Thursday, 12 April 2012

Kakani to Chitwan National Park!

After being sick at Kakani I decided to give Daman a miss as there was still a lot of dust around, no visible mountains anywhere. Instead I would head towards Chitwan National Park, the inspiration for the Jungle Book (apparently). In the morning I could still hardly move properly but I packed up everything and got ready to leave. I ate some Sukuti (dried buffalo meat in spices) and managed to keep it down so I at least had some food in me.

The only good photo I got at Kakani. Everything else was just dusty air.

In my foolish non-thinking sick state I decided it was best to head back down the hill and go through Kathmandu as that looked like the most direct easy route. The other direction was more unknown, and possibly unsealed. So I had another day travelling through that horrible place called Kathmandu. It went on forever along the highway too, it wasn't until the Police checkpoint along the road that the buildings really died off but there was still constant traffic. I saw some Germans on a tandem bike that were still smiling, but they had come from the direction of Kathmandu. I guess they were happy to be out.

I rode through this valley west for hours. On my way I was overtaking many trucks, and being waved through many police check points (how many police does Nepal have?). I was still not quite with it with sickness. Eventually there was a turnoff down another valley which headed south towards Chitwan. This valley was far nicer to look at but I didn't take any photos that day, It was getting late in the afternoon and I was being slowed down by buses crawling over little bumps in the road.

Once I got through this new valley I saw some lightning in the distance, and then I felt raindrops. And I don't know why, but I always leave it too late to get my wet weather gear out. I put in the waterproof layer for my jacket but after that the rain stopped. The sky got much darker once I got to Bharatpur though. I needed to get more petrol too so I tried one fuel stop but they didn't have any fuel, and just as I was leaving there some light rain started again. And oddly enough the road was much better to deal with in the rain, all the local motorbikes dived for cover like they hadn't seen rain before and this left hardly anyone on the road.

I found a place to fill up just before the turnoff to Sauraha (the town that services Chitwan) which was heavily guarded by the army. Not sure why it was so secure as none of the others were. I filled up but just as I was about to leave the actual storm started. It was very dark now, like night time dark yet people were still driving around without lights. And the rain and wind had picked up. I had to keep turning the backlight on for the GPS so I didn't miss the turnoff to Sauraha (there are no signs here). After dodging mysterious unlit objects (buses or trucks) that moved past a black background I managed to turn down the road to Sauraha.

Along this road there were a lot of tractors with lights up high so I couldn't see anything, at one point I stopped to let one past, but they stopped right infront of me and kept their lights aimed at my helmet. I risked falling into a massive ditch by the side of the road I couldn't see and went around.

Eventually this road ended up going through a large field (from all I could see in the dark) and then I noticed that there was lightning very close now... Being on an object mostly made out of metal I thought this was not the best place to be so I pushed in through the hail and wind, trying to see the road through the very dark rain ahead. Eventually I saw a tree, which is not a smart place to be in a storm, but next to it was a small shop which had a little overhang for me to get over to. I parked there and waited for the storm to die down and some of the sunlight to come back.

I figured I did not want to be trying to look for accomodation in this weather, so I picked one that sounded good out of the Lonely Planet and gave them a call. They hesitated when they said they had a room, but they had one, and that's all I needed. Once the rain died down some more (it was still very heavy) I headed in the direction of the Chitwan Gaida Lodge. Once I got there they showed me to the room, and then told me that they had three people coming that night and only one room left. Whoever got there first would get the room and the others would be put in a place down the road. I only called because I didn't want that to happen, but I did get the room, who knows what happened to the others.

Finally I made it through that storm, still feeling slightly unwell too!

The next day they of course started trying to sell one of the tours they offer, I told them I'd like to do a full day jeep tour to see more of the park and then maybe do another tour after that, and that I'd rather share the cost of a full day tour with others ($100 by myself!). So for 5 days I wandered around Sauraha, eating, looking across the river, watching the nightly thunderstorms, and watching my blood pressure go dangerously low and stupidly high, all while waiting for other people to want to do a full day tour. I gave up waiting and asked to do a half day tour where they throw you in the back of a jeep with several other random people. But later that day others had arrived who wanted to do the full day, Success!

We were told to order breakfast the previous night, have it at 6:30am and we'd leave by 7am. But in the middle of the night a VERY big storm hit. The storms here have a lot of lightning with flashes every second and a constant rumble of thunder. This one however was very windy and the lightning was so frequent it was almost stayed light outside. So after breakfast the next morning they told me they they had to wait until they were given the all clear by the national park. That wasn't until 8am, and then we were off!

