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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Kathmandu to Royal Chitwan National Park:
Dangerous drives and elephant rides

Sunset at Royal Chitwan National Park

Itinerary:

"Feb 23 - Kathmandu - Chitwan. Check out from your hotel after breakfast and proceed on the drive to Royal Chitwan National Park. Royal Chitwan National Park is one of the best managed and preserved in Asia and is home to many species of rare wildlife, including the rare one horned rhino, the Bengal tiger, up to four species of deer, sloth bear, leopard, and many more. More than 400 species of birds can be seen in the Park, including many that are only found here. During the two nights stay here we undertake jungle safaris, elephant rides, nature walks, canoe rides etc. You are invited to witness the local Tharu stick dance on at least one of the evenings. On reaching the resort, our guest relations officer will brief you on the Park and available activities.
1:00 p.m.: Lunch.
3:30 p.m.: Elephant Safari / Jungle Walk/ Nature walk with Boat ride.
8:00 p.m.: Dinner."
Up early, we repack and reorganize the luggage (again), check out of the Dwarikas Hotel then hit the road to the Tiger Tops Jungle Lodge in Royal Chitwan National Park.

It is a six hour drive over a mountain pass so we settle in for long haul. Nothing like a road trip to better acquaint us with our driver and guide. Surendra and I review the morning Kathmandu Post, and discuss Nepalese politics.

Surendra is an interesting guy. Born in Kathmandu, he has lived in Nepal his entire life and speaks English with a precise British accent. As a boy he remembers his father bringing him to a raucous celebration for climber/sherpa Tenzing Norgay after his successful climb of Everest with Sir Edmond Hillary.

After our exposure to the demonstrations and strikes, I am increasingly intrigued by Nepal politics. Surendra provides an introductory tutorial during the drive as we discuss an article on China relations in the morning paper. There are many factions fighting for power, and an imminent trigger for change . A new Constitution is yet to be written, but is mandated to be implemented in the next 100 days. It does not sound like a good mix to me. Perhaps we will help them get it right. Perhaps not.

We climb out of the fog and smog of the Kathmandu valley. I think we are experiencing an inversion layer that rivals the worst of LA smog days.

Belching brick kiln smokestacks and massive truck traffic spewing diesel exhaust is trapped in the air we are breathing. Sigrid has developed a cough, and the dust and bad air is wreaking havoc on my sinuses. The air gets better as the road climbs higher.

This is a dangerous road. Undivided, narrow, and pockmarked with potholes, a lot of traffic compete for the limited roadspace. Everything from trucks, cars, scooters, motorcycles, bicycles, rickshaws, camels, pedestrians, and ox drawn carts weave through and around each other as the road winds up and down the mountains. The left "shoulder" is an abrupt 2-3 foot drop from the roadbed to ditch. A wheel drifiting six inches off the road could easily roll a van or truck. The right shoulder was a 100 foot drop to the river bed below. Occasionally with concrete or rock protecting travelers against the edge, more often - not.

Over the six hour drive we saw two trucks inverted on the left shoulder, and as we approached the crest of a hill, saw people peering at the wreckage of a vehicle over the side on the right where it had plunged off the cliff moments before.



Okay... I was a bit nervous on this drive. But Hari is a careful driver, and there were great vistas and interesting things to see along the way. We take a rest break, enjoy the views, drink some chai, and use the facilities.

Yeah, we're not in Kansas anymore, but we already knew that.

We are met at the Tiger Top Jungle Lodge landing strip, have lunch and a beer, and are transported to the lodge. We were glad to be here.

At the landing strip.

Next time, we'll fly in.

We join our luggage fording a river.

We join our luggage on a jungle drive.

Our luggage gets a briefing...

...and makes it to our room.

Finally, our first Elephant back safari...

...and we are real glad to be here.

More critters in the next post.

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