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Nepal: Chitwan National Park

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We left Patan at 6:30am and headed to Chitwan National Park, which was about a five hour drive. Laxman, the cooler than cool captain we've had for the past two days, was our main man on this journey as well. Let's talk about our experience for a second though (okay, maybe a few minutes). This wasn't your typical well kept up, wide, multi lane highway. This was a one lane, unpaved, overcrowded, cliff hanging (literally) kind of road. If I didn't have grey hairs before, I sure have them now. I mean wow. Every turn was a gamble. You honk to give warning but that doesn't mean the other car speeding around the corner will slow down for you. Jennifer was so frightened in the front that she had to start knitting herself a scarf to keep her eyes and mind off what was happening. There was a ton of construction going on as well. And trust me, there really wasn't enough room for everything to be happening at once. Good thing the construction workers were all in shorts, tank tops and sandals. Happy to know they are protected should a massive landslide come falling down yet again (which is what they are working on to begin with). The drive was so bumpy at certain points I felt like one of those hula dancers you put on your dashboard that moves her hips like Shakira. To top it off, there was so much traffic. Huge buses were trying to squeeze through the tiniest openings. It reminded me in a not so comparable way of Tommy Boy - "fat guy in a little coat". You think it should fit, you want it to fit but it most likely won't fit. However, as always, I like to focus more on the positive so let's transition to the cup being half full. The scenery was beautiful. There were roaring rapids in the water below us, gigantic mountains that surrounded us everywhere we turned and tiny, underdeveloped villages that lined the cliff side. Seeing life outside the city, in a more rural aspect, is how you truly understand a culture at its best.



After an exhilarating, nerve wrecking, heart racing, want to pull your hair out of your head, hope to not bite every nail off kind of ride, we finally arrived safely, in one piece at Chitwan National Park, thanks to our Formula 1 driver, Laxman.


Green Park, where we will be staying for the next two nights, has a motto of "Where Culture Meets Class". Within five minutes, we could tell this was the perfect escape. The grass was definitely greener on this side, the flowers were more colorful, the air was fresher and we were welcomed with a cold wash cloth and some fresh mango juice (which I am beyond obsessed with now). Oh and there was no electricity from 8am-6pm. We quickly learned it wasn't just a city thing, it truly was a country wide shortage. So crazy.




Our rooms were right next to each other and we had adjoining balconies. Now I can yell to Jennifer through the walls versus having to walk a short distance to her house in the dark (not sure if she will love that though).



We settled in, had lunch, Jennifer went swimming and then around 3:30pm, we began our tour of a Tharu Village, which was conducted on an Ox Cart. Yes, an Ox Cart. We felt like we were living in The Oregon Trail game that was a huge hit in the 90's. We literally traveled back in time and it was simply stupendous.



Tharu is an ethnic group indigenous to the Terai, the southern foothills of the Himalayas in Nepal and India. The Tharu people themselves say that they are people of the forest. In Chitwan, they have lived here for hundreds of years practicing a short fallow shifting cultivation. They plant rice, mustard, corn and lentils, but also collect forest products such as wild fruits, vegetables, medicinal plants and materials to build their houses. Additionally, they hunt deer, rabbit and wild boar, and frequently go fishing in the rivers and oxbow lakes. They are recognized as an official nationality by the Government of Nepal. The majority of Tharu live in Nepal where they constitute 13.5% of the total population. Interestingly, historians consider the Tharus to be the direct descendants of Gautama Buddha. This was the most simple village I've ever seen. All of the houses were made by them, having no windows, which they believed kept out the bad demons.

The kids were ridiculously adorable with larger than life smiles and the most infectious laughter. They were the poster children for what genuine, unconditional happiness looks like (well maybe not on camera).





Women would get tribal tattoos upon marriage, which distinguished them as part of the Tharu Village. Unfortunately, according to our guide Tommy, this tradition has been lost over time. But this lady had one so I captured it.


Scenic beauty was taken to a whole new level here. It was so calming to be in the middle of nowhere, at this village, with endless sights to observe.



An mysterious women watching after her goats...


Buffalo bathing...


Hanging out along the river, enjoying the perfect weather with the perfect company...



Pleasant surprise of cannabis growing...


Open fields of grass, flowers and village homes...





The sun gracefully setting...


That night we went to a Tharu cultural dance at a local auditorium, which kind of felt like a high school performance in a cheesy yet entertaining way. At the end, a peacock came out, showed us his moves and shook his tail feathers. It was extremely funny. The whole crowd bursted into laughter.



