That pesky dog is still at it, competing with James’ snoring. I have a spot of loose bowels too, but all things considered it is a better night’s sleep than last time we were here.
After breakfast and packing, we make an initial stop at Devi’s falls—essentially a large hole in the ground with lots of water pouring down it. It is supposedly named after the Swiss woman who was swept away to her death by a freak surge while she was bathing there. There is quite a respectable rush of water today, sending a thin plume up into the air.
The long bus journey to Chitwan follows the river valley back as far as Mugling, where ‘the boys’ leave us and we turn off the Pokhara-Kathmandu highway for Chitwan. Around lunchtime, we arrive in Narayanghat. We park in a broad avenue of chaos while Siling goes off to try to find some bananas for the elephants. Narayanghat is the junction of a major east-west route with the road north to Mugling. While tuk-tuks dodge and weave in the street beyond, a peanut man circles our bus hopefully.
A short drive later, the peanut man somewhat disappointed by our lack of acquisitiveness, we turn off into an oasis of tranquility—a colonial-style hotel just on the outskirts of the town set in secluded grounds. We are greeted with cold drinks served by a waiter in full uniform. We decide to eat lunch outside next to the swimming pool. Though we are plagued somewhat by fruit flys, the chicken in garlic sauce is pretty good. Since our transport to the nature reserve has not yet arrived, we pass the time with a game of table tennis.
The transfer bus bounces and jolts us for forty five minutes along a narrow track winding its way around fields and through villages. One small boy takes a slightly uncharitable view of our presence and hurls a stone at the bus. The track bears slightly uphill and into some woods and we arrive at the jungle lodge.
Deepak, our naturalist, is introduced. He takes us first to meet the elephants, and explains how they are distinguised from the larger African elephant, a snippet of information that I feel will not strictly be required here in the middle of Nepal. Still, they are impressive beasts, and I cannot help but feel a slight thrill of excitement as a keeper leads his elephant to within a few feet of where we are standing. Another useful factette: The height of an elephant is almost exactly two and a half times the circumference of its foot. You never know when you are going to need that one.
The ride on the back of one of them, perched on a square wooden platform with four rails, is fairly uncomfortable. Our platform has developed a significant list, and I am slid up against the corner post between my legs. We ford the river in a style no four-wheel drive could match, and enter the jungle reserve.
Carried high above the long grass and reeds, we have a good view, but it is some time before we spot our first rhino. It looks a little displeased to see us, but it appears to know the routine. The drivers direct the elephants into a pincer movement to force the rhino out into the open where we can all get our photographs of it. The rhino, looking somewhat harried, grudgingly obliges, and we get our photos.
We see a peahen up in a tree soon after, and a dark shape moving behind a bush, that Deepak assures us is a deer. Soon it is too dark to take any more photographs. As we come back out of the jungle to the river, the sunset colours are just touching the snow-capped peaks of the distance mountains. Back on the terrace, we watch the gathering dusk, nursing sore bottoms and drinking tea and coffee with Deepak. It is all very civilised.
There is no electricity here, and the paraffin lamps we are provided with for our rooms are not very bright. The rooms themselves are quite spacious, with en suite bathroom. More paraffin lamps have been left along the edges of the paths to help us find our way back to the dining room for the buffet dinner that evening. Afterwards, we are entertained by a dancing troupe of men in red jackets and white trousers. They are very professional with split-second timing and amazing energy. The music comes from a single two-headed drum hung horizontally around the neck of a young-looking man in the centre of the circle. His fingers move like lightning as he marks out complex rhythms and changes from one tempo to another, each time moving the dance on to a new level. It is gripping stuff. As seems to be the norm, the entertainment finishes with audience participation. James is on his feet right away, and the rest of us are not slow to follow. We finally sit down at the end, exhausted.