Chitwan

Today had no travel other than local and the major activity, our safari, would be in the afternoon so we were allowed a rare late start. The extra sleep time was appreciated by everybody.

Breakfast was scheduled for 8:30 am so rising at 7:30 am left us plenty of time to prepare. After dinner last night we had ordered the ‘healthy breakfast’ and were served black coffee and a large bowl of muesli topped with fresh fruit, yoghurt, and a swirl of honey. It was the closest thing to our normal breakfast we had seen since we left home so we enjoyed it. I ate all of mine but the amount was more than Majella could handle.

At 9:30 am we gathered for a walking tour of the local settlement area. There was a local guide who had fairly good English and was able to explain what we were seeing and answer questions. Ruby was able to assist with translation when needed. Our path took us around the local settlement, some of it through the areas we had seen on our bicycle tour yesterday afternoon and some along different pathways. Moving at walking pace allowed for much easier stopping and starting, or just ambling slowly, so were were able to look more closely at what we were seeing and ask more questions when necessary.

There had been a cool breeze when we first woke but by the time we went walking the temperature was comfortably mild though the humidity made it seem warmer as we walked. There was an early morning mist which had lifted a bit by then and continued to lift as we went.

Along the way we saw examples of traditional housing construction using mud plaster over elephant grass which had to be renewed annually after the damp of the monsoon would cause the plaster to slump. New houses are being built using a firm foundation of river stones to support rendered brick and concrete structures which are typically decorated very colourfully. In some cases paint or tiles are used to make decorative patterns but in others the render or concrete is patterned by hand or using moulds.

There were opportunities for close encounters with water buffalo, cattle, goats, chickens, and roosters. We watched two roosters asserting dominance by alternately crowing and rushing at the one crowing only to stop short and engage in distraction behaviours like pecking at the ground. Some caused temporary distress to a mother goat by cuddling one of her twins that still had evidence of the umbilical could showing.

Our guide also pointed out various crops. He showed us the seed pods for lentils, mustard, and other plants. We saw those and other crops growing in small plots and citrus orchards that appeared to be in the early stages of development.

Small shopfronts appeared on some houses, occasionally close together. They sold a variety of items but Ruby pointed out that almost all included beer and spirits in their stock. Alcoholism is apparently a growing problem and the government is disinclined to limit sales because the taxes are a source of revenue.

Our overall impression was of a well established community in transition from a traditional subsistence lifestyle supported by living on easily cultivated land with a reliable water supply that enables food production. Modern amenities like more substantial housing, electricity, mobile phones and other consumer goods require cash. In some cases that is being provided by people, mostly men, working away. Ruby noted that some of the men were likely serving in a British Gurkha regiment but there would be other sources of foreign income being remitted to support maintenance and enhancement of local lifestyle.

After walking for about an hour we found ourselves full circle, back at our community lodge. Majella and I went to the bar in search of coffee but settled for Cokes as the most easily available source of late morning caffeine. Our craving satisfied we went back to our room to rest and wait for lunch we we had ordered at breakfast.

Majella had chicken fried rice for lunch. It was a large serving and she was unable to finish it. I had chicken momos. They came as a serving of 10 which was as much as I could handle. Full as we were at the end of lunch we had to order dinner then and decided to go for something smaller.

At 2:00 pm we assembled for our Chitwan National Park safari. The vehicle was a high 4WD truck with 4 rows of seats in pairs down either side. There was plenty of room for all of us and our guide who was a park ranger and naturalist. The vehicle bumped and lurched out of the village and through the dip at the nearby creek, warning us of what was to come. Our guide had given a short briefing, emphasising the need to dodge overhanging branches and not be tempted to grab or push them since they might be thorny.

A little way out of the settlement we forded a creek and headed to the park entrance. Just before we entered the park our guide used a stone in his hand to tap on the metal seat frame as a signal for the driver to stop. He pointed out an eagle sitting on the branch of a tree some distance away and also identified some other birds that were perched in nearby trees as a green bee eater and a black capped oriole. I showed him a photo on my camera of a bird we had seen while drinking our Cokes and he identified that as a long-tail shrike. He managed to maintain that standard of spotting and identifying wildlife throughout the afternoon while communicating with the driver mostly by tapping with his rock for stop or go.

As we entered the park we saw a male peacock that sauntered along the track, in no rush and seemingly showing us the way. It eventually went bush and we drove on to reach the river. We paused there to watch a deer on the far side and some migratory birds nearby. The birds were the ruddy shelduck, a reddish duck, and the bar-headed goose, mostly white with a black bar on its head. Our guide informed us that the goose is the highest flying bird and has been known to fly over Mt Everest. There appears to be some doubt about the latter claim but it has been observed flying at about 7000 m which is high enough.

After some more driving through the bush we stopped again at the river further upstream. There we saw a snake headed bird, named for the shape of its long neck. Our guide spotted a crocodile far away on the far side of the river. It was too far to be seen clearly with the naked eye and even with a 300 mm lens it was indistinct.

Further on in the bush the guide signalled for a stop. He had glimpsed something in a depression and behind bush to the right. We all got down and followed him in silence. He had spotted a pair of rhinoceros, mother and youngster, feeding. There was also a wild boar that soon wandered off. We stood and watched the rhinos for some time. They must have been aware of us as we were upwind and they raised their ears occasionally as though listening more intently. At first the younger one was out of sight but it moved into the clear and both moved a little closer to us. Eventually they settled for a wallow in a pool and we drove on.

We paused as required at an army post and heeded the warning not to photograph the post. There was an elephant tied up a little way off on the other side of the road. It had the longest tusks we could recall seeing anywhere. The guide assured us that it would usually be allowed to move freely, though it was used by the military for local patrols, and was well fed and looked after.

Our guide had seen tiger footprints earlier and spotted another set in mud just beyond the army post. We stopped to look at them and the deer footprints in the same bed of mud. He thought both may have been made this morning. What happened to the deer we do not know.

Along the same stretch of driving at different times we saw a red rooster and deer of two different species. At first the rooster seemed out of place but they must be native somewhere and not just reside in fowl houses. The deer were across a pool of water but were were able to get clear glimpses when they were well positioned.

Toward the end of our travel into the park we came to an area where the rangers had been burning to promote green growth for feed. There was another safari vehicle already in the space observing a large male rhinoceros. We joined them and watched it for a while until it moved off. It moved back the direction we needed to go and we followed it for a while to get a clearer closer view. The clearest was when it came out of the long grass to cross the track just ahead of us.

Our path back out of the park backtracked to the army post and then took a different route along winding trails with occasional patches of mud to cross. We exited the park a couple of hundred metres upstream of where we had entered. As we passed under the tree where the eagle had been sitting somebody observed that it was still there as though it had not moved at all.

Back at camp we had time to rest before dinner. We had ordered in the wake of our large lunches so decided I should order chicken curry and Majella would order apple fritters. Then we could share this as main and dessert. Both were tasty and the portions were more than ample for us both. The apple fritters were slices of apple fried in donut batter.

After dinner there was a presentation of slides about the community and the wildlife in the park. That helped to fill out our understanding of the local area before we headed off to prepare for an early morning

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