The reason that I am here to begin with is a result of a phone call received from Ron Levy about 8 months ago at which time he invited me to celebrate his 60th in some unusual part of the world. Chitiwan, Nepal qualifies. As is always the case with adventure, one gets more than one bargains for. In terms of wit and wisdom, he certainly qualifies as a close second to yours truly. As a travelling companion, he and I compliment each other too well for words. The over-under on who would kill each other first was 48 hours, essentially prior to our departure from Doha.
I am pleased to report that those of you who went long have won your bet. Unfortunately, the vast majority of Nepalese society by now wishes that you’d lost.
Yesterday’s adventure began at 7:00 as we furtively slipped out of Katmandu under cover of darkness. The Maoists were restless. A general strike was in the offing. Our tour guide and driver had to sneak to the Yak &Yeti hotel on bicycles to avoid detection from potential marauders. Leaving early on eerily deserted roads, byways usually congested with rush hour traffic, allowed for a quick getaway. Our vehicle had green coloured tourist plates which functioned in a fashion similar to cars marked with a Red Cross in a war zone. All other tourist vehicles had large banners draped over their hoods proclaiming to be neutral. Not ours.
|My Kingdom for this Banner|
Apparently the only people exempt from the wrath of the Maoists are the tourists. While political manifestos are crucial for theoretical purity, Nepal does have its economy to consider.
As we traversed the spectacular vistas that seep rated Katmandu Valley from the rest of the country, a look back toward town provided an uncomfortable glimpse of the pollution level that choked the capital. Fresh air, pristine scenery and crystal rivers provided for unbroken post card scenery over the next eight hours. Our idyllic expedition was only slightly distracted by the plethora of armed police vehicles on the road and a scattering of military troops armed with weapons that could bring down an elephant.
And only twice were we forced to wait at the side of the road for a convoy to form that would be escorted by Kalashnakov carrying soldiers. Apparently the natives in south Nepal were restless.
We arrived at our destination, The Machan Country Villas, where we were greeted by a gracious staff who seemed amazed that we had eluded certain death at the hands of the revolutionaries. Escorted to our private cabins, we were no sooner unpacked then activities commenced. Event #1 consisted of an elephant safari. Ron and I clambered onto the back of Paknwalli, whose name means Beautiful Wind. Neither of us got close enough to the rear of the pachyderm to verify the appelation but we took it on good faith. We were advised not to expect much in the way of animal sightings. About two minutes later, we came across our first rhino.
Ultimately were were to see several more over the rest of that safari as well as the next day. More on that later. It turns out that most visitors never see any rhinos. We determined that the plural collective for the animal, such as a herd of cattle or a flock of seagulls was a plasty of rhinos.
Fording a river on the back of an elephant is an experience not soon forgotten. We returned to base for dinner, I taught the local barmaid how to mix up a triple martini (no olives available for love or money, but they did offer cinnamon as alternative) and we settled down for a sumptuous dinner. Role call for today was 6:30, a virtual sleep in. Early morning had us loaded on an ox cart heading to market (donna, donna).
As we drove on our tumbrel in the rising mist, we saw the local populace getting their day started. Kids in uniform going to school, animals being fed, men fishing,
plowing their fields
We offered to do this full time but since neither of us were ready to take a pay cut, we were back on the cart. A small museum, so small that you couldn’t find it on trip advisor, provided insight as to how much life had evolved here over the past five centuries. In actuality, not much. But they do have cell phones and fake Nikes like the rest of the third world.
Lunch was served. There are two groups staying here. Ron and I along with our loyal tour guide Dev being one, the other is a group from Mumbai who seem to incur the wrath of the staff with every late meal and missed scheduled event. Even we look good by comparison. We have also managed to develop a form of repartee that amuses the three waitresses although I must admit a twinge of jealousy since they find Ron to be even cuter and more charming than the author.
Charging Rhino, Shitting White Men
Afternoon activity consisted of a walk through the jungle with our two loyal guides, armed with nothing but wooden staves. Within minutes we were face to face with yet another rhino. Speaking from my new found experience with rhinos, it is much less disconcerting viewing them from the safety of being on board an elephant versus face to face from 50 paces as they start snorting and pawing at the ground. As Randy Rhino started moving toward us in menacing fashion, our guides started beating the ground with two bamboo poles and he eventually decided to turn away.
A side arm would have been more appreciated. We feel that the rhino was so bemused by our pathetic attempt to stave it off that he ran off to tell his friends.
Following this incident we had tiger tracks and bear tracks in the fresh mud.
|Tiger tracks; fresh tiger tracks|
Ron and I wanted to follow their trail. The guides stated that we were free to keep heading in that direction but they would be going the other way. The argument did not last long. Our next rhino siting (I thought this was a rare and endangered species) involved sighting a mother and child. We decided not to get too close.
Fortunately and elephant was walking by us at that very moment. We used his body as a screen to avoid being sighted by Mama. Adrenaline was certainly flowing. Then the action started. Our guides heard some serious rustling in the bush not far from where we were standing. Turns out that the noise was that of two rhinos fighting. The look in the guides’ eyes was less than disquieting. They began scouting for nearby trees for us to climb. I didn’t understand the issue. So what if two rhinos are having a rumble. Apparently, the loser gets pissed for having come in second and seeks solace by attacking the nearest human he can find. That would have been us. Anyway, since I’m typing this, we survived.
Dinner was served back at the ranch. It included bouquet presentations to Ron from the three miserable wench waitresses that I am starting to hate, a rousing Happy Birthday from the India contingent, followed by a wish from them that he lives a thousand more years with each year consisting of 50,000 days. You do the math.
Tonight’s post dinner activity consisted of native folk dancing. We were immediately co-opted into the fete and had a cardio work out that had our hearts pumping faster than they were during our rhino encounters. Other than that, not much going on.