April 25, 2012

#Nepal #travelogue part 4: crocodiles and #elephant baths

This is the fourth of several posts about our recent totally awesome family vacation to Nepal. We worked with the fabulous folks at Geographic Expeditions to plan and book the trip.

Our night at the Tiger Tops Jungle Lodge was lovely, and our ancient cabana boy delivered tea and biscuits when he woke us for our boat safari at 5:30 a.m.

Only a handful of things give me a visceral, blood-chilling reaction. Big, creepy, scary-looking spiders. Scorpions. Crocodiles. Our second day in Chitwan featured all three, sort of. Also elephants having a bath and a rhino fight.

We began at 6 a.m. by getting in the jeep with our most excellent driver (name unknown) and our awesome ranger guide, Jitu. Joining us were Simon (whom we met the night before) and Alisa (whom we were to get to know well over the next few days).

 Our driver, who smoothed the bumps as best he could.

Jitu, our outstanding and highly experienced guide and host in the Tented Camp.

The jeep took us to our "boat safari." I liked the idea of a boat safari, floating placidly down the serene river just after sunrise, checking out wildlife and scenery from river level. Then they told us we were actually going looking for a rare type of enormous crocodile. With only 19 of them in the park, our guides didn't expect to see one, but I began to question the wisdom of putting my children in a small, wooden craft and floating them into crocodile territory. At breakfast time.

SPOILER ALERT: We saw no crocodiles.

Saw some birds but really no other wildlife. But the serenity of the still, slow river was a perfect way to start a long, busy, hot day. Photos from the uneventful float:

 A random shack at the river's edge.

  These "water cabbage" were actually quite pretty floating down the river. They looked like lilies sent downstream by some unknown people upriver

Not part of our safari, this local was, I think, a fisherman.

 Ah, here comes our boat now. We're going crocodile hunting in that?



 Crocodile bait!

Unapproved photo of my wife! See, if I can go hunting crocodiles by boat and tigers by elephant, then I am courageous enough to post a photo of my wife without vetting it with her first. (I said courageous, not wise.)

 A view of the early sun through the punting poles.

Our guide at the prow, with a good view of the Chitwan savannah.

Although uneventful, the boat safari is still one of my favorite parts of our trip. Quiet and peaceful, we really felt like we were part of the landscape for a short time rather than interloping tourists.

A decent breakfast after our jeep ride back to the main lodge, then another drive from the Jungle Lodge to the Tented Camp. Along the way we saw more wildlife than we'd seen from the boat:
Deer! We saw dozens and dozens of deer (a.k.a. tiger snacks) during our two days in Chitwan, but we only saw two fellows with antlers. This one was nice enough to pose momentarily.

We also saw a few wild boar. This family (the mama is off camera) scurried past a couple of times on this day.

We don't have any really good photos of the Tented Camp, unfortunately. The camp is small, with twelve tents, each of which has two cots and a small bathroom/shower behind it. They are comfortable and cozy, but you definitely want to keep the zippers tight all day and all night. When we went to bed that night, we saw not only two caterpillars had squeezed inside, but there was a tiny scorpion on the signpost just feet from our tent, and a ginormous, creepy, brightly colored and spindly-legged spider on the outside of the tent's windowscreen. Poor Ethan had a bit of a panic attack when he went to shower before bed and saw two of those creepmonsters in his flashlight beam. Hey, we're in the jungle, right?

Jitu did tell us there was nothing deadly poisonous out there. But still, the creep factor went to eleven.

After a scrumptious Nepali lunch at the Tented Camp's dining room, which is comfortable and has its own well stocked bar, as well as a sweeping, panoramic view of the savannah, we took a short nature hike to an observation tower up in the hills. Didn't see much, but we did run into an armed military patrol on the path. Unfortunately, these patrols tend to leave trash and cigarette butts on the trails. Not surprisingly, I suppose, the tourists have greater respect for the gorgeous surroundings. Ah well.

Mister Safari Guy!

 The observation tower. Something tells me it isn't designed to San Francisco's earthquake codes.

Observing the view, listening to nature, being one with the universe.

At this point, our day was only half over. Which means this blog post is only half done.

