During breakfast at the hotel one of the staff showed me a video on his phone. He said that it was taken earlier this morning as he was walking into work. It showed a rhinoceros walking down the main street in Saurara, past the shops and into the drive of a hotel about two along from ours! Apparently this is not uncommon although one of those creatures walking past your window would give you the shock of your life. That’s not the last time that rhinos will be mentioned today.
We walked down to the river to discover that Ajay wasn’t joking about canoeing through crocodile infested waters. I’d done a bit of research about crocodile safety on this river. It turns out that there are two species. By far the most common type allegedly don’t eat humans. The other crocodile is a maybe. However I couldn’t find any reports of deaths and any a couple of Youtube videos where crocodiles have had a little go at a canoe. The guide, Fule, said that by far the most dangerous animal in the park is the sloth bear which are aggressive so-and-sos and will have no qualms about attacking people. With nine of us in the canoe, as well as a bloke standing at the back paddling and steering, this was another activity not designed for my people of my build. It’s amazingly how the the fear of falling out in front of a huge crocodile overrides a bit of a stiff back or numb bum so I didn’t feel the need to adjust position too much and risk rocking the boat. When I eventually realised that the canoe was unlikely to capsize and that a croc attack was unlikely, I started to quite enjoy the ride. As well as spotting loads of crocodiles there were also a few deer and lots of birds around. The highlight of the canoe ride though was seeing a rhino on the waters edge of the opposite bank. Ajay said that he’s done this trip loads of times and has never seen a rhino from the river. We must have been in luck!
We left the canoe behind and were collected by a jeep. It was a safari-style vehicle with no roof, where you sit at quite a high level. Apparently walking safaris are no longer available in Chitwan National Park. I’m not sure why but suspect that there may have been some sort of incident. The park is supposed to offer some of the best wildlife viewing in Asia. Allegedly there are a few tigers around but the odds of seeing one is a long shot. I’d never been on a safari before but unsurprisingly they consist of driving around for hours looking for animals. Obviously Fule and the jeep driver have a bit of an idea where they are most likely to be but the process can be a bit hit and miss as we were constantly disclaimed!
Within Chitwan are quite a few checkpoints. These are manned by the Nepalese Army and have effectively stopped animal poaching from the area. There are signs around that display the number of days since the last recorded poaching and this figure recently passed through 1000 days. During our four hours of driving we managed to see a far bit of wildlife. A sloth bear ran across the road in front of us, quite a few deer were about, the odd wild boar, some monkeys, in addition to lots of birds. It came to a point where later in the afternoon we hadn’t seen much for probably about an hour. I wouldn’t say that I was bored but was certainly thinking about getting to the hotel. Ahead of us, two other jeeps had stopped at the roadside. There was a quite bit of pointing into the thick undergrowth. When the guide on the jeep in front started telling people to be quiet I suspected that there was more than a monkey in there. I couldn’t tell what it is from my angle but judging by the rustling of the bushes it sounded big. Then a rhino only went and poked its head out! Undeterred by the audience it continued to eat the plant life while moving closer towards the road. We were probably about 10 yards away. It carried on doing this for about 5 minutes, providing ample opportunities for photos and selfies. Then the rhino casually crossed the road between the jeeps and wandered off in the next field. Safaris have never particularly appealed much to me in the past but seeing something like this was amazing. The rhino almost didn’t even seem real. Its armour-like body looked as though it belonged in the dinosaur age. In another day of firsts for Ajay, he told us that this was the closet and best view he’s had of a rhino.
We got another canoe across the river to tonight’s accommodation. It was advertised as a lodge but the family owned business seemed to have done well off tourist visits and they’d built a block of rooms that were up to the standard of a half-decent hotel. It was set in a lovely location beside the river, where you could enjoy a beer at sunset. Tonight’s buffet meal was also great. The host family were incredibly friendly. Someone asked for a Coke at the bar but they’d ran out. The barman apologised and said that if the customer didn’t mind waiting, he’d go to the shop on his motorbike to get them one. Of courses out of politeness, this kind offer was refused. Some of the younger members of family were keen to practice their English and ask questions about the world outside of the national park. I’m never sure whether people are joking when they tell me that they learn English from watching television shows from Comedy Central!