Looking for Rhinos and Tigers

Trip Start Jan 04, 2008
Trip End Dec 17, 2008

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Thursday, October 9, 2008

The next morning we drove from Lumbini to the Royal Chitwan National Park.  The original plan was for us to travel on public buses but Ravi had given us the option to change this to a private bus. We were quite thankful that we had taken up his offer when we first saw the over crowded public buses with tens of people sitting on the roof and then passed a couple of buses that had been wiped out - one by a logging truck. 
After a 5 hour journey we arrived at our hotel and settled in at the bar for some lunch.  Our afternoon entertainment was a trip to the elephant breeding centre.  We met outside the hotel where Ravi introduced us to our transport - bicycles.  The ride was about 3km firstly on paved roads and then on gravel/rubble (not so comfy on the bum!)  Alex was having some issues with his chain and he and Ravi arrived about 10 minutes after everyone else covered in oil.  We took the small ferry across the river being careful not to lean too far incase we ended up swimming with the buffalos.  We expected the breeding centre to be a conservation project so were a little surprised to find that it was set up to breed these great animals to work for the government in tourism projects.  Apart from being chained up (to protect themselves from each other) they seemed quite happy and were taken to the river and into the jungle everyday.  Having seen a newborn and also an unborn elephant moving in it's mothers stomach we headed back to the bikes.  However, there was a big queue for the ferry man so Ravi suggested we wade across.  Not a bad idea when you're 6ft 5 as he is when you're 5ft 3 or under (as Kim and I were) you end up soaked to the top of your thighs.  After the cycle back with Alex having more chain issues and swapping bikes with Ravi we met up and went for dinner.  The hotel had recommended the restaurant a couple of doors down the street and after a good feed we fond that our waiter was addicted to dancing- especially to the Macarena - we couldn't get him to stop !
The next morning saw the start of our 2 day safari into the heart of the park.  We started heading downstream in dugout canoes spying Gharials (long snouted crocs) and Marsh Muggers (small stocky crocs) on the banks plus thousands of sand martins flying overhead that were nesting in the banks.  After about an hour and a half we climbed up the muddy bank and prepared to set off on foot.  Preparations mostly being trying to stop the leeches getting in your boots.  So it was trousers in socks, a good spray of Deet, and a generous sprinkling of salt around the ankles and in the top of your shoes.  As we were split into 2 groups we could already see many leeches in the grass - disgusting things....
We set off with 2 guides armed with sticks in each group with each of us on leech watch for the person in front.  The first section was on a fairly well worn track but soon we headed off into the undergrowth on the hunt for a deer one of the guides had heard.  After a few minutes we had managed to track it down and got a coupleof snaps before it ran off. 
Apart from the many types of deer and small mammals there was also the chance we could come across leopards, rhinos and even tigers.  Quite a scary thought when we were waist deep in shrubs and the guides only had sticks - no guns allowed in the park !  Just before lunch the guides pointed to a watchtower where we were to eat - all good apart from the big stream between s and the tower so it was boots off after assurance that there aren't leeches in moving water....not sure about that one but we didn't get any on us.
After a relaxing half hour or so we headed off on foot again and after about an hour one of the guides heard a rhino.  In almost total silence we crept through the trees and came upon a large male about 75ft away.  He didn't seem to mind us at first but then he started to turn towards us (an act of aggression according to our guides) and so they had us running for big trees to hide behind.  We did wonder whether they were joking or not until they outran us to the bigger trees for cover.  4 tonnes of rhinorunning at 40mph isn't going to be a soft impact.  Got to give credit to Dave here for his video of the rhino - cheers fella.  After another hours walking which was less eventful we arrived at our lodge for the nit and had a nice hot shower.
The next morning we set off at 8am and after a couple of hours arrived at the crocodile breeding centre - this time it was a conservation project to increase the numbers in the wild.  After the elephant breeding centre I was wondering whether we'd find ourselves in a handbag shop at the end of it !  These were all Gharial Crocs (long snouts) and were to be released into the wild when they were about 3 yrs old.  The other animal to see here was an adolescent female tiger.  Her mother had killed a human and fed the body to her cubs.  As the three had a taste for human flesh they could not be left in the wild so they either had to be shot or caged.  The mother and one cub died from the tranquiliser but the other survived and was now housed in a compound within the crocodile centre.
Having thought that it would be cool to see a wild tiger - I was soon thankful we didn't.  You could get right up to the sides of the compound and just as I was about to take a picture the tiger came along, looked right at me of me and roared.  Taking into consideration that the fence was pretty rotten it was one of the scariest animal moments I have had. Ravi's suggestion that if we saw one in the wild we should stand tall and scare it away just wouldn't work for me.  So in the end no wild tiger encounters - and for that I was quite thankful !
After a coupleof hours in jeeps past rice paddy fields and through somemore jungle we arrived back at the hotel.  As our jeep had a few fan belt issues on the way back we just had time to drop off the bags and head off for elephant washing.  Expecting to be given a brush and told to scrub, we were surprised to be told to climb onto the elephant.  She then waded into the river with three of us and her handler and proceeded to drench us then tossed us into the river - all very amusing for those watching from the bank.  We were told to climb back on - which was quite good as swimming with a few tonnes of elephant was quite daunting.  After being launched a few more times bath time was over - and I think that we had more of a bath than the elephant  !
That afternoon it was our last activity in Chitwan - an elephant safari.  As we mounted the 3 elephants I was muttering about it being a bit of a tourist trap outing and "we're never going to see anything"  Well as I often am these days I was wrong and within 10 minutes we were within 6 feet of wild rhinos.  Apparently they are used to the elephants being around and don't identify the people on top of them as any kind of threat.  So after 2 days of tracking rhinos on foot, walking 20km and seeing one we spent 90 minutes on the elephants and saw 9 rhinos including 2 young ones with their mothers - it was an amazing sight to see such rare animals so close up...
After dinner Alex found some blokes playing the Nepal equivalent of Crown & Anchor and with one bet managed to double his money making $14 - oooh.  Ravi thought he was some kind of gambling Guru after us spending our time on the ganges trying to get him to gamble...thank goodness he is strong willed or Alex would have had him smoking, drinking and gambling by the end of the trip !
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