The drive from Kathmandu to Chitwan is through steep mountain terrain down into the Chitwan Valley. You are now on flat plains, surrounded by mountains in the distance. This bowl is hot even at the beginning of May, when we were there. The drive itself was tedious. The road out of Kathmandu was more like a “make your own road” kind. Dust was flying everywhere, potholes and dust made up a so-called road. Once we were on the ghat road it was better. The driver was of course in top-gear, speeding along the ghat road on steep inclines! We held our heart in hand and prayed we would be okay! The car stopped at a small rest stop called Blue Heaven. It seemed to be the only decent pit stop around and had a huge buffet lunch spread. There were a lot of tourist buses there. Tourists from all over the world could be spotted with plates of food, spread out indoors and out, at casual wooden tables.
We reached Chitwan National Park after a drive of about six hours. The first thing we noticed was that it was so hot and humid there! Humidity is high just before the monsoons start in June.
Early the next morning we were off on our first adventure in Chitwan, an elephant ride to see the rhinos inside the forest. We climbed up a ladder/steps onto a platform where we waited for an elephant to reach. We observed 5 other platforms with people getting onto elephants. The elephants carry a square plank on their backs with a railing running around the plank. this plank could hold four people at a time. We were backed up against each other, hanging on to the rails. The mahout guided the elephant into the jungle. Slowly we plodded unevenly into the jungle through a cleared path no doubt, but there were a lot of tree branches and bushes brushing against us as we made our way. We reached a pond covered with lots of violet flowers and green leaves. We could see a few lumps here and there. These were the rhinos, the guide announced. A few rhinos did stir a bit to show that they were alive while others just ignored these irritating humans. We gaped and gaped some more and remembered to take photos. The guide did give us some info about the rhinos. there were more than 800 rhinos as late as the 1950s and today these beautiful animals are in danger of extinction.
Many of you may not approve of riding elephants . The Nepali claim that the elephants are trained humanely at open camps that we can visit. The endangered rhino population has received funds due to the access people have been provided by the elephant rides. So whether you agree with the means to get the results they desperately need to save the hippos, is another story.
In the last hour of our excursion into the wild, the sky grew dark as ominous clouds gathered and the wind picked up speed. We thought we would make it back but we were soaking wet by the time we came back to the off-loading platform! We slipped and slid off the elephant onto the platform, and clambered down. It didn’t matter much because the closest shelter was crowded with fellow tourists about 500 meters away. So we decided to ride back to the hotel in the open jeep and enjoyed the splatter of the warm rain thoroughly!
That same evening we rode in an open jeep through the village of Sauraha to see the sunset over the jungle. We sat on lounge chairs arranged close to tables as the sun slowly sank behind the forest, with the Rapti river in the foreground. We passed through the Tharu village, which is a tribe of people who migrated from India centuries ago. The quaint village had kids, chickens, and mud-thatched huts. The friendly people allowed us to take a peek into their homes.
After the sunset, we entered an auditorium to watch the Tharu Cultural Program. The AC was a bit tricky and if you were smart, you sat near the vents for better cooling. The folk songs and dances were interesting. The highlight was the peacock dance and the fire dance, scary but fun!
All three meals were part of our package, because Sauraha is really an isolated place. It is wise to eat at your resort, relax, and enjoy the resort.
The next morning after a good breakfast it was time to leave for Pokhara to see the great Himalayan range closer!