Chitwan with Pemba
Writings at the Internet Cafe
Email to Mom
Sat, February 5, 2000, 19:33:49
Hello from Kathmandu. Gena and I are here having a grand time. We’ve been all over the city already after two days in Singapore. Great fun. I’ll write more later. Just wanted you to know all is well.
We’ll be trekking starting on Tuesday. I will call my host family tonight. You can write to me at this address again like last time.
Subject: Re Hello Heather
Date. Saturday, February 19, 2000, 04:14:35
Mom, all is well. We’re having a good time. It is busy here with lots to do. And we’ve seen it all. Gena is out shopping now and we’re meeting soon. It’s time consuming to get on the internet so it’s hard to write. Please don’t worry. All is well. Also, here I’m making some business connections. It’s ffffuuuunnn! More later.
Subject: More Adventures in Nepal, Story 1, 2, 3 - after Gena’s Trip
To Mailing List
Friday, March 3, 2000
(Note: Not that the adventures of the previous days were any less as grand as the following, the difference is that I am alone now and have time to write.)
Wow!! I just returned from three days with Pemba in Saurhara and Royal Chitwan National Park in the southern very flat part of Nepal. My hope was to see a tiger although all the guidebooks and anyone who had been there said this was next to impossible. There’s a 5% chance, one man said.
There are a few ways to go about looking for tigers. One is on elephant-back and this is what Pemba and I tried first. The elephant loading platform looked like a look-out tower. From the top we climbed into the square sort of saddle tied with one strap to the elephant. The ride was awkward at first but after adjusting to the rhythm fo the elephant’s slow plodding steps, this was a great way to see the park. And sure enough, in the tall elephant grass we were soon face to face with three giant and prehistoric-looking rhinos! They didn’t seem to be bothered by their elephant friends so we could easily take some good pictures.
Next the elephant entered the “jungle”, more like forest than a tropical place, yet beautiful with the sound of exotic, rare and distant birds chirping all around in stereo. We saw a wild boar, barking deer, more rhinos, and a few wild peacocks.
To be continued……
The next day, Pemba and I hired a guide to take us on a jungle walk. On the way, the guide explained a few dangers we may encounter. First, if the rhinos were to attack, they will charge at 40 kilometers an hour. We were instructed to run in zigzags if this were to happen. Apparently, the rhinoceros has poor eyesight and will charge anything that scares him. The guide said we could stand behind a tree or even better climb one.
Next the guide described the dangers of the sloth bear. This is the most dangerous animal in the park as bear tracks are more frequent than others. If a bear were to attack, the guide said we should remain in a group, yell and scream, and beat the ground with a stick. Hopefully, this would scare the bear away.
The third dangerous animal, and the least likely to attack, is the tiger. Tigers are easily scared and will hide before humans can even see them. Thus, the bear technique also works well with tigers.
Having said all this, the guide stopped in his tracks on the narrow dusty path. He listened.
I heard fireworks, a popping and crackling in the bushes ahead.
“A grass fire,” the guide said. Once a year the elephant grass is cut and burned to regenerate new growth.
My heart started beating. I saw images of a wild forest fire burning out of control, like on TV in the West in the states. The guide tuned and said, “Let’s go this way.”
The crackling became louder and bits of black ash drifted near us — the kind that leaves a big black smudge. Then the guide stopped again. He listened.
“Rhinos,” he said. He squinted to see through the bushes. “Over there,” he said. “Be very quiet. Go slowly.” He tiptoed from one clump of bushes to the next. Pemba tripped over a stick behind me. “Be quiet,” the guide repeated, whispering loudly with a serious tone. He stopped to listen again. “There they are,” he said.
Sure enough, the rump of a rhino’s thick armor-like skin came into view through the leaves, maybe 25 feet away!
The guide left us in a clearing as he walked closer. “Wait there,” he said. The grass fire burned nearby.
A minute later the guide beckoned for us to come closer. Pemba stayed behind. With my video camera in hand and heart pounding, I trusted the guide.
