day 5: chitwan national park -> back to kanpur

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september 18, 2011:
our original plan was to ride back to butwal, but that's a highway route - flat and uninteresting. instead, binoy suggested we check out the chitwan national park, which has an entry point at the town of sauraha, some 25km to the south of bharatpur; we could then drive down to butwal. we would have very little time there, but it was clearly a good idea.

we got a bit late, setting off around 8AM. 13km down is the village tAnri bAzAr, where we stopped for a fruit snack. the shopkeeper had spent time in kolkata, and spoke fluent bAnglA - he told us that there was a new village road to sauraha, so we promptly turned right from the main highway and followed this route, running past village houses and an elephant trundling past...

coppersmith barbet and red-cheeked bulbul: birds on the banks of the trishuli (seen from guest house window)

the river in the morning, before setting off for sauraha.

there are two approaches to the park entrance - one runs along a series of hotels and lodges and "haathi booking centers", and the other is along a army compound where the sentries watch you from camouflaged dugouts. both routes end on the bank of the rapti river where there are a number of shacks selling drinks and snacks. it seems that on some afternoons, rhinos will come to the river at this point.

after some difficulty (no one was interested in giving us direct answers), we managed to reach the office where they issued permits, which is near the river bank. however, permits are issued only early morning and after lunch. the next elephant tours would be possible only after 1pm, which was too late for us, since we needed to get back by lunchtime for the long drive back to kanpur.

we were there at 11 am, and the touts surrounded us like monsoon flies - but they couldn't help us since they could guide us inside only in the afternoon, and we needed to get back by then. it seemed there were "sarkAri" or government elephants, and also private ones, and one had to have two guides to go on any safari. the sarkari ones had fixed rates, but we were hard pressed to find out what those rates were.

as we were walking, this female elephant, joan-kali, age 40, burst out of the foliage, taking us by surprise. she was on her way to forage in the jungle.

going into the woods beyond this, we suddenly came upon two elephants being taken for foraging in the forest. they were both females, aged forty and fifty, and we followed along their large gentle footsteps (they walked slower than us). they went to the edge of the river, to go beyond which we would need a permit. we watched the elephants as they casually broke off a branch, held it in their mouths and stripped the leaf and bark while throwing away the stem. they followed their mahouts commands to lie down and roll over so the mahouts could get off. the 30-year old, called mAnkali, was quite well trained - she even passed an umbrella and bag from the ground up to the mahout above. the mahout's name was shiv-nArAin and he said we could pet her. as i touched her legs she fanned me vigorously with her ear. i offered her some leaves which she took with a fold of her trunk - but she did not eat them, her preferred snacks were made of sterner stuff...

mahouts standing on their elephants while fording the dhungre river on their way to the forest for feeding. chitwan national park - outer area.

female elephant mAnkali spraying water with her trunk and playing with her mahout

female elephant mankali saving a lot of trouble for her mahout by picking up and passing up his umbrella and other belongings
on the dhungre river, chitwan national park - outer area.

they easily forded the river - not the main rapti, but a stream called the dhungre, which flows into the rapti here. the elephants were spraying themselves with water while the mahouts stood back towards their rear. finally, they marched off into the jungle.

elephants from the park forest breeding center. kamal-kali is about 50 years old. joan-kali is 40, and mAn-kali 30.

the mahouts had suggested we check out the elephant breeding center nearby. as we were crossing the swampy grass to get there, an old villager couple called out to us from a hillock. reaching the spot, we saw a rhino getting into the water at a bend of the dhungrA. a crowd of foreign tourists had gathered along the bank, watching.

it was a large individual, and the woman told us that she was "buRA" (old), that usually she came with her son. she was very talkative, though we had great difficulty understanding her. they were grazing some goats. she said that often, the rhinos would come across and graze here all day, graze, graze, graze - and then they couldn't come with their animals. rhinos were very dangerous, said the man, who could speak some hindi. they would bite and trample a man underfoot, he said, gnashing his foot on the ground for emphasis. if a rhino died all the big government officers came down and there was a big inquiry, but when a villager is killed by a rhino, no one cared.

chitwan national park, nepal: rhino in the outer area, on the river dhungare. a guide has brought a horde of tourists to the bank. the rhinos often graze on the fields on this side, much to the chagrin of some villagers (you can hear a lively old woman talking to us in the background).

we met this big rhino in the waters of the dhungare river. it swam down close to us and then climbed up and disappeared on the other side.

rhino coming out of the dhungare river in the outer area of the chitwan national park

and sometimes the gharials will come and catch a goat. and also the marsh crocodiles. and then there are bears, leopards, and so many _janwars_.

the rhino coming out of the water

a man throwing a fishing net into the river - not far from where the rhino swam. the villager couple, with binoy.

a spotted dove perhaps? just before heading back, we bought a "chitwan national park" ranger hat each.

meanwhile, the rhino swam a bit along the river and then got up and disappeared among the woods.

we bid farewell to the villager couple, and checked out the breeding center, which had about twenty elephants, many of them youngsters - and a dozen or more had already gone to the forest to graze. while most elephants were under a roof, the dominant male with huge tusks, gyAnDA prasAd, was alone in a open area in the middle. his front legs were tied together with chains to prevent him from creating serious trouble.

sarangi player we ran into at the gates of the chitwan national park. he is from bandipur, where the sarangis are made from pine wood. it is a four-stringed bowed instrument.

we then bicycled back to nArAyanghAT and after lunch, put our cycles in the car and drove back to buTwal. en route we stopped at a local fair and caught up on the nepali version of bollywood dance numbers.

nepali troupe doing a film dance number in a village fair at kasawoti / kasauti bazar on the bharatpur-butwal segment of the mahendra highway, nepal. a man and a woman impersonating film actors from a nepalese movie.

we bought a couple of fish from a fish-stall, and had the beer shop people fry them for us.

a bit of nepali culture: they think it is not dignified to eat outdoors. although we wanted to have the fish outside where we could see the activities at the fair, this was not acceptable to them. so we sat on the benches inside...

a few hours later, we were back in india.

today's coverage:

see maps of nepal page for more maps.


* [ day 1: lumbini-tansen]
* [ day 2: tansen-pokhara 120km]
* [ day 3: pokhara]
* [ day 4: fisling-rafting-nArAyanghAT]
* [ nepal cycling tour (home) ]

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amitabha mukerjee for the bumpy trail bicyclists. sep 2011.     feedback: mukerjee [at] gmail