I was eager to see Nepal, a country completely new to me. I was also eager to see the border between Nepal and India having never crossed a land border before. I expected major delays due to the current fuel crisis in the country, and queues there were for vehicles, however crossing on foot wasn’t a problem. I didn’t anticipate that there would be such a difference between the two countries so soon, them being only a few feet away from each other, but the difference was there. It could be felt instantly as soon as we were on Nepalese soil. For one it was raining, and for the first time in my life I didn’t get the urge to run in doors and cover up, I welcomed the rain. The soft, gentle, cool drops were exactly what my overheated skin needed. The second stark difference was the silence, and I don’t mean total silence, I mean the lack of car horns. Anyone who has travelled to India will understand what I mean, it is one of the things I love about the country, the chaotic traffic and the constant beeps from every vehicle passing by. But sometimes, just sometimes, the silence is a welcome break. And so, with our visas approved, we walked into wet and peaceful Nepal excited to explore and see what the country had to offer.
The first stop on our itinerary was Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha, but unfortunately recent events meant that the town was blocked off from visitors, as previous groups had been unable to leave the town due to protests and our schedule just didn’t have time for a 24 hour block in. So, we made our way through mountain roads, with steep drops into the jungle below, to Chitwan National Park. Driving through rural Nepal is a wonderful experience, and because the countryside is so beautiful you quickly forget that you are in a vehicle from 6 to 8 hours. Lush, green vegetation and colourful houses are dusted across the land, with milky aqua rivers curving through the mountains. The higher the climb the steeper the drops and we witnessed many rainbow coloured lorries that had slumped down a ditch and toppled over. Despite this, however, the drivers of different vehicles seemed to navigate the roads between each other safely and considerately, driving slowly and stopping in tight spots to ensure that others could pass them by. We were due to stay with a local tribe in Chitwan, a community homestay, and on arrival the women from the village came out to greet us dressed in their traditional outfits, clapping us as we walked towards them where we were given a hibiscus flower and the traditional red powder dotted onto our foreheads. We would be sleeping in small huts that had been purpose built for tourists by the side of the river and the excitement rose as we discussed the possibilities of seeing the different wildlife that the park inhabited. ‘Are there crocodiles here?’ we asked. ‘Yes, there are crocodiles.’ Our eyes darted to the river in search of them, something was swimming across to the opposite side of the bank making ripples in the water the way the shape of a crocodile would. We waited for its arrival on land, but it was only a water snake. We brushed off the disappointment, mission see- a -crocodile -in -the -wild wasn’t over yet.
After we dropped off our bags, and freshened up after our long journey, we walked across the rice fields to the Tharu village, the Tharu’s being our hosts, to be taken on a bike ride through the villages. On our walk across we were met by a small black dog that proceeded to guide us to our destination. This was starting to become a common occurrence on this trip, as if the dogs could sense our lack of direction and therefore came to ensure our safe arrival. It had started to rain again as we hopped on our bikes, trying to keep our balance over rocks and stones and huge holes in the road. We had gathered a few extra local cyclists behind us who got the giggles when an ambulance veered round the corner and, due to a lack of brakes, we all crashed in to the back of each other. Unharmed and filled with a sense of adventure we hopped back on, wobbled a little, but eventually found our equilibrium and were greeted by the sounds of ‘Namaste, Namaste,’ by every person, adult or child, that we cycled past. The friendliness of the locals, and the fun we were having, meant that the little speckles of rain couldn’t dampen our spirits. With the wind blowing in my hair, and the sense of freedom and happiness at being amongst these special people, I floated through the bumpy roads feeling the most happiness I had felt so far on this journey. Half way through our ride we stopped at the entrance to the national park to see if we could spot any wildlife. A short walk into the park and we came across a wild boar and a deer and then a local man approached our guide to inform him that a rhino had been spotted further up by the water’s edge. We hurried, as quietly as possible so as not to disturb the rhino, up to the spot he had been seen and hid in the bushes, waiting. Time ticked on; there was no sign of him. Still we waited, not daring to move in case he finally came out and showed his face. Then another group of tourists came along, who obviously didn’t get the memo about noises scaring away the animals, and after listening to their extremely loud conversation we realised that there was no point waiting around anymore. If the rhino was there, he definitely wasn’t now after that racket. We made our way back to the bikes determined that tomorrow we would definitely be more successful, and not only would we see a rhino, but we absolutely would see a tiger, too. Positivity ran through the group as we headed back to the village where we were due to be entertained by the villagers who were performing their traditional stick dance in order to welcome us. Little did we know at the time, however, that we would be part of the performance. The women were bundled off with the women of the village where they proceeded to dress us up in their traditional attire, complete with a makeover and hair extensions. A few giggles were thrown in for good measure as they tried to fit their small pieces of clothing around our much bigger western frames. Every man, woman and child from the village had come out to witness our welcoming and a few more giggles were heard as we entered the crowd in our new outfits. The men of the group got to kick back, relax and watch the show whilst the females got up to take part in the dance, and in my case tried and failed to master the moves. Despite my lack of co-ordination skills the night was a huge success and after lots of smiles, laughter and group photos we made our way back to the huts for some much needed sleep. Tomorrow we would be seeing crocodiles, rhinos, bears, tigers, and every wild animal in the park. We would, we absolutely would. So we told ourselves.