#17 Tiger Tiger burning bright......

Sent: Tuesday, November 27, 2001 1:48 PM

The Himalayan rafting bus drops us off at Chitwan National Park, an hours drive from our rafting take out point (don't ya just love jargon?) > We are both looking forward to our 3 days in Southern Nepal where the terrain is flat, covered in jungle and home to elephants, Bengal Tigers and Indian Rhinos as well as lots of smaller wildlife

The Nepalese try hard to sell as much of their country as possible wrapped up in expensive packages, trekking, rafting, jungle, and if time is short it is easy to understand the appeal of such packages, but our cash is far more limited than our time and we have found that if we look beyond the tour companies who will always tell you you need a guide, a porter, a package, then far cheaper independent possibilities exist

So it is that as we step down from the bus we have not booked one of many Chitwan Packages that have been offered to us. These range in price from $55 to $120 for 3 nights with accommodation outside the park and from $150 to $825 for 3 nights with accommodation inside the park. You may not be surprised to hear that we opted to stay at Sauhara a dusty village just outside the park's boundary

Our first mistake isn't in choosing Shiva's Cottages as our base, the price is very right and the accommodation is just about acceptable. Our mistake is to stay beyond the first night and the many warning signs it contains after which we should have fled to somewhere that understands the incompatability of good customer service with being so stoned that your brain stops functioning

But I'm getting ahead of myself. On arrival we are fetched from the bus stop by Raj whose enthusiasm is endearing and whose legs seem way too thin to support his torso. Raj sits us down and summons "The Manager" who has "10 years experience of Chitwan." "The Manager" wants to agree with us our "Programme", Chtiwan being a place that expects to fill every waking hour with one guided expedition or another. So we are told about Jungle Treks; Canoe Rides, Elephant Safaris Elephant and Crocodile Breeding Centres and on and on. We should have taken more note of the fact that "The Manager" with "10 years experience" couldn't fine the jungle on the map (I think it's the green patch over there isn't it?) but we remain optimistic about the human condition and content ourselves with rebuffing most of the excursions and, after protracted negotiations sign up for a combi-1 hour canoe trip / 4 hour jungle trek the next day to be followed by a 3 hour elephant safari on Day 2

The next day starts early. We get up at 6am, not because we get out promised wake-up knock, which fails to materialise, and go to breakfast without showering, the promised hot water also having failed to arrive

We are greeted by a very dozy Raj pushing his fingers through his tousled hair. We ask what happened to the wake-up call and hot water and he seems to think that the explanation 'sorry, too many bhang lassis last night' is sufficient (bhang lassi is a polaxing version of the Indian yoghurt drink which includes a goodly amount of dope)

After a 50-minute wait for breakfast and much coughing and spluttering by our guides we and they are finally ready to leave

A short walk takes us to the riverbank where our canoe awaits. 5 metres long and decidedly narrow it is designed to be occupied by Snow White's little helpers. For tall Europeans it is a bit like the Spanish Inquisition, 35 minutes folded double, chin on knees, not daring to move lest the canoe wobbles and the water, currently inch below the lip of the canoe, starts flooding in. Just to complete our combined joy Sausage has on a pair of trousers that don't facilitate doubling her legs back on themselves and consequently she also spends the entire trip in pain. As we climb up onto the river bank to start our 'Jungle Trek" my relief at finding that my legs still work almost overcomes my anger at being short-changed, our paid-for hour in the canoe amounting to just 35 minutes

So off we stride into the jungle. The first surprise, and this isn't a moan (unlike the rest of this sorry tale), just a comment, is that the jungle looks like the New Forest, deciduous small-leafed trees and shrubs. This changes in the open spaces where huge elephant grass, like pampas grass but 6 metres tall lends a greater feel of Daktari to the whole business. But let's get back to the New Forest

We have walked no more than 20 paces under the canopy when we are shown a rhinoceros footprint and 10 paces more brings an elephant print into view. 10 minutes later Sausage asks the guide if we will see rhino during the walk only to be told "Oh no, they never come this close to the river" clearly a man with some prints on a stick has been at work

This makes us slightly less excited when we are shown a tiger print, encouraged to sniff a tree against which a tiger has allegedly been peeing and finally we are shown a deer's antler, again conveniently located next to the trail. How stupid do these people think we are? And so we walk on, at times being theatrically "shushed" and squatting on our haunches waiting for big game which never materializes

But not to worry our 4-hour jungle trek actually lasts 1 hour 50 minutes and we see: A wild chicken Red bugs A millipede A monkeys arse

The best news is that although we've paid in advance for the canoe ride we've yet to pay for the jungle trek, so we pay half and tell them they were lucky to get that

Back at the ranch Raj pleads with us to test his new chef. We resist and go to eat down the road. On our return a disconsolate German tells us he has been waiting over an hour for.....soup and an irate Swede can't understand why it takes 45 minutes to make....Toast

Day two brings forth our three-hour elephant safari. We are driven to the start point and join a gaggle of other tourists waiting for our 'Ride of a lifetime'

A number of beautiful, lumbering elephants plod majestically into view and our turn comes to climb aboard

Imagine a wooden frame in the shape of rectangular box, 1 metre long, 60 cm wide and 60 cm high. Strap it onto the top of a large Indian elephant and fill it with four people. Each person sits with their legs either side of a corner pole and all four then lean back against each other. The elephant departs

We've talked to a lot of people about what happens next and opinion is polarized. Those who, like us, suffered, think it is the most uncomfortable, painful, mode of transport ever invented, others say it was fine and dandy. Maybe it's down to the combination of the elephant and the passengers, who knows? What I do know it that you will NEVER, EVER, EVER get me in one of those contraptions again

