Note: I’ve added still more pictures to the “Nepal: 25 More Days” album, from rafting and Chitwan. Take a look!
It all started out well, I swear!
The plan was to take a tourist bus from Pokhara to a point where a rafting company would take me rafting on the Trisuli River. The morning started out well enough, leaving Pokhara on a nice morning with a blue sky. The first few hours of the bus ride went smoothly, although at our breakfast stop some of us noticed smoke coming from a tire well. Some Nepali boys banged away at it and by the time we boarded all seemed well.
An hour later, we were pulled onto the side of the road in a small town, wheel well smoking away again. This time, the Nepali boys (which every bus seems to have along for such occasions) took the wheels off and then began dismantling the axle. There were ten of us eyeing the entire operation doubtfully, itching to get to the rafting point that was reputedly only twenty-eight kilometers away. We ground our teeth and sweated for about an hour before deciding to thumb a ride. A passing pickup truck agreed to take us for a hundred rupees each (outrageous!) and we all piled into the bed, where there were benches along the side and plastic stretched over a framework above us.
Rafting went well enough, with everyone but the guides and me having their first rafting experience. I jumped into the river a few times, cooling off from the hard work of paddling in the humid heat. Two hours of rafting and relaxing later, we ate lunch at a shack and showered, fully clothed, under an open-air faucet next to two enclosed squatter toilets. Those tourists who were heading on to Kathmandu left; then those heading to Pokhara. The thirteen of us remaining who were headed for Chitwan waited. And waited. It began to rain and still we waited, starting to chew our lower lips again.
Finally, we were told that there was a strike on near Chitwan and no vehicles except tourist buses could get through, and that the next tourist bus would be by the next morning. They pointed down the road and explained that we could camp in tents and have meals, free of charge, while we spent the night and waited for the tourist bus. Many of us had booked package tours at Chitwan National Park, and none of us knew whether the lodges would honor the packages if we arrived a day late. Oh… there was no telephone reception and no landline telephones, either. We were stuck.
Three girls from England decided to head back to Kathmandu. A pierced and tattooed half-naked couple apparently decided to hang out at the shacks and see what happened. The rest of us – two Indians, two Belgians, two Germans, a Japanese girl and me – decided to try our luck in hitching a ride as close as we could get to our lodges, then call the lodges and ask them to send someone to pick us up. We all piled into the first vehicle that agreed: a truck with a large cab. The two Nepali boy mechanics who rode with the rig rode on top until it began to rain. At that point they squeezed in with the rest of us and all our luggage, making our party eleven in a cab meant to comfortably sit perhaps five. We were all rather cheerful and accommodating, chattering away and being goofy.
Until we started passing trucks parked along the side of the road, that is. When we could go no further we, too, pulled over, to learn that about ten minutes earlier, a tourist bus had flipped, blocking the entire road. We sat back and waited. We bought some chips from a nearby shack, and some water, and a little Coca-Cola and whiskey to help one of the Belgians celebrate his twenty-first birthday.
Three hours later – it was 9pm now – the accident was cleared and we were on our way. It was pouring rain and our crew was a bit quieter now. Another two hours and we reached Sauhara, the small village outside Chitwan National Park. We all hugged and exchanged e-mails and went on our separate ways to our separate lodges, having arrived well past the ending time of the strikes. My lodge, the Gorkha Hamlet, welcomed me and the two Belgians (who had not booked a place and decided to try their luck at my place), fed us a limited dinner and sent us to bed. My room was nice, with two beds and a furiously spinning loud ceiling fan, which blew my mosquito netting around all night but kept me cool.
I woke up the next day feeling nauseous and exhausted and with a headache that made me dizzy. My guide agreed to move my program forward a day to let me rest and recover, and I slept fitfully between rushed bathroom trips and sips of bottled water, until 3pm. At that point I joined three Polish travelers for a sight-seeing walk through a part of the borderlands of the National Park, a visit to a park information center with outdated information, a quick trip to some elephant stables, and a culture show that featured a thick Nepali-accented announcer and some wonderful Tharu dances. We managed to spot a gaida, a rare type of creature much like a crocodile but whose snout seemed much longer and narrower.
The next day, one of the Poles – Maria – was sick. The others, Justine and Peter, and I did all of our activities together: canoeing in a long, narrow boat and bird watching on the river; a visit to the elephant breeding center; a quick run to join others who had spotted an Asian Rhinoceros; and an elephant bath. During the canoe trip we saw a crocodile and some pretty birds, including a brilliantly flashing-blue kingfisher. At lunch, Maria seemed to be feeling better and decided to join us for the afternoon elephant safari. During the safari we saw another rhino, which was huge and really did look as armored as the pictures showed them!
Finally, today, we took a long, bumpy bus ride back to Kathmandu, and it worked out that I’m staying at the same place as the three Poles and the two Belgian guys from my Disaster Day. Actually, this was no coincidence: one of the Belgian guys left his waist pack, which held his passport and money and important papers – in the room at the Gorkha Hamlet. Knowing I was staying there an extra day, he’d called and asked me to bring it to him in Kathmandu, telling me the name of his guest house. And so, here we all are!
Five more days until I return to Turkey, and about two weeks until I head home! Time is flying along!