Chitwan National Park

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Nepal
By Jane Tantanstar

Nov. 30

Chitwan Buffer Zone
Chitwan Buffer Zone
The river is a buffer zone. After a foggy dugout boat ride past a dozing crocodile, we walked through the jungle and spot a zillion different bird species. The parakeets, sparrows, storks, woodpeckers, egrets, and sandpipers sweep and mingle along the banks, in and out of sand holes, and through the trees. Our guide pointed out various tracks both large and small and we then walked uninterrupted for an hour or so. Mind the broken trees that indicate wild elephants.

We walked back to the Hermitage Hotel, had some lunch, and then climbed up a ladder to board an elephant – that at first did not seem very wild. We met up with ten other elephants, space ourselves out, and headed into the jungle around the boundary of the park. About an hour into our ride, we came upon a rhinoceros. We were able to see it from roughly 10 meters away, amid trumpeting, the growing restlessness of our carrier, and some fierce brushing of trees over our heads, before it bolted away and was gone.

Toward the end of our trip, our elephant decided to get into a bidding war with two others to see who was stronger and deserved to lead us back home. This lead to some solid tantrums, and several trees getting head-butted to the ground – while we were still on top! There was laughing and a little screaming, and some speed like you’d never think an elephant could pick up. Someplace in there, Sara, a woman we are traveling with, dropped her hat. The elephant promptly ran back (under guidance from its driver), nailed it with its trunk and flung it up over our heads back to her.

Chitwan Rhino
Chitwan Rhino
As we rounded the corner to come back to town, the sun was going down. A lone woman bicycle rider curved toward us in a huge arch, with the grasslands not far behind. It was an unforgettable moment under the backdrop of a streaking, red jungle sunset; this woman pedaling silently along closer, and then right by, her large load of tall green grass bending with every stroke from her slender legs. That perfect quality and temperature seemed silly for the last day of November.

Dec. 1
The only suggestion of Christmas are the house-high poinsettia bushes scattered throughout the edges of the park, in the villages… standing over lazy little goats, and their kids. On the bus ride back to Kathmandu, I’m sitting on the cliffy river side. We’re looking down over the water that flows southward into the park. Long slender boats move gently from shore to shore. The deep emerald green clearly lines the white rock edges, with the darker green of the jungle towering far above. You can see the horizontal monsoon scars all along the higher banks. High waters must ram through this valley with supernatural force. For now, the river is wide, but calm, and it rolls along as steady as the hearts of the people around it. Waterfalls stud the other side of the valley, where I’m studying the small houses and farms. We pass bridalveil after bridalveil, and by now none of the passengers remain sensitive to it.

Just now down in the river, I see the body of a similar bus right up straight below us. It is sleeping there now, with its front end smashed in from an accident 3 days ago when it rolled down the embankment, possibly killing all of its passengers. Our Dutch friend, Rene, smiles nervously from an inside seat and asks, “The bus?” We all smile and shrug, going back to our books and papers. The sun comes out over the next canyon, and the spectacle opens back up into the present moment. I am again carried away by that brilliant, green water. We leave Nepal tomorrow and I wonder if the fish that dart past a small, solo fisherman far below… will they beat us over the jungle Mountains into the heart of India?

Elephant Sunset
Elephant Sunset
Our experience here was beautiful. Although an elephant ride to see a rhino risks some serious camp factor, the absence of 1/2 the usual tourists, the humble kindness of our cabana staff, and our trip to the local culture house for traditional stick dancing, ensured at last few authentic days in Nepal. I just can’t get over the expressions on the faces of the staff in this very sweet and very under-used cabin hotel. I am reminded of a line from a song by Greg Brown. It looped through my mind as I fell asleep our last night there. “Even in my dreams, I see their shining eyes. They pierce me and leave me with no cover.”





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