For two of our three long journeys in Nepal we had opted to fly. For Pokhara to Chitwan the only option is the tourist bus. We managed to book the last two seats which were right at the back. We got on to the wheezing soft sprung bus which looked like an off roader, if that’s possible for a bus. Right at the back we realised that there were six seats crammed into the back row, each large enough for a small child as long as they hadn’t had a big meal recently. Oh dear. It was our good fortune that two of the six went off to sit elsewhere allowing us a bit of room to breathe.
It soon became apparent why the bus looked so rugged when we started along the road. You could hide a small army in some of the potholes on the main roads, and that is on the sections that are tarmac, large parts are just dirt roads. Nepal gets the prize for worst roads. Oddly, there are often big piles of stones or concrete at the side of roads, usually encroaching to make a single lane out of what should be a double lane road, especially in Kathmandu. It’s like they piled up all the materials to pave the roads but then gave up.
Anyway, back to the bus. We had to hold on because potholes hit at speed would often send us flying out of our seats (Katy even hit her head on the roof!). We had to pretend it was just a particularly firm massage for 6 hours.
We arrived in Chitwan having been shaken like a cocktail. Chitwan is a National Park area famous for Rhinos and other wildlife. On arrival at the resort (calling it a ‘resort’ was a stretch, it was a series of thatched chalets) we were given the hard sell for a package to include lots of activities but we weren’t feeling inclined to spend buckets so we eventually managed to escape.
Early the next morning we had booked an elephant ride into the park. The dawn was thick with mist as the elephant strode through the river to reach the forest. It wasn’t comfortable though, with four people plus the mahout crammed on one elephant. The elephant seemed perfectly happy, but we were sharing with an overweight French couple who took up 80% of the space on the small wooden we were sat in. It didn’t matter too much because we were enjoying the experience so much. We didn’t spot any rhino, but we did see several types of strange looking deer including a huge stag. We also saw a lot of peacocks that had climbed high into the trees.
We didn’t feel we could top our elephant into the dawn mist experience that day so we lazed around for much of the afternoon.
The next day we made our way down to the river for elephant bath time. We expected to see a maybe a few elephants being hosed down by the river but we found one in the river with an English girl falling off its back. “Can you help me?” she pleaded through fits of laughter to the unflinching mahout who was stood on the elephants back. She was clinging on to the elephants neck using a leg and an arm and was losing traction. “I’m definitely stuck! Help me up!” – but no the mahout had other ideas. He said something to his elephant which then began the lumbering process of sitting down which threw the girl still laughing into the river. “I’ve swallowed so much water that I’m probably going to get ill” she giggled. After throwing her in the water the mahout brought the elephant back to the riverbank and we decided that we should have a go too. Katy went first and sat on the elephant while it repeatedly sucked water into its trunk and blasted it out drenching a laughing Katy. The girl who had been for an involuntary swim had made her way out of the river, so her and a friend agreed to look after our stuff and use our camera to take some pictures while Jason joined Katy on the elephant for elephant bath time. It was great fun and elephants love being in the water to play with people – almost as much as we enjoyed it.
We returned the favour of looking after bags and taking pictures while the English girls had another go on the elephant. It turned out that they had been in Nepal for 3 months doing voluntary work, but of course paying with elephants was the highlight. Soaking wet in some of our last clean clothes we rode our hired bicycles back to the resort.
Once dried and still on a high from elephant bath time we set out on our bikes to explore Sairaha, the village we stayed in to access Chitwan National Park. Away from the street with the resorts, restaurants and tourist tat shops we found it to be a lovely rural farming area with small irrigated fields and Van Goghs hay stacks everywhere along with free roaming livestock.
We spotted an elephant stood under a corrugated iron roof with his mahout snoozing nearby on an old car seat. We left our bikes and headed across the field to ask the mahout if we could say hello to his elephant. Of course we could. The elephant was really jolly flapping its ears and wanting to say hello. We spent a few minutes there and then gave the mahout a tip to say thank you.
Back on our bikes we looped round the village until we reached a road that we recognised as the route from the village to where the elephant treks begin. The elephants live around the village in shelters with corrugated iron roofing like the one we had just visited and are taken each day to the place where the elephant treks begin. Once they gave taken several groups into the forest and back the elephants return home along this road. We were in luck because the last treks of the day were over and it was home time for the elephants and mahouts. A stream of about 30 elephants were making their way home. We were lucky enough to be able to cycle alongside then for much if the way exchanging cries of ‘Namaste’ with the mahouts proudly riding their elephants. We stopped to say hello to a family with loads of kids at the roadside because Katy spied that they had a chicken and a litter of tiny chicks with them. The kids chased the chicks to catch one for Katy to cuddle and nearly caused the chicks to get squished by a passing elephant. They did catch a chick in the end, and yes, Katy enjoyed her cuddle.
Just outside the village some of the elephants had been parked up at the side of the road like lorries at a truck stop while their mahouts drank tea from an adjacent cafe. This was the elephant equivalent of motorway service stations, except the elephants didn’t sit quietly as you would expect of lorries. Two on them set to work in pulling up the fence with their trunks and passing the fence post along the line of parked elephants like some sort of baton.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the road Katy had befriended a tiny baby lamb. When we tried to leave it became clear that the lamb was equally attached to Katy because it ran after us, we had to move quickly or it would have followed us all the way home.
It had been a really fantastic day, we don’t get many chances in life to join in elephant bath time for 80p, say hello to another elephant for 40p and then cycle alongside a long line of elephants on their way home like the dawn patrol in Disneys Jungle book (we got it on DVD from a totally legit seller in Phnom Penh because Katy wanted to watch it at Christmas).
Chitwan was to be our last new place. The next day we boarded a Buddha Air ATR 42 plane to fly back to Kathmandu. We spent our last day shopping in Kathmandu. We brought luggage scales with us so we were able to safely get as close as we dared to the weight limit for our flight home. Kathmandu is great for shopping, we stocked up on DVDs and clothing.
A couple of flights later we touched down in London to end this part of the adventure. We stayed in 37 different places across 8 countries, took 17 flights and had an incredible time.
That’s all for now.