Relaxing with a couple of drinks looking out over Nepal’s Chitwan National Park gives you a feeling of tranquility. Nothing can go wrong – it’s just you and the moment. And man eating crocodiles. And blind, charging rhinos, wasps the size of testicles and I’m pretty sure I heard someone mention a tiger. But other than that. Carefree bliss.
Now obviously we’d come to the Chitwan well aware of these dangers, heck I actively wanted to hunt out (but I can not stress enough, not actually hunt) a tiger. However, the lush jungle landscape makes you lose your sensibilities – there can be no danger here, if we happen upon a tiger I reckon we’ll probably just cuddle, maybe share a lassi and part ways.
This was my humble opinion. Our guide’s humble opinion was that the tiger would kill us and eat us. Nonetheless Gemma and I were determined to find one and despite our guide’s negative outlook, he seemed pretty willing to help.
First though, we were to learn a little bit about the jungle dwellers. Or ‘people’, as they liked to be known. ‘People’ in the jungle make their houses out of clay, bamboo sticks and cow dung. I’ll be honest it smells like it sounds but the end result is pretty impressive and actually looks quite cosy. In their spare time jungle ‘people’ like to put on culture shows and dances (which bear a striking resemblance to English Morris dancing). And luckily, tourists like nothing more than to watch! What are the odds?!
The next morning we were in our best tiger finding gear (combat trousers and t-shirts from TK Maxx) ready to hit the jungle when our guide decided to bore us with some ‘safety rules’… “If you see a rhino take your clothes off and run in a zig zag. They’re short sighted and charge at human smells.” We saw a rhino. We did not do this. “If you see a sloth bear, get into a group and make loud noises.” We didn’t see a sloth bear. But we questioned the placid name choice of an aggressive animal. “If you see a tiger…”
“If you see a tiger…”
“He might kill you and eat you.”
“Oh. Yeah. I remember.”
It was still hard to believe any warnings of danger though; a canoe ride down the jungle river, a walk through the trees surrounded by playful monkeys, a relaxing bath with elephants (yep, it’s exactly how it sounds), it was just too hard to be on guard.
It has to be said, my relaxing bath with the elephants actually left me in dire need of a shower. I’d never got so close to an elephant before but i could tell the elephant and I had a connection. Regardless of any other tourist that elephant had bathed with before, our relationship was special. It worried me that later we’d be on an elephant back safari… I’d hate to hurt my new friend.
Luckily the safari guide clearly loved his elephant, who was allowed to stop to eat as often as it pleased and pretty much did what it wanted. In fact, the owner even told off a lovely elderly polish couple we’d met (who, although they spoke no English at all, managed to engage us in conversation for hours) for getting on the elephant slightly wrong.
The elephant back safari was to be our last chance to hunt down a tiger (again, with our eyes rather than guns). Elephants are harmless creatures which means it’s easy to get really close to other animals without scaring them. We saw bambi-like deer, antelope, monkeys and wild boar… But no tiger.
It was the last day of safari and walking back deflated but alive, our guide tried to console us on our tiger searching (searching – that’s the word, not hunting!).
“It’s probably for the best we didn’t see a tiger, you know it might’ve killed us and eaten us.”
“Yeah” we replied “we know, but why do you seem so at ease taking us out to search for one?”
“Well” he answered with a big grin “I had a feeling we’d be alright, because tigers tend to sleep in the day…”
He knew! He knew we wouldn’t find one! I’ll tell you what, if it wasn’t for the wild monkeys, crocodiles, dozens of rare birds, bambi-like deer, antelope, boar, elephants and one-horned rhinos I’d be fuming.