IN THE JUNGLE WITH TIGERS AND RHINOS
Only a few moments into a 10-hour safari through the Chitwan National Park in southern Nepal, our guide Sum said, "I shouldn't be telling you this, but I was attacked by a tiger around here just last year." He pointed out the gully where the tiger had been feeding her young before it pounced on him. "I had no idea she was there. Wanna see the holes where her teeth went in?"
Lilah gulped and turned away as Sum lifted his shirt. She's a squeamish 14-year-old who didn't trust the chairs that were bolted into the back of our sketchy, topless army-type Jeep. On the safari, we were on the lookout for monkeys, water buffalo, jungle deer, peacocks, wild elephants, one-horned rhinos, termite mounds as big as fridges and trees that wrapped around each other like twisting jute.
But it was the elusive Bengal tiger that really freaked my daughter out.
So, no. She did not want to see Sum's puncture holes.
"Don't worry, chicken curry," he said, putting on a pair of aviator sunglasses that were missing one lens and securing a black mask over his nose and mouth to keep the dust out. "Tiger didn't like the taste of me. Ha!"
Historically, this 1000-plus-square-kilometre park has been a playground for hunters. But today, 800 armed militia constantly check permits and watch for poachers from high towers, and on foot by elephant patrol—they remind us that Nepal is serious about conservation and protection, especially of the tiger and rhino.
It was long, bumpy and hot, but the safari was an amazing excursion. We didn't see a tiger after all, but being mock-charged by a mother rhino who was leery of how close the Jeep was to her baby was adrenaline enough for me and Lilah.
IN THE RIVER WITH ELEPHANTS
We'd originally planned to take a ride on an elephant with a private mahout after the safari. When researching our trip, we'd marvelled over pictures of people sitting on wooden platforms, riding elephants through the jungle. But when we arrived and saw some of these beautiful creatures with their front legs chained together so they couldn't run or even move properly, babies chained just out of reach of their mothers, and learned about some of the questionable training techniques, we changed our minds.
Granted, progress has been made in the area of more humane treatment of elephants, and certainly the government-run breeding centre is helping build populations and raise awareness. But in the end, we didn't feel comfortable supporting the for-profit elephant-tourism industry. However, in the village of Sauraha, the mighty creatures were ever-present. They sauntered along the main streets of town, led by their owners. Some had colourful paint decorations on their wide faces. Others carried tourists, a few were used as working animals.
Every morning during warm season, elephants around Sauraha are brought to the river for a cooling swim. We saw them lie on their sides in the murky water as townspeople and tourists were invited to scrub them using rough rocks. Imagine a gigantic, half-submerged, wrinkled, grey burlap sack. Ears flopped like loose wings and the trunk, like a boneless arm with nostrils, waving in the air. People were casually invited to wade into the river and sit on the elephants as they showered themselves and their passengers.
We couldn't resist. Climbing onto an elephant is like hopping onto the roof of a small bus. Luckily, this bus crouched down for us to fling ourselves aboard. We clung to each other when the elephant lurched up, slurped water into his trunk, and started power-spraying us. All we could do was cover our eyes and gasp for air through the pachyderm shower.
PADDLING AMONG CROCODILES
Because we didn't see a tiger, we avoided being attacked by an angry rhino, and we didn't get crushed by an elephant in the river, I dragged Lilah on one more "outside-the-box" experience in Chitwan: a morning canoe ride down the crocodile-filled Rapti River. The narrow, tippy pea-pod of a vessel fit about 12 people. Somehow, 18 or so of us squeezed in, sitting on tiny wooden stools. It was a lovely ride along the misty river. Our barefooted captain stood on the back of the boat with a long oar pushing us forward. We glided by dozens of dozing gharial and mugger crocodiles. I asked Lilah if she remembered how to tell the difference between the two species, but she was too busy trying to stabilize the boat, which leaned to one side or the other as people snapped photos of the prehistoric sun-bathers.
She'd made it through Kathmandu, a trek in the Himalayas, and the jungle.
There was no way this girl was going to dunk in a crocodile river on her next-to-last day in Nepal.
To read more of Katherine's other Nepal adventures, published May 24 and 31, go to www.piquenewsmagazine.com.