The next morning, we went on a canoe ride down the river. This was a manmade boat that was completely submersed in the water more than it wasn't. We felt like we were going to tip over at certain points. There were eight of us total. Me, Jennifer, Vinny and Tommy (our guide), a rower in the front and a rower in the back, and then a random girl from Indonesia and her guide. It sure was awesome. Peaceful, serene, tranquil, calm and quiet. I kept wanting to burst out singing "Just Around the River Bend" from Pocahontas.





We saw colorful birds...





Tons of crocodiles, just laying there, almost lifeless...






Then we walked through the forest for a little...





Next up, we visited an elephant breeding center, where a handful of Asian Elephants call home. This center was created because the elephant population was becoming endangered in Nepal. In 2008, for the second time in history, a set of twins were born here. The first time was down in Sri Lanka. Now that's pretty cool. The twins are all grown up now but there were two baby elephants present, both two months old (not related though), and it was so incredible watching the interaction between mother and child. Plus, watching the multitask use of their trunk (which has a staggering 100,000 different muscles), was neat as well. They would cover themselves in dust to ward off mosquitoes and avoid getting sunburn or scratch their backside with a bamboo stick or enjoy a refreshing shower by sucking water into their trunks and spraying it all over themselves. One random fact we learned was that having a baby elephant is a serious commitment. Elephants have a longer pregnancy than any other mammal--almost 22 months. At birth, elephants already weigh some 200 pounds and stand about three feet. tall. And we thought a nine month pregnancy with an eight pound baby was difficult?




We also watched the mahouts (elephant carers) prepare kuchilis, which are elephant sweets made from molasses, salt and rice wrapped in grass. The elephants apparently eat about a hundred of these a day. Why were the elephants thrown out of the swimming pool? Because they couldn't hold their trunks up!


Jennifer and I then went into "town" while Vinny had his Vinny time. It was pretty small and mostly consisted of shops filled with clothes, crafts and souvenirs. The one thing I loved was the owners didn't harass you or overwhelm you. They almost didn't even notice you were there. This was a lot more enjoyable of an experience because of it too.


Our final activity of the day was an elephant ride through Chitwan National Park. A total of 68 species of mammals, 544 species of birds, 56 species of herpetofauna and 126 species of fish have been recorded to live in the Park and it is especially renowned for its protection of One Horned Rhinoceros, Royal Bengal Tigers and Gharial Crocodiles. A funny story about this. When I was emailing with the woman at our hotel arranging for the elephant safari, I asked her if we were able to see the One Horned Rhinoceros. Her response was "fingers crushed you'll get to see them". I think she meant to say fingers crossed but the language barrier got in the way. I sure hope my fingers don't get crushed.

As we walked up a wooden platform of about six stairs, we slowly and carefully boarded our elephant. It was me, Jennifer, Vinny and then a random local Nepalese guy. About five minutes into our journey, our "driver" got a phone call. In the middle of the jungle. While on an elephant. Of course he answered it, why not? This isn't the USA, talking and driving must be legal here.


Then about fifteen minutes into our journey, we ended up seeing three different pairs of mamma and baby one horned rhinos. One pair was sleeping (I think we inconsiderately woke them up), one pair was eating grass and one pair was lounging in the water.




Greater one-horned rhinoceros, otherwise known as Rhinoceros unicornis (and trust me, they are just as magical as a unicorn), is the largest of the three Asian rhinos, with a length of about 10 feet, height of 5.5 feet, and a weight of about 2.2 metric tons. Today there are fewer than 2,400 greater one-horned rhinos left in the wild, with the major populations in Royal Chitwan National Park in Nepal and Kaziranga National Park in India.

These rhinos are so magical that they pee through their butt...


The jungle was for real. There were no paved paths. We had to part through massive tree branches like Moses had to part the Red Sea. There were spider webs galore and bugs all over the place. Of course I was brushed with some kind of plant or tree or leaf that gave me a rash on my forearm, almost resembling poison oak. It wouldn't be an adventure without some kind of skin reaction to remember it by. We also saw Sabar, spotted deer, peacocks and more crocodiles along the way. It was like a zoo but way better since all the animals were in their natural habitat.

While we were crossing the river at one point, an elephant must have been thirsty because he gathered water in his trunk, poured a little in his mouth and then poured the rest on the people he was transporting. Maybe it was his way of getting back at them.


At the end, we wanted to tip our driver so Jennifer handed the money to the elephant via his trunk, which then lifted it to the guy. But it startled her a little, hence the fantastic reaction of pure laughter...


Chitwan National Park was an unanimous winner for all of us. From the warm hospitality at Green Park to the blast from the past Ox Cart to the cultural learning of the Tharu village to the bamboo canoe ride to the elephant safari, we were one with nature and animals for the past forty eight joyful hours. And we truly enjoyed every minute of it.

Until our next stop in Pokhara, see you in a while, crocodile...