Monday, 17 April 2017

#15 The journey to Chitwan

My adventures outside the comfortable bubble of Kirtipur began in Chitwan. I took an early bus with another volunteer from Quest who I shall call Quiet Chilean Boy. It was so nice to leave the chaos and smog that is Kathmandu.

As it was my first proper time on a Nepali major road I was entertained simply by watching the traffic.

Many of the trucks were beautifully decorated. I spotted one with the most eclectic combination of stickers including Brazillian footballers, Buddah, a swastik - not to be confused with the swastika, Bob Marley, Che Guevara, a marajuana leaf, Michael Jackson, Slipknot and Metallica. These guys were clearly fans of just about everything!

Some were covered in ornate depictions of hindu Gods whilst others had 'Facebook,' 'Google,' Adidas and Reebok painted on them.

Obviously these websites and brands are right up there with gods in the truck decorating world. I guess it kind of makes sense. Google has provided me with more answers than God has so far. Perhaps the truck drivers feel the same.

I spent a good portion of the bus ride pondering about how a person decides what he is going to decorate his truck with - brand names such as Reebok, Adidas, even Playboy or religious iconography. It must be a defining moment in any drivers career. Capitalism or religion? Or perhaps Capitalism is becoming another religion?

I remember hearing my parents telling me stories about travelling in Nepal in the 80s and I'm happy/slightly dissapointed to report people no longer have to share the busses with chickens and goats.

The bus ride left me with so many unanswered questions which I noted down along the way.

I've written from the road:

'Who paints all the trucks and why? Is it someones fulltime job? Or do the drivers do it themselves? If so why do they all paint 'Speed Control' on their front bumper or 'Road King'? Writing it on the bumper isn't going to help and there is something hilariously arrogant about everyone writing 'Road King' on their trucks. Also do they seriously think panting Adidas on their truck is convincing anyone? We all know Adidas don't manufacture trucks. And whilst I'm at it - how does everyone stay so clean? I'm learning to accept that I'm never going to feel as clean as I do at home. My clothes are beginning to take on a permanent grey colour.
So many questions! Helllp!'

When we arrived in Chitwan on schedule seven hours later the other volunteer and I went separate ways. He was doing a packaged deal and I was dead set on being an independant traveller again.

I was greeted at my hotel by a man who thrust a cool glass of Orange juice and a wet flannel into my hands. Such a simple gesture but so appreciated after a long and dusty bus ride.

He then told me if I wanted to do a jungle walk the next day I could tag along with two other German ladies which would make it cheaper for them and me. It was exactly what I wanted to do any way.

The rest of the afternoon I spent exploring and relaxing. I wandered down to the river bank and was lucky enough to see a wild elephant and crocodiles chilling on the bank. And this was without even venturing into the National Park!

I then walked to a tiny cultural museum in one of the surrounding Tharu villages. The villages were how I originally imagined Nepal would be. Chickens and goats wandering around thatched huts and women in bright colours working in the rice paddy fields.

That night I slept under a mosquito net for the first time in my life. I wasn't entirely sure what to do with it at first so I set it securely around my bed well before dusk as I had heard there was some malaria still in the area and I wasn't taking those nasty anti-malarial tablets.

As soon as I got comfortable in bed and switched off the light the droning began. It sounded like a small infantry of tiny helicopters had arrived and were hovering outside my net. They hungrily continued to drone on about, I imagined, how unfair it was that I smelt so good but they just couldn't get in for a taste.

Having outsmarted the mosquitos, I woke up early the next morning, and met the two other German ladies for breakfast before setting off on our jungle trek.

We began with a canoe ride which was very peaceful. We saw many birds (sorry Dad I don't remember all their names) and many crocodiles. We also happened across a rhino in the river and carefully climbed out of the canoe to wander along the bank for a closer look.

Later we left the canoe behind and hiked into the jungle where we happened to hear some wild elephants having lunch. Our two guides led us quickly away. If a wild elephant decides to charge there is very little you can do about it apparently.

Another volunteer told me; "If you see a rhino - climb a tree, if you see an elephant - pray."

During the hottest part of the day we slept in an animal hide. Once all the other tourists and safari jeeps had driven out of the park we walked along the road and saw a government owned elephant and two workers harvesting grass from the side of the road. This special kind of grass is used for weaving baskets, mats and beds.

We also came across an angry mother rhino with her baby as we were walking back. She started to run towards us and the youngest guide told us to run behind a tree.  Luckily the mother decided to run off into the forest instead. Afterwards we all, including the guides, dissolved into relieved giggles.

Every afternoon around the same time there was a thunderstorm so we had to hurry to get back to the hotel before it started pouring down. We almost made it but enjoyed the last few kilometres running in the big fat drops of tropical rain, listening to the almighty crashes of thunder overhead and soaking up that delicious steamy smell the earth gets when it rains after a hot day.

The next morning I went along to the famous Chitwan elephant bathing and after lunch I stupidly decided to rent a bike an explore the surrounding villages.

It was so hot in the middle of the day. I was very pink in the face and sweating profusely pretty quickly. Nevertheless I still had a nice time exploring and even had to overtake an elephant plodding along one of the roads. Quite a novelty. The locals are so used to elephants they are about as exciting as cows. After three days in Chitwan I too was getting pretty blasé about elephants which is something I never thought would happen.

That evening I went to a cultural dance and met the two German ladies. As we were walking home we heard a strange grunting sound and some one yelled "Rhino!"

Everyone scattered into nearby shops and again we dissolved into giggles as the Rhino casually trotted down the main street of Chitwan.

I had to pinch myself to make sure it wasn't some crazy cheese induced dream but nope this was all real.

Chitwan. What a crazy place.
Capitalism, communism or religion seem to be the choices when it comes to decorating trucks in Nepal.

Canoe trip in Chitwan National Park

Government elephants helping to collect the grass 

Every day the elephants trek down to the river to bathe

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