There seemed to be religious site all over the place in India and this als0 appears to be the case in Nepal. The border town of Lumbini is supposedly the birthplace of Lord Buddha. Therefore Buddhists from around the world travel here as a pilgrimage. Located on the birth site is the Maya Devi Temple. The temple itself is more modern but there are archaeological areas around displaying the ruins of much older structures. Outside are nice gardens, conveying the sort of peaceful atmosphere that’s conductive to meditation and reflection.
After a few hours driving through forest and farmland we arrived in Saurara, right on the edge of the Chitwan National Park. We wouldn’t be venturing into the park today itself but our guide for Chitwan, Fule (Fu-Lay), took us out on a bike ride. After riding barely 50 yards from the hotel an elephant passed us, travelling in the opposite direction along Saurara’s main street. It wasn’t a wild elephant, in the sense that someone was riding it. I’ll go into the elephant situation in more detail in a couple of days. Fule took us around some of the back streets and we called in at an indigenous village. It was quite the simple life sort of place. The village was largely self-sufficient. Most food is either grown or obtained from farm animals, with excess sold at the market. Electricity is gained from solar panels and gas is made as a byproduct from cow doings that have been stewing in an underground tank. A bus load of school children arrived back at the village. In this part of the world, school is a 6-days-per week thing, including Sundays! To get back into town we cycled along the river where a huge crocodile was lounging on the opposite bank. Ajay said that this was the river that we’d be canoeing down to enter the national park tomorrow. I can’t always tell whether he’s joking but on this occasion I suspected probably not.
The Chitwan National Park is a huge draw, so the gateway village of Saurara is quite touristy. Its main road is full of hotels, cafes, tour agencies and gift shops but is pleasant enough. There’s a whole load of restaurants along the river where you can can sit on the terraces and enjoy the view. Unfortunately by the time we got there tonight it was already dark. Despite this some of the group insisted upon sitting at the bottom of the outside area, next to the pitch black river. I bet the waiter must have loved carrying the food all the way down there in almost darkness, over some fairly uneven ground. However as with most Nepalese people he did all of this with a smile. Almost everyone so far has been friendly and polite with nothing seeming to be too much trouble.
The menu options in Nepal have certainly been more varied than in India. Everywhere seems to have the Nepalese, Chinese and Indian options, as well as your standard international dishes of meat and chips, etc. Booze seems to also much more widely available in Nepal. However beer is quite expensive. A 650ml bottle of local beer in one of the many convenience stores in Saurara will cost about £2. In a restaurant once the 13% tax and 10% service charge has been added on it can be close to £4 per beer. In many cases this is more expensive than the meal itself. Local spirits are better for budget drinkers with these setting you back about £1 plus a bit extra for a mixer. Bizarrely Tuborg, the Danish lager, seems extremely popular in Nepal. They have advertisements all over the place. One of the idiosyncrasies of tonight’s restaurant, which was quite nice, was that as well as having extensive alcohol options, they also sold cigarettes via the menu!