Among crocodiles and gharials
After the spectacular elephant safari (last post) where we saw a one-horned Indian rhinoceros, we went on a dugout canoe trip on the Rapti and a walk in the jungle. The dugout is hollowed from a single long tree trunk and can hold around 15 people. It is narrow and quite shallow, we had to squat single-file at the bottom of the canoe. The tour guide instructed us to sit still and not make any sudden movement because that might capsize the canoe. As we glided down the Rapti, he pointed to the banks. There were large gharials and mugger crocodiles quietly sunning themselves. I quickly withdrew my hand I was trailing in the water. I fancied a crocodile eyeing me for lunch through half closed eyes.
A walk in the jungle
At the end of an hour on the Rapti, we landed on the opposite bank and began our jungle walk. This was another unique Chitwan experience in the company of our tour guide, an experienced naturalist and tracker. He cut an impressive figure with a jaunty hat on his head, a pair of binoculars hanging from his neck and a stout bamboo stick in his hand. He told us what to do and what not to do. In particular, what to do should we run into a rhino or tiger. I filed this in my memory and prayed that his bamboo stick would suffice, if needed. But, just in case, I kept my eyes on the nearest tree to climb, if needed. He pointed out scats, birds, trees and plants, many with medicinal value.
We walked for a couple hours observing the flora and fauna of Chitwan. Seeing the jungle on foot is a totally different experience from seeing it on an elephant or in a Jeep. It is more raw and intimate, but naturally more tiring and you cover less ground. After walking for a couple hours, we were tired and ready for a breather which we got at the elephant breeding center. Here, elephants are bred and trained for use as safari elephants. There were a few cute baby elephants with their mothers and their playful antics were a joy to watch. They are given elephant treats; balls of rice, molasses and salt wrapped in leaves which they greatly enjoy.
We drove back to Sauraha and around dusk, sat on a high ledge on the river bank and watched the sun set, the colors reflected in the shimmering waters of the Rapti. The darkening jungle was on the other side and we watched as the colors faded in the gathering gloom and the night time sounds of the forest began to pick up. It was a befitting end to my stay in Chitwan.
Kathmandu: Swayambhunath Stupa and Durbar Square
The next day I left for Kathmandu where I saw Swayambhunath (a Buddhist stupa), and the old temples and buildings of Durbar Square. I paused to reflect on the centuries of history around me. These have stood for a long time. From Kathmandu I flew to India and then to the US. I realized that I had spent eight days without cellphone or email, I had not missed them at all. I had spent eight, very pleasant days in Nepal wholly devoted to enjoying the scenery, the wildlife and relaxing. Since I was traveling solo, I had more time and opportunity to interact with the locals and learn about their life in an ancient land. Traveling solo also enabled me to set the agenda and travel at my own pace, a definite plus. I returned relaxed, refreshed, with many good memories, photos, stories and a fresh look on life.
Epilogue: After the earthquake
The earthquake in Nepal in April 2015, led me to introspect and refocus. Many of the ancient temples I had seen in Durbar Square are now a heap of rubble. I made several friends in Pokhara, Chitwan and Kathmandu. Are they alive and well? I do not know.
We see wars, revolutions and social unrest destroying priceless artifacts, museums and historic sites. We may not always appreciate that natural disasters like earthquakes, avalanches and volcanic eruptions can suddenly wipe out cities and ancient monuments in minutes. Life is ephemeral. Enjoy, wisely.