Over lunch at McDonal’s (a fast food restaurant much, much better than Maccie D’s), Emily, one of the other TEFL students, was discussing going to Chitwan for the weekend. At the time it seemed a good idea and so I agreed to share taxi, especially since the waiter at McDonal’s said it would only cost 2500 rupees (about $30).
After class I rushed back to the hotel room to throw my things in a bag and I met Emily at 5.20pm. Then the fun started. Every taxi quoted us 10k (~$120) for the journey. Hmmm, a lot more than we were willing to pay. We bartered and bartered and bartered some more, but we could get nowhere near 2500 rupees. Our best price was 6k; after a lot of faffing we agreed to that, to then be told the car was no longer available. Grrrr, I hate bartering. In the end we paid 7k (about $42 each). Not quite the bargain we were hoping for, but it was now 7.20pm and we needed to hit the road. I really did not fancy those hairpin bends at night – gulp!!!! However, thank goodness, our driver was fantastic and he didn’t try any fancy overtaking.
TIP: Spontaneity is great, but since we were desperate to go that night it didn’t give us much room to barter. In hindsight we should have organised the taxi lunch time. If you are going long distances I recommend you book your ride a few hours ahead and even better a few days before.
The journey out of Kathmandu was mayhem; we were stuck in a traffic jam until 9pm. At 10.30pm we stopped for a break. At this rate we were not going to get to Chitwan until gone midnight. Our spontaneous trip to Chitwan was starting to sound like a very bad idea. We decided it was best to ring ahead and book a hotel. Sounds great in theory, in practice none of the telephone numbers worked or no one picked up since the office was probably closed for the night. However, finally someone from the Eden Jungle Resort called me back to give me the local manager’s mobile number. Relieved I called the number, but the local guy just hang up on me :o( I got the driver to try, but same result. Unsure now what we were going to do, we continued on our journey. I thought if the worse came to the worse we could plead with the driver to sleep in his car. Around 1am we reached Chitwan. Everything is shut. No lights on anywhere. We headed to the Eden Jungle Resort, winding through lots of dark back streets, to finally see a man waving to us. By some miracle our message had got through and we had a room for the night.
Recommendation: I would highly recommend the Eden Jungle Resort: the room was cheap, spacious and clean; the staff very friendly; in comparison to the other tour groups they were cheaper, so all activities were arranged through them ; and finally free transport to the bus stop.
Day 1 – A Walk on the Wild Side
Emily really wanted to wash the elephants, so after breakfast we headed down to the river. I was pre-warned, but I still found it hard to stomach the mahouts with their metal hooks to hit the elephants. I found a mahout who only had a stick to control the elephant, so we chose to bathe with that one. Emily was braver than me; she rode bare back, to be soaked by the elephant’s trunk and then thrown off has he rolled. She had a great time! I just gave the elephant’s back a scrub, which made me happy.
TIP: There are lots of flying beasties in Chitwan, so take your bug spray.
In the afternoon we signed up for a canoe and walking trip in the Chitwan National Park. It was beautiful floating down the river, jungle either side, in a dugout boat; except for the crocodile infested waters. They were pretty big and they wouldn’t think twice about eating you for lunch or even just for a snack. I kept my arms safely in the canoe.
After being shown HUGE holes on the banks of the river, that are the home of the beasts, we get out of the boat and walk along the top of the bank. My heart was in my mouth. Our guide then goes on to say, if we see a tiger we need to look him in his eyes and if a rhino charges then climb a tree. I look around at the trees and I’m not sure I could climb any of them. I walk very nervously, checking to my left and my right constantly. I guess to my relief the only wild life we saw were monkeys and deer; and the most gruesome were two leeches. I was only in sandals, but I managed to survive the leech infested jungle.
TIP: To increase your chances of seeing a rhino on a jungle walk then go in a small group. There were about 10 in our group. Everyone was chatting, lots of crunching of leaves and so, we probably scared most of the wild life away.
The last stop was an elephant breeding centre. There was a baby elephant only 15 days old, oh really sweet. One of the facts we learnt about the centre is, once a year a wild elephant comes there to have his wicked way with the ladies (about 10). The poor females, their feet are chained and then this wild beast comes in to have as much fun as he wants.
Day 2 – Striking Gold
We had a very early start to go elephant trekking. Getting on an elephant is quite a challenge; you climb a small platform and then clamber on to his back. Four tourists and a mahout squeezed on to ours. It was very atmospheric morning, with a low fog and dank air. I thought it was an enjoyable start to the day, swaying back and fro on the back of an elephant, trekking through the lush jungle. Emily agreed more with the Lonely Planet’s definition “Riding an elephant is thrilling rather than comfortable”. Maybe she was concentrating more on dodging the flying branches and ducking from the monster spider webs. I agree, it was slightly nerve racking, descending the banks of the river, has everyone in the basket is hurled forward.
Surprisingly, we got very close to lots of deer and a small troop of monkeys. The elephant’s scent apparently disguises ours. Rambling through the jungle we struck gold. A one horned rhino taking his morning bath. That made my day, since there were so many tourists on elephant back, I really didn’t expect to see one. It’s amazing to say I have been within 10m of a wild rhino. I was so close I could see him wiggle his ears. He was probably wondering “what do I need to do around here to have a bath in peace?” A perfect end to my trip to Chitwan.
Lady luck still with us, we managed to get the last 2 seats on the tourist bus back to Kathmandu. It was good to do the journey in daylight. The Himalayas didn’t disappoint, it was a stunning journey, the road slowly winding around the mountains back to Kathmandu.