“Look there,” he said as I approached. “It’s a mother rhino with her baby.” (My video footage will certainly be shaking.). “The most dangerous kind,” he said.
We watched a while, then tiptoed away, escaping an encroaching fire and a potential rhino stampede.
While walking back on the dirt road, the guide said we were very lucky to see wildlife in an hour’s walk. Some people walk for days without much excitement. He then went on to explain that not too long ago, a tiger crossed the river and wandered into a nearby village. The tiger walked into a house and snatched an old man from his bed in his sleep. The body was never found so it seemed the tiger had taken it into the jungle and devoured all. Once the tiger realized how easy and how tasty humans were, he returned and was captured, then killed.
!! This building is about to be run over by a large truck. Wow, what’s the excitement outside? More later. Hope all is well. The man next to me is typing loudly with two fingers (only). I hope he doesn’t read my screen. :) (He seems nervous.)
Today is a big Hindu festival called Shivaratri, a day when everyone worships Shiva at Pashupatti Nath in Kathmandu. This is one of the biggest Shiva centers on the Indian subcontinent. Pilgrims come (Many walk for days) from far away places in India for this festival.
I went to the temples this morning and besides the overcrowding herds of humans, the cremation ceremonies were also interesting. Though I used to live in Kathmandu and have traveled here before, I have never until this trip been able to cross the bridge at the temples with my eyes open. I always avoided the sight of human bodies being burned. Smoke fills the area and a certain smoky smell lingers. I’d never seen it until now. Today I walked across the bridge and actually watched. And it wasn’t that bad, rather a natural thing to do when someone has died.
Back to Chitwan:
One afternoon (after the jungle walk), Pemba and I booked seats on a “jeep safari”. This option took us further into the forest, thus increasing our chances of meeting tigers and other wild beasts. Our jeep was loaded with nine tourists, a driver and a guide. The back of the jeep was open (probably dangerous in the US but not here) where three people could stand. Then a short bench on either side of the back of the truck was where the others, including me, sat or stood up through an open metal jeep cage.
During the first half of the safari, I was thinking that the elephant ride and jungle walk were somewhat more exciting than the jeep excursion. In the jeep we passed some deer, a wild boar and a peacock. Then we stopped at the crocodile breeding center where the re-chargeable battery for my video camera died. I wasn’t too upset seeing that the jeep adventure had been rather uneventful (so far). The guide said the last time he saw a tiger was last May, and that was his only siting the whole year.
Soon after leaving the Crocodile Breeding Center, we came upon a quiet lake. And instantly the guide spotted a rhinoceros wading in the water. All our attention was on the rhino. When at that moment, we were stunned to see movement in the bushes. We watched as the elusive TIGER!!! appeared. Everyone was in shock. It was difficult to keep quiet. The tiger then disappeared into the bushes, maybe going for a swim.
A minute later he reappeared! This tiger didn’t seem to mind eleven people in a jeep all staring at him. He wandered with grace and dignity through the bushes in full and beautifully-clean sight, maybe 40 feet from the jeep. The tiger then wandered into more bushes and was gone. The driver quickly maneuvered the jeep in the narrow dirt road to follow him.
We had forgotten all about the giant rhino who was bathing nearby.
The next thing I knew, the driver and guide were yelling, turning in their seats to look back. The rest of us turned to find an enormous rhino CHARGING toward the jeep. He was angry. Everyone hung on for life as the driver floored it, racing ahead at 40-plus kilometers an hour. The rhino’s legs were swinging in every direction and dust came up from under him. My heart skipped, then pounded. I held the bars trying not to fall out.
Finally the rhino stopped in the road and the jeep stopped too. There was a debate wheather we wanted to make him charge again. It WAS fascinating to watch. Or should we instead move slowly ahead to escape him? For a while we looked at him and he looked at us. And soon the rhino walked way, hiding back in the bushes near the lake. On the side of his big rhino head, there was a large hole. The guide thought it looked like an injury caused by a tiger perhaps the day before.
