Pokhara and Chitwan14/04/2011
Having decided to leave the trek while bathing our feet in the hot sprints in Tatopani we managed to get a couple of local buses almost straight away taking us back to the comfort of Hotel Horizon in Pokhara for some much needed R&R. We ended up spending a week there resting, relaxing and generally not walking. It was great! We did manage to drag ourselves out of the hotel for one walk around some of the lake that is easy walking, watching paragliders landing and Kollywood (Nepal's answer to Bollywood) movie making in action. Most of the plans we did try to make got abandoned due to the weather though - sailing was off due to too much wind on the first day we tried and not enough on the second day. We also planned to try paragliding but again the weather wasn't in our favour so having waited a few extra days in the hope of the perfect weather we headed for the road again.
The road this time took us to Chitwan National Park to do a bit of wildlife watching. The national park is described as the best in Nepal for animals (there are better ones for bird watching apparently) and also as being very crowded but it seems that the time of year and the general fall in tourist numbers means we didn't get any sense of the crowds and just got to enjoy a wonderfully peaceful place.
We stayed in a lodge called Chitwan Gaida Lodge (Gaida meaning Rhino apparently) in the village of Sauraha which is where all the tourism is centred for the national park (it is possible to stay in the park itself but that is for people on a different kind of budget!). There is a lovely river that separates the village from the main national park and therefore the animals and many of the restaurants over look the river and we found ourselves spending many hours looking at this peaceful view and watching the river life. Unfortunately no animals actually come close to Sauraha by choice so to see the animals we had to do a bit more then look at the river and drink tea. Our first full day in Chitwan we hired a guide and went on a little dug out canoe for an hour and then walked back through the national park itself. From the canoe we saw a lot of birds including king fisher, woodpeckers, peacocks (including one displaying its feathers to a potential mate - the first time I had seen that), storks, ducks to name just the ones we recognised. We also saw a gavial crocodile to those of us who don't really know our crocs) on the river bank. On the walk we were lucky enough to get to watch a rhino chilling out in a small stream where they like to cool down during the day. What an awesome sight and how lucky to be able to stand so close to such a creature. After the rhino we had brief glimpses of deer as they ran away from us and lots of Red Beetle. To be honest, other then the rhino, the walk wasn't particularly impressive for the money but it was good to be out in the relative wild and it felt strangely good to be walking again. We got back in time to watch the elephants that work in Chitwan having their bath. It is possible to pay to go on the back of an elephant at bathtime but after watching them for a while we felt the elephants were much happier when they didn't have tourists on their backs and they could enjoy their bath in relative peace so we decided to watch from a distance - after all the next day we were going to be riding on the back of the elephant anyway!
Early in the morning on our second day (and in the pouring rain) we set off for the elephant ride. Luckily nothing happens too quickly in Nepal so by the time we actually got to the elephants the rain had stopped and the morning was brightening up. We got on the back of our elephant, Pinky, and set off into the community forest in search of more wildlife. Animals are a lot less nervous of elephants then they are of humans on foot so we got to see a lot more today, in particular the deer didn't run away from us, instead we were able to watch them closely. We also saw two crocodiles (not gavials this time but actual crocodiles like in the movies!), mongoose, wild boar and a wild chicken. The ride only lasted an hour and a half and was very uncomfortable for most of that time but also wonderful again to be so close to these animals.
After our ride on the elephant, and having made sure the elephants all bathed again today while we ate breakfast and drank more tea, we hired some bicycles and headed to the breeding center which had been recommended to us by the guide but turned out to only have two baby elephants and not much else. Still as a day goes, what better way to spend it then in the company of elephants. However by the end of the day we felt we had seen all we were likely too in this particular national park (there are tigers apparently and sloth bears which I would have loved to have seen but it wasn't to be) and it was time to head back to Kathmandu on another bone-rattleing bus ride that brought to mind the closing scenes of The Italian Job - the Michael Caine version of course!