I’m back! And I have had such an amazing adventure these past five days. If I tried to share all of the great things we did, it would take almost as long as long as the trip itself, so I’ll share with you the highlights...which will probably still be lengthy.
We left early Wednesday morning headed for Chitwan, a jungle area of Nepal known for its wildlife. We hired a car with a driver for the entire weekend knowing that each leg of our journey would be several hours.
Three hours into our drive to Chitwan, we stopped for a 20 km white water rafting excursion. It has been so hot since we’ve been in Nepal, the cold water was a welcome break. I’ve never been rafting before and I really liked it - granted, the “rapids” were more like a gentle current in most places.
|Looking good. We left our camera in the car and took a picture when we finished rafting.|
|Sunset in Pokhara|
Once we made it to Chitwan, we checked in to the Parkland Hotel for two nights. On our first evening, Our guide Saroj took us for a nature hike through the jungle to watch the sunset over the lake. It was a quiet evening before the craziness of the day to follow. We were instructed to wear dark colors the next day - apparently rhinos and other animals are less agitated by them.
We started Thursday morning at 5:30 a.m. and headed to a nearby river for a canoe ride. Each canoe is hand-carved from a single tree. The quiet of the jungle was noticeable compared to the loud city.
|Farrah, Aly, and Anna in our canoe|
On more than one occasion, we came within feet of giant crocodiles. It was totally surreal. They seemed totally uninterested in our boat, but it wasn’t lost on us that they were likely swimming down below us where we couldn’t see them…
|He's bigger than he looks!|
We got off the canoe down-river and began our hike through the jungle of Chitwan. Unlike the several other tourists being guided on a trail, Saroj decided to lead us off the trail and literally into the wild. It was like off-roading...with our feet. Saroj is a local to Chitwan and was born in a village on the river that was later claimed by the government to make the land a protected national park. Even though we were way off the path, I never felt lost because Saroj seemed totally confident that he knew where he was going. Fortunately, he did.
|Hiking with Saroj|
|Proof for my friends and family that I actually hiked|
The hike was beautiful. All of the moisture and humidity in Nepal makes it uncomfortable for people but ideal for plants - everywhere we looked was green. The biggest problem with a trek in the jungle is trying to avoid bugs and other creatures. An Australian guy, who was paired with us for the morning, was attacked by leeches. Yes, leeches. So disgusting. Anna found a small one on her leg and was quickly able to get rid of it, but poor Australian was half eaten alive. He later told us it took hours for the bleeding to stop. Blllleeeeeeeeeh!
Our hike ended at an elephant breeding ground, where we felt the need to take dozens of pictures of the baby elephants...because obviously all of those pictures will come in handy.
|Baby elephants at play|
|Have you ever seen tusks like this?!|
The next two things we did are my favorite of the entire long weekend.
|Elephant enjoying a bath|
The elephant walked into the river as we screeched in excitement (and maybe a little fear) and stopped to splash around and cool down. Any description I can give of what I was feeling would be inadequate. It was so exhilarating. I loved it. Sitting on an elephant being splashed in the face with cold water from her trunk is unlike anything else I have ever experienced.
|On our way to the river. You can tell the size of the elephant compared to the guide walking alongside.|
|This is one way to cool down...|
When we got off the elephant, I was convinced that the experience would be the best of the weekend - but I didn’t know what was coming next.
Later in the afternoon, we headed into the jungle again for a safari. Our ride? Another elephant. But this elephant had cushions and a little seat strapped to its back. I was concerned that a tourist attraction like this might have ill-treated animals, so I was really pleased to see that our safari guide treated our elephant, Puja, extremely well.
|Elephant safari line|
Less than five minutes into our jungle ride, the sky opened up and it started monsooning. I’m not talking about a little bit of rain. I’m talking about a solid wall of water from the sky. So there we are riding through the jungles of Nepal on the back of an elephant in the middle of a thundering monsoon - laughing hysterically. We were drenched from head to toe and loving every minute of it. I can’t even describe how happy I was.
