A 6am wake-up call was how we started our first "real" day in Chitwan and with omelette's in our belly we were ready to face the fearsome Jungle! The three Japanese ladies we shared the rickshaw ride with yesterday also met us by the 'Rapti' River, and in our own dugout canoe we all floated down the misty water while the golden, morning sun emerged. Dilli pointed out the array of wild birds and lent us his rubbish binoculars, which were about as good as looking through swimming goggles. Goggles weren't needed to peer into the shallow, crystal water though, and the beady eyes of a spiky, fresh-water crocodile were spotted towards the bank. Warm blooded, these reptiles have long, thin snouts, and are a lot smaller and less vicious than their Australian counterparts - but not the stroking kind either. Kingfishers, Herons, Cormorants. All birds seemed to have three types accor.ding to Dilli.. "small", "medium" and "large". Hhmmm, Interesting. Gracious 'Love Birds' glided above our heads, who typically live in pairs through their life, and if one dies the other also gives up the ghost. Now thats romance for you!
The river is so peaceful at this time with only a few woman doing a spot of washing and the humming, ribbetting and tweeting sounds to accompany us. Reaching a large, sandy bank we disembarked and stood to attention for our Jungle Brief on the dangers and perils we may encounter. Our canoe driver was already off chopping down bamboo which is used to build houses. With Dilli infront and myself and Andrew a few paces behind we barely set foot into undergrowth before we were told to hush and stay still. I thought he was just being dramatic but then I caught a glimpse of a large, tank-like object.. Roger the Rhino had come to greet us! Then his friend Robert was following behind. What an amazing sight! Their thick, overlapping skin really does look like armor!
As the ladies and I zoomed in with our cameras agitation was rising and the beasts were coming towards us. In a race against a Rhino a human is the sure-fire loser, and it isn't wise to stick around to fight. Rumblings and confusion rose amongst the group, shouts of 'get down' and 'move' ensued panic, and as I tried to check the animals whereabouts Andrew practically pushed my down the steep bank, followed by the other visitors. The canoe man, now engrossed in his daily task, was not aware of the frivolity even as the guides whistled and hollered at him, concluding he was deaf and in the danger zone. Roger charged down the bank and splashed into the river so the current splurged with waves of water from his weight. We all scrambled back up the dirt, grabbing roots and vines to pull us onto higher ground. One of the woman lost a trainer and frantically tried to shove her foot back into the shoe for what seemed like a decade. As with most uneasy situations I had a fit of nervous giggles, mainly at the sight of Andrew's wide-eyed, white face.
Our hearts returned to normal as Roger plodded away over the river and Robert retreated into the darkness. How we all laughed and sighed! I really thought our Japanese companions would be horrified but we all beamed at the surviving the situation having got such great snaps! It was no Steve Irwin moment, but hair raising non-the-less.
We didn't hang around for long and continued our journey deeper into the trees. Dilli mentioned it was mating season and therefore the male Rhinos in particular were more aggressive at this time, which made us wonder why we would tempt fate on foot through the wild? The guides laissez-faire approach came across as arrogance and although on the one hand it was an amazing experience, we felt a bit uneasy about the amatuer-ness.
From a watch tower we marveled at the expanse of flower and fauna, and spied on spotted deer as they timidly dispersed. Andrew and I were then taken on a different route to the gang and we ducked through entwining undergrowth, bypassing giant cobwebs and lots of scurrying creepy crawlies.Our second guide at the rear suddenly instigated silence and then instructed us all to run like the clappers. Unsure why were legging it we tried our best to dodge the sticky obstacles and keep up speed. It felt like we were on the set of Jurassic Park 5, or it is 6, but this was not movie with mechanical dinosaurs. Stumbling and puffing we ran for about 5minutes before finding the big path. They told us a Rhino was chasing us, but surely we wouldn't be able to out run that mean machine? We rejoined the others a little out of breath and enjoyed the rest of the walk back to the start point - just glad to be alive once again. What an unforgettable experience!
Back on the riverbank we were just in time to see a group of elephants being scrubbed. Every day at around 10:30am the local, long-nosed residents come to be bathed and it didn't take any persuasion for us to help out. We jumped on one of the Jumbo's back and he waded in ready for a wash. With shouts from the 'driver' the rough-skinned Nellie sucked up the water and sprayed it all over us, then slumped into the waved to tip us off before starting again. Tourists would watch from the bank above and holler and laugh at our screeching and whooping. I could have played all afternoon, the marvelous, floppy-eared creatures fascinate me and I really hoped they were having as much fun as we were.
We returned to the riverside later that day to watch the sun set and just as we settled down to a beer and basket of popcorn Andy spied Roger in the distance, coming down the river. Maybe her was coming back for a second shot at us? But no, he was just happy to saunter with no intent to come too close. This was certainly a rare occurance for a Rhino to come so close to the village and locals gathered to marvel at the sight. Roger trudged along and almost mechanically maneuvered back into the park.
The bright orange, red, yellow sky signaled the departure of the day in the jungle. Seriously, I could die happy tonight with such wonderful sights we've seen!