The driver then attempted a K-turn in the narrow dirt road. The idea now was to go back to find the tiger. When we were mid-turn, the jeep began to roll backwards toward the lake. With manual drive, the driver had trouble starting the jeep on the steep embankment. We rolled down a few more feet toward the water before he hit the breaks. Everyone agreed we better get out or soon we’d be swimming.
We got out and pushed the jeep back on to the road while wild tigers and rhino’s stood lurking in the bushes nearby. Finally we hopped back into the jeep but by now, the tiger was gone and the rhino, too.
On the drive back we encountered THREE different sloth bears which seemed trivial after the tiger and angry rhino. We saw nearly every animal in the park that day! And my video camera was dead at just the wrong time. I have pictures as proof, but I feel sick thinking about how I missed getting the tiger and rhino episode on video.
My third wildlife encounter in Chitwan occurred after a long and dusty four-hour bike ride to Bis Hazar Thal (20,000 Lakes). This was a beautiful place where bike riding was difficult due to numerous butterflies! I found myself squinting to see through the fluttering of colorful butterfly wings. And at every opening in the bushes along the dirt road, there was a new lake.
On the way back, Pemba and I rode to the Elephant Breeding Center. It was amazing to ride through the local villages in the evening where animals slept tied up under grass roofs, children played barefoot in the road, chickens dodged my bike tires (actually I dodged the chickens more than they dodged me), a family ate rice and vegetables, and on occasion herds of oxen filled the street on their way home from grazing.
Enchanted, I came to a peacock with all feathers showing, fanned out literally blocking the entire road ahead. I had to stop my bike as two elephants were coming the other way. I fumbled through my backpack for my camera as the peacock came closer. A local man called to me saying, “You better get away from him.”
Apparently, peacocks go for the EYES! By now the bird’s thick beak was pecking at my front tire and eyeing my eyes (maybe?). He walked around to my side. Would he peck at my leg or jump straight for my head? My heart raced.
I risked all as I jumped up for the pedals and rolled away with a fearful wobble.
At the end of the road, the sun set behind the Elephant Breeding Center. One large male with tusks howled again and again, a roar like a lion which echoed across the river and through the jungle nearby. The sound was frightening.
That night Penba and I caught the last five minutes of the native “stick dance” performance (for tourists). It sent me back to the hotel (hut) smiling. Another great day.
My final wildlife story is about Laxmi Kali, a five-ton friend with an eight-foot trunk. She let me give her a bath in the river! Laxmi;’s owner motioned for me to climb barefoot aboard Laxmi’s large back. She sat with one hind leg bent as a set of stairs. Five large steps up, and I was straddling her neck.
“Hang on,” her owner called. I’m glad I did, for Laxmi jerked forward, then back to stand up. She stepped slowly listening to her owner’s commands, walking into the water. She obeyed him without thinking. She lay down in the shallow water. Again her hind leg was bent behind her for me to step down.
The owner and I splashed her with water. The locals use stones and bundles of grass as brushes to get the elephants really clean. Laxmi’s owner's next command told the elephant to fill her trunk with water and spray herself, just like in the movies.
Next, the owner again motioned for me to climb aboard. I thought we were done, but instead Laxmi rolled over on to her side nearly throwing me into the water. I jumped off just in time. What fun!! Now I want a pet elephant!
The next adventures will be after seven days trekking in Langtang. On Monday I will take the bus directly north. The roads sound picturesque at least, but it takes 12 hours to go 125 kilometers (!!??). Slow winding mountain roads, I guess.
I hope all is well at home. Thanks for your messages.
Email to mom, Tuesday, March 14, 2000
What to do? Take out $1,000 and go crazy shopping for my garage? Sending things home? Importing laws? Your suggestions….please. AND I just got an email from a woman who wants to buy ALL of my paintings…. Help….!!!
I love you.
Before leaving for Nepal on this trip, I had put up several of my framed drawings at the Del Rio restaurant downtown Ann Arbor. They were for sale. I wasn’t expecting anyone to buy them and especially wasn't expecting someone to want to buy them all!