We begin the day with an early morning elephant safari. It doesn’t take long for us to find a rhino again—in fact it appears to be the same one as yesterday. It has a persecuted look on its face as we once more force it into a clearing for photographs. There are more peacocks too, and several types of deer, including the spotted variety. My trousers and boots are receiving a thorough soaking from the dew in the long grass, but it is not cold. We come across more rhino—a mother and her cub. We keep a respectful distance this time as they hurry away from the elephants. As we return along a muddy path, hundreds of tiny frogs leap for their lives from under the elephant’s descending feet.
Breakfast back at the lodge is very welcome. Then we are off again, this time by dugout canoe down the river. Nicky’s face is a picture of anxiety—it has to be said that the canoes are more than a little tippy, and the crocodiles lounging by the shore are following our progress with mild interest. We survive though and put in near the crocodile breeding sanctuary. The long thin jaws of the gharial crocodiles in the sanctuary are faintly comical, although I would not wish to say so from within one of the cages. One of them sports a fighting wound—its lower jaw snapped clean off about half-way along. We try to fake in-the-wild close-up shots of the crocodiles through the mesh. On the other side are the mugger crocodiles, their names astonishingly apt considering their much shorter and rather thuggish-looking jaws. These ones, we are assured, are far more dangerous than the gharials. They look it.
There are yet more wildlife encounters as Alex finds herself ‘leeched’, and a short distance down the path, we come across a termite mound. Nobody volunteers to crawl inside, Attenborough-style.
We cross back over the river by canoe and board the waiting bus. But just as it is leaving, Siling spots two rhinos on this side of the river. To our utter astonishment, he stops the bus, walks right up to them and starts scratching one of them between the ears. The rest of us, somewhat hesitantly, approach. Siling explains that these two had been injured and sick and that the villagers had looked after them. They are now completely tame. I give one of them a good scratch and it responds gratefully by slobbering all over my trousers.
On the way back, we stop for the inevitable ethnic encounter with the villagers. Our guide gives us a run-down of village life, and we have a nose around one of the mud and cow-dung houses. There’s just time before lunch for a swim back at the lodge, where I amuse myself chasing frogs around the pool.
That afternoon, there is a chance to participate in the daily elephant bathing. Simon, Ray, Alex, Val and Siling go into the water with the elephants and have the chance to sit on an elephant’s back to be sprayed with water and elephant snot. I am content to watch from the bank. After the elephants are all thoroughly scrubbed, a box of apples is produced and we get the opportunity to make friends over a tasty snack. The elephants are very polite, but they can’t completely hide their eagerness to get at the apples. We humans end up surrounded on all sides by the elephants, trying to ensure a fair distribution of apples to the elephants. It is both thrilling and humbling to be at such close-quarters to these majestic and gentle animals.
Later on, James, Nicky, Martin and I, along with Siling, Deepak and a tracker from the lodge head back into the jungle on foot. Without the elephants to protect us, we have to keep close together, and the tracker carries a knife and a stick, apparently to fend off any charging rhinos or tigers that may come our way. It is not altogether reassuring shortly after entering the jungle when we come across two people hiding in a tree next to the path. Inquiries reveal that they had thought they had heard a rhino somewhere nearby. We continue and our tracker leads us off down a narrow path among the trees. It is not easy to walk quietly, and I wonder just what our chances are of seeing anything significant. Then I wonder whether I really want to see anything really significant anyway... We go as far as the ox-bow lake and climb the watch-tower to look out over the sweeping plains of the Serengetti, er, Chitwan reserve. On the far side of the lake, a mugger crocodile eyes us warily. Further around, we catch another fleeting glimpse of deer, and hear monkeys quarrelling in the long grass nearby.
The sun has just about set by the time we get back to the lodge. Dinner is at seven, and once again the portions are generous. I eat too much.