Perfectly still, unflinching and seemingly un-phased by our presence, at first I questioned whether she was real. Splashes of golden light danced over her coarse grey skin and the shadows of the canopy above patterned her armoured body. She stood aloof in the small opening, the only movement a subtle flick of her ears and her young – standing only half her size – nestling into its mother’s bosom. I struggled to both remain silent and contain my excitement. The hairs on the back of my neck and all up my arm prickled, standing to attention as the perfection of the moment washed over me. She stared directly through me and into the jungle beyond, commanding respect through her single horn that rose up from her nose like a drawn sword. Emanating a sense of raw nature the 2.2 ton Greater One-horn Rhinoceros was there, right in front of my eyes.
I arrived in Chitwan, after a long coach journey from Kathmandu, to be greeted by my friend and guide for the next few days, Sandip. I had been offered the unique experience of staying with his family in their traditional village home. However, before settling in we met up with another Take On Nepal group to head out on a sunset walk to the river.
Sandip was filling us with the facts and history of his home Chitwan national park and our first stop was the elephant stables. Catching the great animals at feeding we stood and watched as the gentle beasts devour their grassy meals. It always fascinates me the knowledge that guides possess, especially when they are passionate, and Sandip was no exception. Any questions posed to him were answered fully and confidently making it very exciting to learn all that I could about this enchanting place. Heading out toward the river the thick jungle seemed to wrap itself all around totally encompassing us throughout the walk. A hazy amber sun hung low in the sky and soaked into the blue to stain it a mesmerizing pinky orange. When we reached the confluence of two rivers the huge wavering light was melting into the horizon, losing its shape as it was pressed into the tree line.
That evening we were treated to a vibrant display of dance and music at the Tharu cultural centre. Stick dances, rhythms and traditional singing made for a great show and set the tone for the next few days. Sandip’s home – constructed of bamboo, cow dung, mud, grass and a thatched roof – was cosy and inviting. Centred on a fire there were three beds and a seating area, that caught the last tender warm rays of each day. His wife, mother, father and cousin were so endearing, kind and welcoming that by the time it came to leaving they would be truly missed.
I awoke to the all too familiar sound of hungry goats and buffalo crying out for their breakfast. Stretching our legs along the river bank, shrouded in a thick morning mist, we made our way to meet the others. All the while growing more and more excited for today was safari day and my shot at seeing a Rhino!
I think there is something deeply mystifying about the jungle, something so enticing that will always keep you guessing and wanting to see more. Long hanging vines clamber their way up into the thick leafy roof, every inch below carpeted by a dense layer of foliage, whilst all around you at eye level springs a wild variety of flora and fauna. Deer, crocodile and birds gather at the water’s edge and there is time to study them in great detail as they nervously tolerate our presence. Then as we make a turn off the beaten the track, following what seems to be a hunch from our guide, there she was, standing in the small opening. I saw my first Rhino.
My last few days were spent wandering around the traditional village and its hand crafted mud huts, riding the bike to town for coffee and reading whilst watching a tantalising sunset by a burbling river in the evenings. I even got the chance to teach a class or two at the local school. Nepal is a place full of surprises. Nestled in the unrelenting mountains you can hardly imagine that there lies a flat, fertile and jungle invested region such as Chitwan. But, that really is the beauty of this country that has so much to offer.
~ Toby Faulkner
© Take on Nepal 2020