With the hike behind us, we returned (by jeep again) to the Jungle Lodge for the "elephant washing." Simon and I were a little skeptical, and the boys really didn't care to watch elephants being washed. Sounded like a tourist attraction at a mid-range zoo in the states. "Hey, let's show you that elephants can be hosed down!" But Maria insisted, and we learned we could later take our jeep safari right from the main lodge instead of the Tented Camp. So we dragged them over there.

It was pretty cool.

Tiger Tops is home to many elephants; I don't remember how many, but I want to say 17. They have one bull, a full tusker, and the rest are females used for safaris. We sat with a newly arrived group from an international school in Europe somewhere and listened to one of the guides--the head elephant man--talk about elephants, the habitat, the history of the park, the history of the Tiger Tops, and many other things for quite a while. Then we headed down to the river, and a lot of the kids from the school waded right in with the elephants to wash them. The whole time they were splashing around, my one thought was, "Keep your mouths closed, kids!" (Especially those girls who were downstream from the elephant that decided bathtime would also be a good time to poop.)

We also learned about Valentino, a wild male elephant who had been coming around the pens and wooing the lady elephants. We later saw him, the next day, when our time in Chitwan was over and we were leaving the park. Since he's wild and untrained, he can be quite dangerous.

 The elephant pens. I don't know what they're really called.

 Our head elephant guy (with his back to us) and one of the elephant drivers.

 The line for the bath, heading to the river.

It's a massacre! No, ha ha, fooled you, it's not. They lie down so the students can wash them while contracting various water-borne jungle diseases.

From the elephant bathing, we embarked on our final safari. We'd done elephant and boat, so this was to be by jeep. We hoped to see a lot of wildlife, and we were not disappointed. Personally, I hoped to see a leopard or a tiger, but neither came out. Jitu said he hadn't seen a leopard all year, that's how rare they are. We thought we might be near a tiger at one point, but it was a false alarm. It also happened that moments later we got stuck in the mud for several minutes. It's at moments like that you remember you're in the wild. With wild animals. Deadly, wild animals. And you start thinking of those scenes from Jurassic Park where the tourists turn into prey. And you make jokes and giggle nervously while the guides roll their eyes and try not to say anything derisive while getting the jeep unstuck.

Missus Safari Lady! (Another photo she hates but I adore.)

At times, Ethan totally looked like he should be in the old TV show MASH.

Not to be outdone by the elephants, this rhino also took a bath. And again, we declined to get in the water to help him out.

The mud where we got stuck. They got us unstuck, and Jitu then got out to survey the track and oversee the slog back through it to the far side.

I just thought this was a very pretty moment, with beautiful light.

This guy didn't seem to like the jeep much. He snorted at us a couple times. Unlike the photo of the rhino above in the water, this one is almost unzoomed. He was only a few dozen yards away at most.

I love silhouetted photos like this. You can see in the foreground how wet and muddy the tracks were in places after the epic overnight rain.

 This guy was in the process of charging another rhino, just off camera. We saw a rhino fight! Two pair faced off in the tall grass about 20 yards off the road, huffing and snorting at each other. We stopped to watch, and suddenly this one gave a big snort and ran at one of the others. Wisely, he turned and fled. Moments later, this guy turned toward the jeep and decided he wasn't done fighting. That's when we restarted the engine and carried on with our safari.


Beer! These Nepali guides really know how to run a safari.

We bumped around the wilderness for about two hours, then returned to another fabulous dinner at the Tented Camp. It was a huge mistake not to shower before dinner, though, as the showers are solar heated. Which means, of course, that they don't warm up overnight. The boys and I had a brisk and refreshing awakening the next morning.

Finally, here are the only photos we have of the tents. The next morning we left Chitwan on a terrifying near-death drive through the gorgeous towns and countryside to Pokhara.

Keep the zipper tightly closed, boys!

Comfortable cots. More comfortable than they look, actually.

Little bathroom with running water, shower, and flush toilet. Plus, bonus spiders at nighttime. Probably just to create that "jungle ambiance" so necessary for a good tourist experience.


Precie said...

Seriously the trip of a lifetime.

(Are you still among the living after posting unapproved wife pics?)

Thanks for sharing the experience!

J P Hannan said...

It looks amazing! I think, like you, that the peaceful river safari (sans crocs) would have been my favourite too. There is nothing like the serenity of gliding silently along still water. Heaven.