Pokhara was nice, if for reasons which I did not expect. Situated around a large lake, a substantial travellers area has developed with excellent food and shops selling everything a backpacker needs. It’s the sort of place that I normally dislike, however, It’s been many months since I’ve been in a place with such a developed tourist area and to be honest I kind of liked it. Things were easy and after seven and a half months that is something to enjoy.
In terms of sights it lacks. The lake is nice, but nothing special. The museums are classic developing nation fares – badly organised and with limited information – but they passed some time. Fundamentally, it was simply a nice place to relax. One day broke the trend. Holi festival celebrates the start of spring. I awoke, changed into swim shorts and the worst t-shirt I own and joined people from the hostel in taking to the streets. It was a magnificent experience. Armed with bags of paint and water pistols we walked up and down the road by the lake engaging in various paint and water battles with the locals and other tourists. No one enjoyed it more than the children. It felt like their Christmas being able to throw buckets of water and water bombs at anyone they like. Older people stood in various places to rub paint through your hair in an almost religious blessing sort or way. People drove by in cars and on bikes, shooting water at everyone. At one point we came across four large containers of coloured water. Chaos ensued and the road came to gridlock with everyone, including all the motorcyclists drenched. It was good natured and superb fun. The day culminated in live music on a stage at the end of the road with the locals going crazy for covers of their favourite Nepali songs. I can’t say I fully understand how the festival came into being, but this is one that should be adopted by every country!
From Pokhara I journeyed to Chitwan National Park with Jeff from Australia. There we met Ryan, Rachael and Alena at a rather lovely Eco lodge complete with a number of tree houses. On the first day I went to watch the mahouts bathe their elephants. I have to admit it wasn’t for me. As soon as I clocked the sharp hooks that they carry with them, I was out. Sure the elephants looked like they were having a nice time on the whole, but it’s sad to see such an incredible animal being forced to act in the way that they do.
The following day, the five of us found a couple of guides to take us on a tour of the jungle. Chitwan is quite a unique park in that it us one of the very few which allow people to walk on foot. We set off early in the morning in a dug out canoe for two hours. We passed numerous crocodiles and saw a huge variety of birds. It was all very pleasant.
We then disembarked and our guides gave us a talk about what we should do if we came across any dangerous animals that decide that they are not to happy with us:
Rhino: Run in zig zags and preferably climb a tree. If unable, hiding behind a big one should be enough
Sloth bear: Stand together and make lots of noise and let the guides fight it
Tiger: Back away making eye contact at all times
It was all thoroughly reassuring. No more so than seeing what they were armed with. Now I’ve been with guides who have only had wooden sticks before when seeing Komodo dragons, but that almost felt like it might be useful. Against a rhino wooden sticks seemed entirely useless. To be fair they were perfectly honest in saying that they were for use only against the sloth bear. Everything else they were pointless. Great!
The walking was nice, even if the humidity was stifling. Our first sighting of a rhino came fairly early on. A flash of grey in the distance, just above the high grass. Call me ignorant, but I didn’t realise that rhinos were well over six foot in height. I straight away didn’t feel very safe. Our guides didn’t either when they saw that it also had a calf with it. We made a very slow and cautious exit.
A closer encounter came a little while later. This one was on its own so we crept up close. It turned and looked straight towards us. My heart was pounding and I looked for which tree I might have to climb, before noticing that there was only one and everyone else had also clocked it. At one point it went a bit crazy and began to charge irrationally in zig zags. Fortunately, its end route took it well away from us and I could relax again.
Shortly after that, when looking around a watering hole, we heard a growl. Ryan ignored all instructions and threw himself on the floor and my heart stopped completely. It turned out it was chicken taking flight. We were all trembling wrecks.
We then came across another rhino standing in a small stream. It was this sighting that showed what an incredible beast it is. Weighing over 2000kg, they are essentially a tank. This one didn’t hang around as long as the last one, breaking into a run up the bank away from us. We caught up with another a few minutes later bathing a little further along. This one caught everyone by surprise as we came over the top of it and startled it. Being at the back of our group, I couldn’t see it. All I heard was the sound of it charging. Quickly, I sprinted to a tree. I then saw it running up the opposite bank. Breathing deeply, I then looked at my tree choice and realised how dangerous this all was. Thinner than I was and with no way of climbing, it was a terrible choice.
We then walked along a small river, where we passed crocodiles gazing on the bank. The guides, deciding they wanted to check an area on the other side, thought that it would be a perfect place to cross twenty or so metres from the last marsh mugger crocodile we had seen. A bit unsure what to do, one of them decided to use the stick to continuously bash the water as we crossed. I tried to point out to him that vibrations were generally something you wanted to avoid with crocodiles, but it was lost on him. Safely across we then had a run in with an elephant and her young baby. Although domesticated, the panicked guides had us run away from them as apparently the young can be a big problem.
With the sun starting to descend, we still had time to check out a buffalo apparently killed by a tiger the previous day. Our guide didn’t like us hanging around all the long grass though, something we all agreed with. We went onto see deer with amazing antlers, wild bore and plenty of monkeys. A slightly safer ending to the safari. Exiting the park, I felt a sense of great relief. It had been an experience quite unlike any other. The adrenalin rush of being so close to rhinos, which are some of the most unpredictable and dangerous animals in the world is something I will never forget. However, it was nice to be on slightly safer ground.
Well that was what I thought until the next day when I was woken up by Ryan who had run into a rhino by the river, just out the back of our accommodation. I went down and watched it for a while bathing and munching on the grass.
Unlike in the national park, where I had barely taken a photo due to having to be so alert for my own safety, here I could snap away as he appeared very docile and quite used to being around humans. He stayed there for the whole day.
We met again when we were heading to lunch and he ambled his way past our accommodation and then onto the main road. Locals ran into their shops, motorbikes and cyclists nearly fell off as he began to run seemingly confused by all the bright lights, smells and noise. It was a surreal, if a potentially very dangerous moment. Fortunately, it ran down a side alley, rather than into a shop, out into the surrounding jungle and everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
Deciding that I had pushed my luck enough, I left Chitwan the next day and travelled to Kathmandu – my last stop in Nepal.