I always wanted to see the exotic Asian animals in their natural environment and heard that Royal Chitwan National Park in Nepal was a great place to get dangerously close to these endangered animals. The Chitwan Park warden told us about the many endangered species that live in Chitwan; the Royal Bengal Tiger, Greater One-horned Rhinoceros, Gangetic Dolphin, Wild Asian Elephant, Golden Monitor Lizard, and the Gharial Crocodile.
There are a few community forests around the Rapti river where it is possible to walk around without a guide. The areas are composed of open fields, large sal tree forests, small streams, bamboo, and high grasses. This was perfect to search for wild animals, bird watch, spot weird insects and see how the locals and the elephants would collect grass and timbers. Here walked mostly alone and listened to the birds twittering, parakeets talking, peacocks calling and bright insects buzzing. It was a vividly colored place that was at the same time peaceful and more dangerous than it seemed.
It was totally irresponsible of us to be walking silently to see wild elephants, tigers, leopards, and rhinos. Would it have been any safer to be with a Nepali safari guide armed with a camera or at best a bamboo stick? I think no. Nepal has some serious safety issues and it is wiser to take a proactive approach to all travel here. Society views life as a cycle of many reincarnations and the normal daily answer to problems is ‘Ke garne?’, translated, ‘what can you do?’ is not very reassuring.
After ten days in Sauhara we had started to hear stories of many accidents and close encounters. One night a rhino came walking into our hotel compound and terrified some guests but was chased off. Three days ago a local villager was killed by a rhino as she washed her clothes at the river near the elephant breeding center. Two trekkers were charged by a rhino one evening at sunset near the parks biodiversity center. One afternoon we climbed into trees because of a rhino, he was fifty meters away. From the safety of the tree we watched as he casually walked, munched, and crossed the river. A sex crazed wild male elephant that wanted to mate was in Sauraha many nights and once broke the metal closure of a store front and ate all the fruit. An Indian tourist was also killed by a wild elephant two weeks ago.
Each day from 10 am till noon it was possible to participant in and watch the elephants bathing. This was a special time to see the massive creatures play by rolling around in the water, spraying mud and water on themselves. It was probably the highlight of their tragic life as a captive beast serving humans. They swished their trunks around, splashed and submerged themselves in the river. It seemed that they were able to interact with each other, relax from working and be free from the twelve hours a day they are chained up.
One of the safer things to do near Chitwan park is visit Tandi Bazaar, a local town found 6 km away from the tourist trappings of Sauhara (the park entrance town). It can be easily reached by auto rickshaw or local bus. There was a delicious South Indian vegetarian restaurant (Baishnab Sweets) with great dosa, butter masala paneer, mutton paneer, manchurian veg, a huge lunch thali, butter paratha, veg kofta and a massive sweet case. Once fed we would shop for fruits and veg, usually cucumber, tomatoes, watermelon and bananas. By two pm we would return to the hotel and wait out the 35 degree heat under the enormous ceiling fan.
Most days at sunset we would trek five minutes back to the river to see the wild rhinos, worker elephants, herds of spotted deer, fox, monkeys, wild pigs, peacocks, lizards, parakeets, kingfishers, crocodiles and one leopard. It was great to see these animals but Kathi and I were never really at ease while walking around the river.
One evening we were alone exploring along the river bank and heard the caw of a peacock then spotted it across the river, it heard us and fanned his tail feathers. There were also foxes playing in the grass and two boars loudly running towards the sal forest. I saw a massive herd of about forty spotted deer on the opposite river bank but it was getting to be dusk and I did not want to wander into a rhino. Kathi raced me to the safety of the street crying and panting heavily at our incredulous behaviour. The stress of seeing these unpredictable animals up close was overwhelming and we decided to head back to the Himalaya.