We climb into the torture chamber with 2 complete strangers, boys on the right, girls on the left. Maybe it is a weight thing, maybe just the slope of the elephants back but us two boys find ourselves on a steep downward slope with our pride and joy crushed against the wooden uprights and the motion of the elephant making it impossible to find a position where future fatherhood looks at all likely. Sausage meanwhile is having her chest crushed against the top rail with every single stride. It's one of those situations where you spend the first five minutes pretending it doesn't hurt, the next five realizing that, stood in 6 metre tall elephant grass right next to a rhino, you can't get off even if you want to, and the remaining hour and twenty minutes in serious pain

Just in case there is any danger of you finding a position that doesn't feel like you have a strangulated hernia the elephant-wallah irregularly spices things up with steep descents, elephant trotting and other such variations on a theme. It is very unsettling to see how hard the elephant-wallah clouts the head of the elephant with a heavy iron bar, but the strange hollow noise it produces is nowhere near as loud as the low-flying-jet-plane noise produced by the elephant farting. I'm hoping Sausage will now better realize the paltry scale of my own gastric problems

The sole success to emerge from the elephant safari is seeing a rhino, from only 5 metres. Both the rhino and the elephant share that relaxed authority of creatures at the top of the food chain and the rhino, a huge, immensely broad, armour plated tank of animal is an amazing thing to behold, calmly grazing with the assured air of an A-list celeb while shutters click and video's whirr. But is it worth the pain? My head says maybe, something that my groin is far from happy about

I imagine it is only normally behind the closed doors of private members clubs of a particular bent that you might find yourself back to back with a complete stranger, unable to see them or turn to do so, in excruciating pain and trying to make getting-to-know-you small talk through gritted teeth. Maybe the apparent ease with which Stuart and Jodie handle the introductions hints at weekends spent in leather and chains, but it feels quite odd when we finally jump off the hefalump to discover what our fellow masochists look like. > > Our three hours would have been about 2 if we had lasted the full course, but we take the first opportunity to jump off after an hour and a half, leaving us with a walk to get to the village which turns into a comedy caper as Stuart has so completely anaesthetized his ankle that he can't walk more than 50 metres without unintentionally prat-falling as his deeply-dead ankle gives way time and again. > > Jodie and Stuart prove to be great fun. Two London marketing bods who have jacked it all in and set off for 2 years travelling. They have just finished 5 weeks round India and Stuart tries to argue, not too convincingly if you ask me, that the serious uric acid problem (that's gout if you're a retired colonel) which caused his ankles to blow up like balloons in India was due to the change in his diet rather than his prodigious love of alcohol

And so the sorry saga of Chitwan draws to a close, there's only the fiasco of our final breakfast and settling the bill to go, but you've got the flavour of the thing so I shan't bore you with any more detail. Suffice to say that Raj continues to be Raj and his hugs synaptic gaps continue to swallow all his blearily stated good intentions

But Chitwan would still have disappointed us if our accommodation had been fantastic and I left thinking that you get what you pay for. Stay outside the park and you'll do nothing more than nibble at the edges of the habitat and it's occupants, stay inside and you can hope to immerse yourself in the jungle and watch and listen to the animals around you day and night

As we take our seats on the bus out of town towards Pokhara we foolishly think we have completed our escape, but there is to be a final twist in the tale

Remember that precipitous valley road? The one with the very sharp bends and sheer drops? Well our bus has barely rounded the first half dozen bends when it grinds to a resounding, and permanent halt as a front wheel bearing breathes its' last

The small bus is packed with about 15 Nepalese and 12 Westerners. As soon as it becomes apparent that the bus is going nowhere the Nepalese evaporate within minutes, collaring passing buses and squeezing into improbable nooks and crannies

This leaves 12 Westerners and 1 Nepali stood on the roadside. The Nepali is our trump card and we have Jodie and Stuart (who are also on the bus) to thank for his presence, for they owe the man money which they will repay when they get to a bank in Pokhara, so he's not leaving them and we're not leaving him, and he can get us on another bus

Which eventually he will do, 2 hours later. But not before we learn first hand a lesson given in all the guidebooks. We are warned that it is far more important to a Nepali to be helpful than to be truthful, so when our Nepali friend tells us that a jeep is on the way to rescue him, Jodie ans Stuart, he has no problem extending the invitation to Sausage and I because he knows no such jeep is on the way. Similarly when a bus eventually stops and there is only one space in the bus ( see ya later Sausage!) we are told not to worry because if the rest of us will just ride 6km on the roof to the next town the bus will empty out there and we will all be able to get inside

So it is that 11 of us spend three hours on the scary slalom road, ON THE ROOF

It is Jodie I really feel sorry for, for she is the one positioned so that when we round a tight corner and the bus LEANS OUTWARDS, she is the one who looks straight down seeing only the drop, the bus having rocked and rolled out of sight

An hour from Pokhara we stop for refreshments. Unbelievably, the second bus breaks down! This time a leak has sprung in the fuel line. At this point I must thank Alex Degnen (that's Alex I-Brow to those who know him) and Sian who had advised us to bring gaffer-tape with us. People laugh at the huge roll of the stuff I cart round with me, but it had already proved it's usefulness several times before today when it repairs the fuel line and gets us to Pokhara. The gaffer tape always travels in my big pack but for some reason Sausage has picked it up that morning and put it in her day sack thinking/feeling that she would need it later. She a spooky women

So. Three hours late, via two broken buses, we eventually limp into Pokhara where we will rest up for a day or two before we go trekking.

Lots of Love
The Travelling Sausages