Part 3 – jungle trekking – After a hearty breakfast in the picturesque Riverview Restaurant, I contract a jungle trekking in an area part of the Royal Chitwan National Park. Along with two young guides in military fatigues and flip-flops, we embark on what they call a canoe: it is a dugout made from a carved tree trunk into which were added four wooden seats.
The canoe departs in a bit of a wobbly way, which does not instil much trust in us as the water almost reaches the edge of the boat. The rower does everything possible to keep us balanced while we enjoy nature show. Meanwhile, one of the guides, bearing the book ‘Birds of Nepal’, enunciates common and scientific names of a number of birds that fly over us, amongst which it is worth mentioning the Kingfisher, a bird that sports a beautiful wingspan and an almost poetic flight. The bird that gives the name to the most famous Indian beer.
As we are sailing against the current we spot something floating in the opposite direction that has the shape of a trunk; we are only a few meters from it when we realise it is actually a crocodile! We then negotiate a couple of rapids where the water is flowing faster: here we must hold on hard while small waves enter the canoe getting us wet. The landscape is remarkably impressive. First we notice a woman carrying on her back a bundle of branches and grass twice her size. She has dark skin and her face-traits are unmistakably indigenous; crossing the river with the help of a stick, she keeps the bundle in balance thanks to a long cloth passed around her forehead. After a while we pass by a herd of water buffaloes that is crossing through the water at a point where it is relatively low; all around us is only silence and the dense green of the jungle.
One hour has passed when we finally approach a small beach where the dugout lands. We part from the boatman and together with the two guides we set off for the trek. The guides carry a wood stick for protection “in case we were so unlucky to face a tiger”, they say. Do they expect to face the tiger armed with a wooden stick? I later read that local guides are generally inexperienced, and several of them have been mauled by tigers in recent years, with a few tourists following the same fate in a couple of occasions… This is promising.
In a short time, the path runs through a dense forest and leads us to an elephant camp managed by the Nepalese Government in collaboration with the United States. We walk through a field where dozens of cows, buffaloes and goats are grazing and we are soon amongst elephants of all ages and sizes. Large and healthy-looking pachyderms have their paws chained to large logs cemented to the ground. The small ones, up to three years of age, roam free for our delight, thus giving us the opportunity to pet them and take some nice pictures with them. I caress the bristling skin of what appears to be the most docile of creatures, while other tourists enjoy feeding long leaves and stems to the larger ones, who quietly appreciate.
The adrenaline that built up during the canoe ride is having the best of me, and after having made a complete tour of the elephant farm we head to the ox-cart that will take us back to the village. The obliging, toothless driver is dressed in rugs and his skin is burned by the sun; we take a picture together for fond memories, he pointlessly attempts to communicate with me, and we are soon on our way. During the comfortable one-hour ride, our coachman spurs his oxen relentlessly. We have all the time of the world to closely observe scenes of local life in the various shacks the cart passes by. The guide explains that these villages are inhabited by Lurung ethnic groups, a caste hailing from the Nepalese hills. They are mostly farmers, arrived here in the Terai after in 1960 the Nepalese Government was able to totally eradicate malaria from the area.
The sun is setting, it has done its duty for the whole day, warming us long enough. We get gently overtaken by tourists on bicycle; others whiz by on convertible jeeps. We watch several local men pushing rudimentary bicycles loaded with long bundles of grass; they are heading home, where their wives are cooking strongly aromatic dhaal bhat (a Nepali lentil dish) in stone and mud furnaces.
We finally arrive at destination, and the cart drops us right inside the hotel courtyard. We thank driver and guide and we take leave; it was a long and tiring day full of positive happenings, a day that closes the curtain on my experience in Royal Chitwan National Park and in the Terai, a fantastic area of Nepal that I did not even know it existed.
CHITWAN on the INTERNET: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chitwan_District