Chitwan, Shitwan… (updated Video links)

Chitwan, Nepal

Song: The L Train is a Swell Train and I Don’t Want to Hear You Indies Complain by Out Hud

…I muttered at least a few times during the last 2 days off-roading in pursuit of the wonders of Chitwan National Park. Disregard any previous references to Royal Chitwan, as the royal family no longer has much pull or influence over things in Nepal, nor are they in the public’s favor. 25km-in today, (25 too far on these roads, in my opinion), I wanted to give-up and go home. I imagined skipping out on the Elephant Safari we were booking it to, late for our 3pm appointment, going home and laying in the hay pile and reading the Dalai Lama book I started yesterday, sipping on lots of warm tea, and blogging about how I hate biking these Nepali back roads. It was too late, we were too close, I had to push-on. I lucked-out actually, because the safari was much better than I expected, and I had a minor epiphany about these crap roads. I’m more tired than ever, and typing (and my English) is difficult tonight, but Let’s take it from the top:

Yesterday, Balarm the farmer graciously led us on bike to Chitwan National Park to hopefully go on safari, but it was a wickedly ass-kicking ride (in a bad way) 10km down some main thoroughfares, which for some reason around here are all covered with baseball to football-sized rocks. (The same roads we’ve suffered through before between here and Narayanaghad on bike and gypsy bus.) Unfortunately for us there was no safari yesterday, because unfortunately for some other humans and cattle in another area of the park, a dastardly tiger has been out terrorizing, and the elephants were called to duty to scare it away. (Tigers are scared of elephants.) We went out for a nice leisurely lunch at the nearby Rhino Resort, and had a much more pleasant ride back home on mostly nice smooth dirt paths that cut through the endless back fields of yellow, purple and pink flowers, which it was quite fun and picturesque. Why can’t they all be of smooth dirt? I don’t know why the main roads are all so rocky, when the land is obviously not — they must have been added deliberately by some misguided city planners, cuz they suck! (Sorry, just had to get that out. I disclaim, my Rant may not be fully exorcised yet.)

Today we biked 10km in the Other direction to another part of Chitwan Park (hopefully not That other part of the park with the bad tiger), with Pradeep, the farmer’s son, to hopefully see the purportedly kick-butt museum. The roads to get there, you guessed-it, Sucked! Then we paid the 500 rupees ‘tourist admission’ to military guards with machine guns — a handsome sum of money which we could live off for 3 days on the road, and get this, admission for Nepalis is only 20 rupees! With the theme of Jurassic Park going through my head we pass through the barbed-wire entrance, bike across a long bridge an get our admission ‘Permits’ looked over by another set of guards, then go down a short hill where some more guards try to make us leave our bikes with them, but Pradeep somehow gets us permission, thanking them Formally (Namascar!) before we follow the path towards the museum, which is Closed today. We went over to a nearby Alligator refuge, paid another 100 rupees each (gratis for Nepalis), and saw a bunch of alligators. There were a bunch of big turtle areas, but No turtles. The best thing we saw — no special fee required — was the Orphan Tiger. We walk through the woods and find a big wooden cage, as tall as it is wide and deep. I climb a ladder and look-in at the huge gorgeous Bengali Tiger, whose mother was a man-eater, which in this case runs in the family! I can comment on how much you’re all on your own regarding safety here, from the sketchy ladder that takes you up 20 feet, how easily I could have fallen (in or off), to the fact that I was taking video of the stunning beast through 1/2 inch of termite-chewed wood, and yes you can stick your fingers right in and touch her if you dared. Amazing!

Orphan Tiger
The Orphan Tiger (videos on Flickr: one / two)

Suddenly it was half past two and we had to beat it 15-20km to make our last-reservation-of-the-day Elephant Safari! Man, I knew it when we started off in the opposite direction that this would be the case! At 4pm we made it (an hour late), and somehow Pradeep convinced them to still take us on our wild journey. Another 4,200 rupees later (1,000 each for us, 200 for Pradeep) and with the Jurassic Park theme still playing we were crossing through multiple tall barbed-wire electric fences into the Elephant Sanctuary, which was indeed wild, sprawling, and beautiful. This is where everything changed to Amazing.

Rhino Butt
Armored [Rhino] Butt

I was worried that this whole elephant business might be a sad, exploitative affair. Ironically, my Vegan amigos were all gung-ho and despite my being grumpy on the ride over and trying to get out of it, here I was. As soon as I saw our two big elephants waiting for us, eating bundles of greens, I got excited. They looks SO adorable, lively, fit, and I’ll be damned if they weren’t happy to see us and Smiling. I’ve seen a bunch of elephants, a bunch of them heartbreaking, but also some happy ones, indeed, but these two 40 year old babes seemed to be doing all right. In a minute we were all petting them, holding their warm thick trunks in our arms, climbing on top. And off we went! Apparently we were very lucky to come across a couple of Rhinos only minutes into our jungle tour, a momma and baby. Single-horned Rhinos, native only to Nepal I believe, are SO cool-looking! Super thick, steel grey, with leathery armored bodies. Their butts look so funny! (Video to come on my Flickr, eventually.) The land was thick forest, with prehistoric-looking growth everywhere, no paths; we just forged through the brush atop our giant elephant kings of Chitwan like timeless kings or aboriginals ourselves.

Elephant Butt

Man I’m tired now, as you probably are of reading, but an hour later and many snuggles with our purring beastly friends (or were they growling? I can’t be sure), we were on our bikes again. It was suddenly dark, and we had a decent distance ahead of us to get home. And now for my epiphany, revisited…

This summer at Burning Man, the desert’s dry cracked surface was mostly soft and far more difficult to bike on than in previous years, due to some late rains in the season. Many people refused to even attempt traversing the playa on bike after their first day out, as the quicksand dunes could be seen everywhere — it just wasn’t as fun. One night after running our bar for a couple hours I borrowed someone’s cruiser and took-off into the night, biking like the wind, inebriated, uninhibited, and unfazed by the unfavorable playa conditions. It was then I realized that, regarding the sand dunes, what you can’t see can’t hold you back. So for the rest of the week I just didn’t pay them any mind, and I was free.

I had an idea that this might be the case, too, on these hell roads. In the fleeting light the road looked more smooth. Darkness descended, and we could barely make out the street or its countless rocks, road-apples and ditches, but we didn’t stop. Rocks went flying, we got slowed-down soft dirt, we bounced and jolted and surely had some close calls, but none more than during the daylight, and it was a lot less stressful. Miraculously we followed the strip of not-black home, and none of us busted our asses! I even think, opposed to our daytime weave to the clearest-looking patches of road, our blissfully ignorant direct path was smoother, and it went by a lot quicker.

With my eyes Off the road, I got to take-in the sights. As usual, electricity was out for miles, and I noticed all the dark homes with families within, an the rest with only a single candle (or two at the most). Oh, what a sight! Since we never bike at night, I’ve never yet had the pleasure to drive through towns in this minimal light. To glimpse into earthen homes lit by a single wick of fire is incredibly transcendent, just raw beautiful. All day today I’ve been noticing the beautiful architectural and aesthetic simplicity of the country homes, and by night they are ever more vivid. When we got back to our lightless home, I ditched my bike and lay in the hay pile. Balarm sat and spoke to me, and I could barley move, but eventually rolled over to show him video of the tiger and our jungle trip. It was all worth it. Pradeep went right to sleep (without dinner, I think!), we washed up, ate, and retired to our beds. Speaking of books, are you still reading? Sweet safari dreams!


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