There is a sentence in a travel guidebook that says: “Nowhere else in the world does the landscape change do greatly over so short a distance as Nepal, from the mountain areas of the Himalaya, down through lush valleys and into the tropical plains of the south. Consequently, the flora and fauna, much of it indigenous, is remarkably diverse for such a small area.” I absolutely agree with this statement because as we moved from Pokhara to Trisuli River and to Chitwan, it just took us a few hours to see its diversity of landscapes and geographies that offer a visual feast of living wonders and breathtaking scenery.
23 June 2014: Arrived at Chitwan Seven Star Hotel in the late afternoon, we were indeed taken aback by the warm air gushed inside the van when we opened the door. It was different from Pokhara’s fine climate. With tropical monsoon climate prevailing in the region, summer here was hot with mercury rising as high as 33 degrees Celcius. Chitwan has a tropical monsoon climate with high humidity. The area is located in the central climatic zone of the Himalayas. I had little expectation of what Chitwan has to offer. I thought it does not differ from South-East-Asian countries I have been. I was wrong.
In the same evening after dinner, we hopped on to the safari bus to catch the Tharu Cultural Show at a village community hall. It’s an evening of song, Tharu stick dances and peacock dance to celebrate their lives and community. The performance was done on a simple form of rural theatre when considered in terms of production requirement. Three people played the musical instruments. Thus, the brilliance of this performance can be attributed to its sheer focus on acting which required tremendous energy on part of the actors and dancers. For me, this was the one of the best part of travelling: experiencing the authenticity of village atmosphere, meeting local people, sitting next to me on the same wooden bench watching the same performance. I realized that a smile can break all language and social barriers.
I vividly recalled the next morning 24 June 2014, we embarked on our adventure at Chitwan National Park wearing clothes that blend in with the nature. Chitwan National Park is the first national park in Nepal. It was established in 1973 and granted the status of a World Heritage Site in 1984. Covers an area of 932 km², it is bigger than my country Singapore. Chitwan National Park is one of the richest wildlife areas in areas in Asia and contains the last and largest remaining areas of tall grassland habitat. The large animals concentrate in the dense forest and tall grasslands of the floodplain.
Once we were in the canoe, the hunter instinct kicked in and the adrenalin pumped – we did not know what we were about to see out there. The water of the river was so transparent that it reflected beautifully-shaped old trees and birds flying in the sky, making the river and surroundings like a picturesque painting. Our guide Hakha told us not to make any sound. Birds of different colors are seen perching in the trees and wandering in grass bushes in search of food. Birds sing in chorus and help visitors forget their fears about what is lurking a few feet away under water. Just when I marveled at how Chitwan people share the habitat with the wildlife, we spotted 2 crocodiles, some 3 metres away. Dawn and dusk are the quiet periods at the river for the crocodiles to emerge from the tranquil waters and rest on the banks which are bordered with grass bushes. I could not describe in words the kind of fear it is. To me, I held my breath and think the ideal thing to do at this point was calm down and pray quietly that the canoe went pass without disturbing the reptiles. Nothing dramatic happened. We were not attacked, of course. In all honesty, this was one of the scariest activities I have ever participated. However, not knowing what to expect did help. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss. It is something the I would recommend to every traveler coming to Nepal. Confront the fear, feel the terror by these amazing creatures. Don’t worry because you’re in good hands.
It took curiosity, perseverance and certain amount of courage to walk in the jungle. Walking is the most profitable way of observing birds, studying vegetation and inspecting animal tracks. But the jungle is not without a real element of danger, Our jungle guides Harka and Narayan are invaluable as both a source of information and their trained ability to listen out for wildlife and birds. We walked for 5km in the wilderness and spotted rhinocerous and deers, termite mould, strangler fig as part of the eco-system. While I am not a fan of wild animal, I am indeed thankful the unique opportunities in Chitwan to get so very close to these animals and ecosystem.
The Ecosystem is still a wild and savage environment and only those species possessing a fierce Darwinian impulse will most likely survive. That’s why strangler fig is a prime example as it is literally “strangling” another tree in its attempt to acquire a spot to grow. Starting off as an epiphyte, the strangler fig attaches itself to a host as a fledgling plant, but quickly matures into a vicious tree using its roots to wrap around its host and spreading its wide canopy to steal sunlight. Often, the host tree capitulates and is enshrouded by the fig, which has found the ultimate way to “secure” its existence.
The best way to explore Chitwan National Park is on the back of a well-trained elephant. Not only does the elephant offer the best vantage point, but the animal’s scent masks that of human’s. Rhinos favor marshy ground and indeed some areas of prime habitat are only negotiable by elephant. This is also the safest way to view them as well as tiger. Each of the lodges which operate within the park is permitted to maintain their own stable of elephants. Most of the domesticated elephants are female except for the calves. When a calf is born, it is raised and protected by the whole matriarchal herd. Males leave the family unit between the ages of 12-15 and may lead solitary lives or live temporarily with other males. An elephant’s elevated testosterone levels cause them to become aggressive, even when unthreatened. That makes them unsuitable to stay in the stables. In the breeding season, male elephant will try to enter a breeding herd to mate with a female. Our guide Narayana for gave an excellent explanation of the elephant world. It was interesting but I can’t reproduce the same narration. I found this website useful as it describes certain things that Narayana spoke about: http://www.elephant-world.com/elephant-reproduction/
We ended the first part of the river safari, jungle safari and elephant safari by late morning at the river bank. Clement and I sat at the elephant’s back and bathing with them. It was hilarious. We were back to the hotel to avoid the scorching sun. In the evening, we did elephant walk. I heard someone said they spotted tiger. I did not but it is alright. I can’t recommend highly enough visiting this amazing area of Chitwan. To come face-to-face with these remarkable creatures while surrounded by the magnificence of the Chitwan National Park, watching the breathtaking scene of hundreds of deer gathered at the opposite side of the river was something I will never forget.
Happiness is not getting what you want but wanting what you have. Harka expressed his gratitude for the 3 years spent in training to become a jungle guide. Prior to this change, Harka worked in Malaysia in a petrochemical industry for 2 years. What prompted him to return to his hometown was the love for his family and country. Although his mother was worried about the occupational hazard, Harka still perservere and doing with passion out of love for the nature. A person’s words can be life-giving water; Words of true wisdom are as refreshing as a bubbling brook. I’m grateful for that few minutes talking to Harka to share his life story and felt encouraged and enlightened as a result of the words he spoke.
My family is looking not just fun-filled holiday but personal transformation and growth. Arjun from Earthbound Expeditions and Harka from Seven Stars Hotel are our leaders, helped us to contain and transform fear. Arjun, in my earlier posts suggested metaphors, told us jokes, doing risk assessment, comforting and encouraging us when spirits were low. Through the events we went through together we experienced the pleasure of responsibility, mastery that comes with figuring out things ourselves and being directed to access to our own wisdom. Their enthusiasm for their profession was contagious. They wake up every day and are excited about the new day ahead and even though they may be walking the same route that they have done over the past few months, they always seem to see something new. They know a lot about people as they have seen clients from all over the world and from all walks of life and life circumstance. I learnt a lot from them. Thanks for the wisdom shared throughout the 12 days whirlwind of Nepal. With smile on our faces, we enjoy every step of the way.
Naturally Nepal. Once is no enough. We will be back soon.