The couple who were doing the jeep tour with me were from Australia, but very much into their birds. So for most of the morning we stopped to look at many birds, which are OK, but I was there for the rhino (and tiger).





This is what we were travelling through most of the morning.


At this lake there was a tower to climb up, so we went up and in the distance we could see one rhino! Very far away, but it was there!

Tiger footprints.

While driving through the Sal forests someone happened to look behind the jeep and saw a small black shape moving across the road. We turned round and tried to catch up, which is where we saw this:

A Sloth Bear.
The Sloth Bear is one of the more rare sightings in the park (along with tigers). This one looked like it was injured, it really didn't like us following it. After that we went further down the road to where there was a small waterhole and a tower overlooking it. We went up the tower and waited in silence for 15 minutes because this was a good spot for tigers. But today there were none. So we pushed on a little further into the forest, up a small track to where we were going to have lunch, but instead we found this:
A rhino!
It was facing the other direction at first, then noticed us, and wasn't too happy. The driver of the jeep had tried to get a bit closer to it but then the rhino turned and started to charge, to which the guide said "it's charging! get to the jeep!" so that's where I went. But the guide and one other person had stayed by the river as the rhino stopped. Oh well. I think I'll stay in this tiny non-protective jeep.

After that we headed to another spot, hopefully away from any other large animals.

This is where we ate lunch.
When the jeep stopped the guide told us to stay in it, and he scouted around to check for any dangerous animals. Once we got the all clear we were out and started to eat lunch. The guide was telling us that at this spot he has seen a family of rhinos in the river a few times. Just not today.

After lunch we head out again, I was totally lost because I kept forgetting the sun is in the South in this hemisphere. We ended up in more grasslands though. There were more rhinos out here, this is what they looked like though:

Hiding in the grass.
In total we saw 7 rhinos. We didn't see any elsewhere in the park. A tour came back the day after and they had seen about 25.

We stopped by another lake which was supposed to be good for tiger spotting.



More lake.

Eagles nest in the tall tree.
But again, no tigers. We did see the army doing a patrol though here looking for poachers. Then it was a lonnnnnnggg bumpy drive somewhere, nothing to see for about an hour, not even any birds. We ended up back in the grasslands again:

Countryside like this.
Here we saw some domestic elephants, they're used by the army for some patrols.

Muddy road.
We went down a small muddy road to have a look, which is where the jeep got stuck. After trying to rock back and forth to get it out the driver eventually put it in 4wd, but this still didn't help. We had to all get out, and help lift it across to a dry part of the track. This got it out of that spot, but then we had to push it again when it got stuck in the next muddy spot.

On the way out some Bison were spotted off in the distance. I've no idea if I was looking at them through the binoculars or if it was just a tree stump. The others were pretty confident they were looking at five bison though.

More mud.

More grass, Bison were somewhere in there.

Spotted deer.

The road just next to the river.

Jeep parking.

Sauraha on the other side of the river.

Incoming storm? It didn't arrive that night :(

Waiting for our ride across.
And that was it for the national park! I stayed another day to get some laundry done, and also to look at the wildlife display which was next door to the the place I was staying. Some very strange stuff in there: rhino and elephant fetuses, various skulls, bones, skin, and genitalia...

My bike was parked at the guesthouse for a week, and during the week I saw people sitting on it (and twisting the throttle grip more so it's even looser now) and just generally looking at it all the time. Mostly it was the staff of the place I was staying. Most days I just check that everything is still attached, but the night before I left I checked the fuel to see if it was all there and it was still full. The next morning it was mostly gone... Someone had taken 15L of fuel from my bike in the night. I had just enough to get to the armed petrol station again, I think the only reason why there was some left was because they had no more room to take it. The worst part was they left it on reserve. I make a habit of checking before I get on the bike but if I hadn't I would have run out a lot sooner and then not have any reserve. First time that has happened this entire trip, or even when it was back in Melbourne for a year. The cap doesn't lock, but then it's very easy to take the fuel hose off the tap and drain it out that way. I usually try and leave it so I fill up the next time I ride it, but it's not so east in Nepal when I don't know when I'm going to get fuel.

It's rapidly adding up that Nepal has a high concentration of Jerks...

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