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Final Statistics: Alex & Maz Total distance: 93,550km
Furthest Point: Rotorua, NZ Now settled in Sydney, Australia
Final Statistics: Martin Total distance: 79,698km
Furthest Point: Hobart, Australia Now settled in Bristol, UK

Hunt for the lesser spotted rhino....!

Written by Maz Towns. Uploaded 9 April 2006.

Nepal, Country 16, Diary entry 12-15th Feb 2006, Total distance in Nepal: 1058 KM

After crossing over from India we had Nepali customs and immigration to contend with. I stayed in the car feeling ill, thinking the boys were doing customs. Before I knew it I was handed my passport by Alex, visa and all! I had managed to get into Nepal without them even seeing me. We began to drive out of the city and look for a bank on the way, but it was getting dark and we realised we wouldn’t get too far before night was upon us. With the troubles still making front page news back home we decided to find a safe camp for the night. This took the form of a hotel garden.

The next day we were up bright and early to drive to the Royal Chitwan National Park. Having been battered on the roads to the border, we had heard horror stories that the roads were in the same state if not worse - how they could have got any worse I have no idea. We were more than pleasantly surprised to find the roads with tarmac and very few holes to dodge. The population was minimal, faces had changed which even had smiles on them and the roads were extremely quiet. We were out of India. It was a huge relief for all of us. The Mountains rising up in the dstance

We had been told it would take us 5 hours or more to get to the National Park from the border, so we were surprised when we reached Sauraha within 3. The change in scenery was dramatic, from the flat plains of India to the rising mountain slopes of Nepal. The roads had been extremely quiet. At one point we came across a burnt out truck in the middle of the road. Initially, it looked like an accident as you approached. Strange position I thought, but we drove round it and then came another truck, perpendicular in the road again with its wheel off. Not too hard to drive round, and with nobody official looking around to stop us we carried on our journey. We were greeted with “namaste” as we drove past people or when stopped to ask directions. This is “hello” in Nepali and ironically also in Indian, although Alex had never heard it there and didn’t realise its meaning. Alex in a vain attempt to get fit for the Himalaya

Upon arriving at The Royal Chitwan, we parked up and went to explore to see what was on offer for the short time we had there. We ventured to the tourist information to be greeted with smiles from 5 guides pleased to offer us tours. Upon many options offered including 3 day walks, we had to stress again what our plans were and that we only had 2 days to have a fun packed adventure with them. Much discussion later we opted for a bike ride that afternoon, a days walking safari the following day, then finish off with an elephant safari the morning after before driving to Kathmandu to meet our long lost travelling buddy, Max. Maz cycling round the Royal Chitwan National Park

We returned to Rainbow Lodge to negotiate a parking space for camping for the next couple of days and went to find our bikes. Having not done any exercise for a very long time, still not feeling 100% and the bikes not having gears is a recipe for a bloody exhausting afternoon. Well that was my excuse anyway!

We met the guides at the bike stand to choose our bikes. I was lucky enough to be given a bike with a little basket on the front, as a little girl I’d always wanted one…. But now!!!! We cycled through the tourist area but it wasn’t long before we were cycling through the rural edge of town with verdant rice and golden mustard seed fields, passing ramshackled huts with ox, cows, chickens, ducks and waving children milling about everywhere. We were only allowed into the outskirts of the park as apparently nothing infuriates a rhino more that a bicycle!! OK, we admit it, we got a lilttle help. We didn't cycle all the way!

Cycling and trying to spot any kind of wildlife was difficult. Mainly because there was very little wildlife to actually spot, but also cos I was a bit wobbly on my bike. Our guide was especially interested in ornithology, which I would also say Martin has a keen interest in, but of a different kind :o) We did see a large eagle and also managed to stop off at the elephant breeding centre. It was nice being out in the open air for the afternoon, even though I was still getting stomach cramps from the after effects of the food poisoning. One of the feathered friends on the walk

After chatting with the guides about the political situation and whether a bandh would prevent us from our drive to Kathmandu, we suddenly realised the reason for the lack of traffic and burnt out truck the previous day driving up to the park – unbeknowingly we had driven on a bandh - the severest form of strike where all schools, shops and offices are closed and vehicles don’t use the roads. Ignorance can be bliss sometimes! Our guides Raj & Deepak, check out the sturdy footwear

Alex had a relapse when we returned and began feeling quite sick so we headed straight to a restaurant for food, hoping it was just what he needed. Unfortunately, the food wasn’t great; a typical western style dish (lasagne) made by a non-westerner who has never and probably never will set foot in a country where they have any idea of how to make it. Made with chapati rather than pasta, this was a challenge for the best of us. Martin and I scoffed ours down as we were hungry, but Alex needed to get to bed to lie down. Drifting down the Rapti river through the mist

The next day all feeling much better, we were up early to meet with Raj & Deepak our guides for the day, all doled up in safari gear – hats, to keep the sun off your head, dark coloured clothing, so the wildlife don’t realise you’re there and flip flops!!! We were ready to go in search of rhinos and tigers. Tigers are pretty much folklore now, but there was the possibility of a rhino sighting, although once you’ve added up all the jinxes of Martin, me and Alex the possibility was remote. The sun did it's best at trying to shine through

