Monday, June 2, 2008

Hiking in Nepal: Annapurna, Dhampus, Pothana, Deurali, Ghandruk, Kmrong Pana, Chomrong, Kulditigar (Part X)

Tuesday, March 26

We were awakened at 5:30 for the 6:00 AM elephant ride. Gene had decided he had had enough of the elephants so he stayed behind. We only saw a wild boar, some deer, and a flying peacock on this ride.

Breakfast was served from 8:00 - 9:00 and consisted of eggs, porridge, toast, and potatoes. We were scheduled for the 9:45 canoe ride. Skyam was our guide and we had to walk through the jungle to get to the canoes. Before entering the jungle, Skyam explained the rules to follow when animals are encountered. If you cross paths with a tiger, never turn your back. Face it and walk backwards slowly. For Sloth Bears, everyone needs to gather together and make noise. When in rhino territory, either climb a tree or run in a zig-zag pattern. Rhinos can run at speeds of up to 45 mph, but it is difficult for them to repeatedly change their direction quickly.

We walked near monkeys, spotted deer, hog deer, and even saw 2 gharial crocodiles. These crocodiles have very long slender snouts, with lots of teeth. Sean only wanted to see them from afar! We also saw a sloth bear den and it's claw marks on a tree that contained lots of bee hives. Sloth bears love honey. The canoe ride went through a few "rapids" and we saw Siberian ducks in the river.

Lunch consisted of chicken, potatoes, carrots and cauliflower, with bananas for dessert. Sean went down for a nap and Bill and Gene headed to the elephant washing at 2:45. Luckily Sean was exhausted, or he would have been in the river attempting to wash the elephants.

The 4-6 PM nature walk was the most exciting! We saw monkeys, wild boar, spotted deer, a tiger foot print, and lots of rhinos - one of whom charged us! Sean and I were in the front of the pack of 12 walking through the jungle. We had 2 guides leading the way - each armed with a walking stick and a very small knife. We were walking along a slight uphill grade and hadn't reached the crest of the grassy hill when the lead guide came running past us shouting "RUN!". Thinking back over our instructions, the only animal you need to run from is a rhino. I started to look for trees to climb, but there were none in the area. That left running in a zig-zag pattern. No one seemed to be reacting to the situation. We felt this was a theatrical stunt staged for the benefit of all the tourists. Especially since you couldn't see or feel a charging rhino. But just to be safe, everyone behind us started to jog in a straight line along the path. Since Sean and I were closest to the suspected rhino (other than the remaining guide), I didn't want to be near the head of the line. Sean and I started running toward the right of the path after conferring with the guide. Unfortunately, the path I chose quickly came to a 10 foot drop. I stopped and looked back towards the guide. He was standing in the middle of the path less than 30 feet away from us holding out his stick. It was then that I felt the earth shaking and realized that this was not a false alarm. The only thing Sean and I could do at this time was attempt to hide. Rhinos have very poor eyesight, but excellent hearing and smell. We ducked behind a very scraggly bush and sat perfectly still. Just then the rhino came over the crest of the hill at a full run. It looked like the rhino was about to gore the guide, but instead it ran full speed towards him and then turned 90 degrees and came to a sudden stop. Very graceful for a 2 ton animal! Unfortunately, he was now facing us no more than 30 feet away. You could hear him trying to catch his breath. The guide never explained what to do if a charging rhino stopped in front of you. Would it make him mad if we got up and ran away? Would he be even madder if we stayed in his territory? I turned to the guide who was still standing in the path holding his shaking stick and he yelled "RUN!". I wasn't going to argue so I picked up Sean and started running back towards the rest of the group. Natang met me and grabbed Sean so we could escape more quickly. The rhino didn't follow us.

Bill was relieved when he saw us return unharmed. His first words were, "Did you get a picture?". Gene wanted to know what we were running from. He was stuck in the middle of the pack of people and didn't see a thing! Sean didn't talk much after we were charged. He wanted to be carried on someone's back and wanted to know whenever we were approaching rhino territory. We did encounter more rhinos on the walk, but the guide called them "scare-dy rhinos" and Sean was no longer fearful.

There was a 6:30 slide show of the flora and fauna of the park. The pictures were not very good and the speaker wasn't the best, but we did learn something about the park and it's animals. Dinner was chicken, Dal Bhat, potatoes, cabbage salad, and an Indian pudding for dessert. We sat by the river and had a beer with Natang before retiring.

Wednesday, March 27

The 6:00 -8:00 AM bird watching hike took us through yet another portion of the jungle. We saw 2 varieties of storks, Bee Eaters, Rollers, King Fishers, Pintail ducks, quails, egrets, ibis, and commerants. Rollers act like balsa wood models, gliding through the air and then diving down and rolling about. The King Fishers were attempting to catch fish. They hovered 20 feet above the water until they spotted their prey, then they would dive-bomb into the water. Most of the time they were unsuccessful.

Breakfast was eggs, toast, and fruit. Sean was extremely hungry! At 9:00 AM we headed back across the river to an awaiting bus/truck. The vehicle took us to Bharatpur, where the airport was located. Luckily Natang was with us. The vehicle was stopping to pick up local people and wasn't going to take us directly to the airport. Natang convinced the drivers to take us to the airport so we wouldn't miss our flight. We got to the airport in plenty of time, since our airplane was still in Kathmandu, due to bad weather. Natang contacted his office and confirmed that a plane was coming, but would be delayed.

The airport was very tiny and livestock grazed on the grassy field used for a runway. A siren sounded whenever a plane was approaching and people attempted to herd their animals off the runway. Luggage had to be weighed carefully and none of the 18 seats were assigned. As we watched our plane arrive and waited to board, the temperature on the airfield was 90 degrees. Sean and I sat in the first row and got to watch the pilot fly the plane (there was no door separating the cabin from the passengers). Bill spent most of the bumpy trip filling his air sickness bag. The 27 minute flight got us into Kathmandu at 1:30 PM. Natang escorted us through the airport luggage claim and Pemba was there to drive us to the hotel. It was humorous listening to Natang relay to Pemba his Chitwan experiences in Nepali - with English interspersed.

We ate lunch at the hotel garden cafe (Sean loved the fish and chips) and then Sean went down for a nap. Bill and Gene searched the streets for souvenirs. They came back armed with several Ghurkha knives, prayer wheels, silver boxes, bracelets, hand-made purses, and other random trinkets.

We walked to the Rum Doodle for dinner. Bill had the barbecue (major mistake) and I had chicken Kiev. Sean ordered macaroni and cheese, but didn't like the yak cheese.

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