The rain cleared after about half an hour and Puja continued on into the jungle. She was a total off-road elephant who had no trouble deviating from the path in search of jungle animals. The elephant handler guided Puja by tickling the back of her ears with his toes and giving verbal commands.
An hour and half into our ride, we came to a clearing and found a large rhino and her 2-month-old baby! We were feet away from these wild animals, who completely ignored us in favor of munching on grass. They were stunning.
|Perspective to show how close we were to the rhinos.|
In my excitement and haste to grab my camera, I accidentally dropped my sunglasses. As it had been raining, everything was muddy, and there was no way I was getting off the elephant into the mud feet away from a mother rhino - so I wrote off my sunglasses as a loss. Seconds later, Puja the elephant was reaching up with her trunk and handing my sunglasses back to me! Best. Elephant. Ever!!!
The descriptions of my two elephant encounters really do don’t justice to how I felt or what we saw. I’m still in awe and slight disbelief that these things really happened.
We finished our time in Chitwan with a trip into town to watch a cultural performance and woke up early Friday morning for a final jungle walk/bird watching tour before getting back in the car and making the several-hour drive to Pokhara.
Pokhara is a lake town known for outdoor activities and attracting international and Nepali tourists. We only had a short time to spend, so we got up early Saturday morning and walked from our hotel, Lake Star, to the lake to hire a canoe and a “driver,” which really means a guy to paddle for us.
We set out on the lake and took in the beautiful views. From the water, we could see the peaks of several snow-capped himalayan mountains. We (meaning our driver) paddled into the middle of the lake to a small temple that was built on a tiny patch of land in the middle of the water. The temple is very small and we were able to walk around in less than 10 minutes, so we spent the remainder of our time boating past mountains and staring at the famous World Peace Pagoda at the top of one peak.
|View from the canoe|
We’re told you can hike to the pagoda, but the heat was so intense that we didn’t even bother to try hiking. When I say hot, I mean the thickest, most humid, most intolerable heat you can possibly imagine. The temperature may not be as high as other places, but the humidity and lack of breeze made it among the most uncomfortable places I have ever visited. Based on that, imagine how excited we were to find milkshakes in the morning!
Because cows are sacred, most (if not all) places we’ve been have served yak milk and cheese instead of cow milk. For those of you who know me well, you know this has been a challenge for me because I regularly make it through a gallon of milk within a couple of days. At this point, I’m so desperate for cold beverages that I’ll take whatever I can get.
|Cows walk the streets and are free to go wherever the please. Anna dubbed this spot "Cow's Corner," in honor of the famous Orange County motorcycle hang out, Cooks Corner.|
We finished our afternoon with a walk around the town, inexpensive massages at the Tranquility Spa, and dinner on the lake. After dinner, we wandered into the bar next door to watch the live music. It was entertaining to watch a Nepali band sing American rock songs. The singer was talented in his own right, but clearly had learned the words to the American songs by listening to them instead of reading them. If you ever listen closely to a rock song and think about the lyrics from the perspective of a non-English speaker, you’ll notice that several of the words run together and you only really understand the song based on context, not enunciation. This became strikingly clear as the singer switched back and forth between actual words and random mumbling sounds that could pass as words if you weren’t paying attention. It was a very clever way to make it through the music.
Sunday was our travel day back to Kathmandu, and we sadly said goodbye to clean air and clean-ish streets and headed back to the noisy, crowded city that is our temporary home.
Considering everything I just wrote, I know its hard to believe that I didn’t describe everything we did this weekend, but I really did edit and leave things out. After our first week in Nepal, I know I made the right choice in coming here. Not that I forgot, but it reminds me how beautiful and interesting and different the world can be.
So, now that we’re back in Kathmandu, we’ve started our volunteering and had our first day of work today. That was an adventure in itself! Check back soon for details on our work in the monastery and orphanage!