We began the journey in a wooden dugout canoe, floating down the Rapti River. You couldn’t see much as it was so misty, but that just gave the whole place an enchanted feel. We sailed about 5 km down the river before alighting and beginning the trek properly. We saw pug marks (tiger footprints) in the sand just after we got off the canoe. Raj knelt down gingerly, stuck the tip of his stick in it and sniffed the end to see if tigers were nearby! We walked for the whole day, through forests, elephant grass (alas we didn’t find any elephants hiding in it) and open plains by the river. We spotted a few crocs lazing in the sun and managed to get really close to one before it heard us creeping up on it and slipped back in to the river for some peace and quiet. A mugger crocodile basking in the sun

For lunch we stopped off at a viewing tower. After munching on our boiled eggs and dried bread (not the nicest lunch we’d ever made ourselves) we decided to have a lay down, after all, the best way for something to appear is if you’re not watching out for it! As I lay on the bench, I jokingly suggested to Raj & Deepak that when the rhinos came out to do a song and a dance, to wake us up. We all dozed off for about 30 minutes before I heard the flip flopping of Raj rushing up the stairs like a whirlwind. Nice gnashers!

We all woke blurry eyed (including Deepak who‘d also decided that he deserved a snooze rather than watch out for wildlife) to Raj pointing into the open space where a rhino and her calf were merrily walking along towards the elephant grass ready to disappear. We grabbed the camera and beginning snapping before they vanished into the long grass. They were definitely rhinos and we definitely saw them, for 2 seconds at least! Our fleeting glimpse of the rhino and her baby before heading into the elephant grass

After that flurry of excitement, we headed back into the wilderness, hoping to see some more close up. We took regular breaks, didn’t want to break out in a sweat, this was only a practice for trekking round Himalaya after all! We managed to see lots of rhino dung and as the animal is particularly territorial about where he poos, we thought we might surprise one on the loo, but no such luck. We crawled through the elephant grass, through paths where the rhinos had trodden, but still they eluded us. At one point, Martin said he saw Raj look through his curled hands as if he were looking through a telescope, what that achieved I’m not sure, apart from giving us a good laugh later. Towards the end of the day, we heard the roar from a tiger deep in the jungle, but unfortunately that was our lot. A langur monkey with her baby

We returned to camp pleased we’d had a glimpse of the iron plated creatures but secretly hoped we’d get a closer look from the back of the elephant the next day. We cooked for ourselves in the evening desperately wanting a change in cuisine to keep our stomachs settled. The rare Gharial crocodile - we managed to see 4 of these

Up early again for our elephant ride, we were met by the owner of the lodge to be told that a rhino had paid a visit during the night. Typical, asleep again. We waded through the mist yet again to mount the colossal steed. Wondering if we were actually going to see anything as the mist was so thick we began the tromp to the outskirts of the park where we’d cycled previously. It was a very different experience being on the back of the elephant. Not the most comfortable animal to sit on, but for such a large beast they are extremely quiet as they trudge through the forest. Alex deep in the forest….It's behind you!

Not expecting to see any rhinos, I relaxed into the rocking motion of the ride. As we rode through the trees, I felt I was in a Harry Potter film, entering the Dark Forest through the mist, wondering when a dementer was going to swoop down and suck the life out of us. It was an eerie experience….. OK, maybe I was getting too carried away with the Bollywood experience!

Unfortunately, we weren’t alone, as a Korean couple followed us close behind, talking the whole flippin’ time. Rather annoying as it spoilt the tranquil atmosphere. We managed to loose them a few times traipsing through rivers and plains, and as we were about to turn around and head home, we ventured into the trees once more. There it was, the armoured plated beast, which had eluded us so far. Huge, steadfast and staring straight at us. If we had come face to face with this animal while on the walking safari, it would definitely have been a brown trouser day - they are MASSIVE! It was the first time Alex and I had seen one so close and it was awesome. Not quite land cruiser comfort!

As we began to move forward towards it, we saw more movement and realised there were two of them. The mahoot began whistling and shouting to the other mahoot to let them know that we’d seen the rhinos. Not the best move as this agitated the rhino (maybe even more so than a bicycle) and the closer we got, the more anxious the rhinos became. We got a pretty good look at them but they didn’t hang around unfortunately, and bolted as both elephants closed in on them. We chased them for a little while, well, as fast as an elephant can chase, before they disappeared altogether. Who you looking at buster?

At last we’d seen them close up and it was fantastic. They are strange looking animals and I wanted to get much closer to them to study them further. Grey thick wrinkled skin, with the back half of them having 2 shields each side covering their rear end, like a medieval knight’s horse in its fine armour. The horn on its nose being it’s downfall as the Chinese like to use it in their medicine – unfortunately the rhino population has decreased significantly over the last few years from poachers. The rhino about to make a bolt for freedom

We were done and it was time to return to the cars and head towards the big smoke. We rechecked the bandh situation just to make sure we wouldn’t have any problems, heaven forbid we defy the authorities again and set off. Our plodding friend The drive to Kathmandu was long and the roads tiring as they snaked round the mountain side. We were on time to pick Max up, well almost, how were we to know his flight was going to arrive early and soon the cheeky chappy appeared in view.

After constant complaints from our most avid groupies that we were behind with the diary entries, our back up plan had at last arrived. Max, with his banter, cheer and appetite for trying to kill himself in the most unusual way, thought he was in for a good adventure, we soon put him straight…..best get writing that first diary entry then ;o)

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Comment from Scooter & family
... damn fine beasts ;0)
09 Apr 2006 @ 20:41:55