to sea level than the mountainous valleys of Kathmandu. Therefore, it’s much hotter and way more humid than the weather at the monastery. Every day peaked in the mid to high 90s with humidity at about the same. So following our morning activities, we spent the better part of the afternoon holed up in our room in front of the a/c (when the power worked – don’t forget this is Nepal and they only get electricity that works 50% of the time) playing cards or reading together. Once 4:00pm hit and the temperature and humidity dipped down did we brave the elements to venture out into the town again for some shopping, dinner, and night life.
And night life meant the Tharu Stick Dance performances at their cultural hall. Following dinner, we were entertained by a troop performing ancient, local dances to a very loud bongo drum. There was some chanting, but overall it was a bunch of people moving about in a large circle with smaller one-handed sticks or larger two-handed sticks, beating them together to the rhythm of the drum. The announcer had a really bad microphone (and not–so–hot English) so while we couldn’t understand what she was introducing, we were entertained in an awkward sorta way by their costumes and musical numbers. It was obvious that most of the participants cared about their heritage and wanted to put on a good show for those in attendance (about fifty people or so). At the end, they even called willing spectators on stage to join in the final number. That was hectic and chaotic, but everyone appeared to enjoy it and have a great time.
To Be Continued…