Dadu Aur Madak
Royal Chitwan Reserve

We mentioned to the staff at Buddha Maya that we were heading for Chitwan and they told us that they had a place there as well called the Maruni Sanctuary Lodge. They knew we were concerned about the gas situation in Nepal, as we had heard about long gas lines in Kathmandu and other parts of the country. They offered to find gas for us, and told us that their manager in Chitwan could do the same. Crossing the border we had seen nearly two hundred gas tankers lined up on the side of the road on the Indian side. This is all due to politics here in Nepal. The Nepalese government subsidizes gas prices. They buy most of their fuel from India. The gas is cheaper in Nepal than it is in India where it originates. We are told that a fair amount of it finds it's way back into India. There are those that believe the gas shortages would go away if the government would end the subsidies and allow the price to rise. However, there are elections in November so that seems unlikely. For the first few days the stations all had diesel but all of the petrol pumps were covered. By the time we headed out the trucks had begun to roll and some of the places had gas. Most of that would be gone in 2 or 3 days.

In the first village after we hit the road we came across this all to familiar sight. When they have accidents here they are stupendous. Before coming to Nepal we had read a number of traveler's advisories. Most of them really didn't apply to our particular itinerary. Many of them are related to the Maoists and their practice of requesting a "donation" or toll to pass through their areas. We had even read one account saying that teenagers had taken to using the same ploy to extort funds from tourists for one village improvement or the other. We encountered no such activity. In fact, just as we had found in India, the legitimate toll collectors encountered in some towns stop only cars and trucks and wave two-wheelers right on through. We did encounter large groups of Maoists though between Chitwan and Narayanghat. They were heading to Narayanghat to demonstrate in support of a transit strike. They were on bikes, motorcycles, on foot, and by the busload. Red bandanas and armbands were everywhere. They were orderly however, and nobody seemed to pay much attention to us. Karen did however have her second flat tire. Unlike the crowd scene we had in India, we only drew about a half dozen onlookers and they were not only polite but they were helpful.

Some misconceptions about Nepal.
In my mind I had made the association about Nepal of snow and sherpas. I envisioned people clad in sheepskins wearing woolen hats with earflaps. In fact the first week we spent in Nepal was spent entirely in the Terai. The Terai comprises a strip that runs across the whole length of Nepal in the south. It averages anywhere from 20 to 50 miles wide and it is constitutes Nepal's "breadbasket." There are sprawling rice fields that are harvested entirely by hand using small hand sickles like this one near Lumbini (top). It has a steamy tropical climate, and you can look out over banana trees to the snow capped Himalayas. The mountains seem to spring up all at once from a flat plain, and when the air is clear after a rain the sight is spectacular.

We checked some other places, but we were offered a great deal at the Lodge that the folks in Lumbini had told us about. For a $140 USD we got two nights lodging and three days of meals and activities. We each had nine meals that were outstanding, and we nearly had to beg them not to bring so much food. The activities included an elephant safari where we were able to see the rare Nepali one horned rhino (above). There was also a canoe trip down river, a trip to the elephant breeding center, a trip at sunset to the river to watch the elephants bathe, and a tour through a Tharu village that was guided by the hotel manager. This last item proved to be the highlight of our stay.

Although we encountered the Rhinos in open meadow, the majority of the trip was in dense jungle. The drivers spend years with their elephants, and only they can drive them. They are always decorated. They "steer" them by pushing behind the ears with their bare feet. Tharu natives are traditionally jungle people, but more recently they have become rice farmers. These Tharu women still go into the jungle to gather foliage that they feed to their animals.

Clockwise from top left: The local boatmen have organized a collective, so everything is orderly and each takes his turn. Most hotels and guesthouses arrange the trips as part of a package. Interestingly, the canoes are carved from a single trunk of the ceiba tree, the same as is done by the Mayan Indians in Mexico and Honduras. The most common of the crocs here is the magar who grows to over 12 feet. The detail is of the distinctive tail of the second most common crocodile the gharial. It also has a weird looking narrow snout. Finally these water buffalo do what they do best.

Just before sunset the drivers bathe with their elephants, and Karen gets the "magic hour" shot.

Clockwise from top: Among the Tharu, only women are tattooed, and only after they are married. At right is the detail on the legs of the oldest woman in the village. The walls and floors of the huts are plastered with mixture of mud and dung that keeps the wind out and repels mosquitos. The Tharu have a natural immunity to malaria. At left a Tharu couple thresh rice by hand.

As it happens, we were in Chitwan at the time of a three day festival where unmarried girls in traditional Tharu dress compete in traditional dances. We met the girls at left on their way to the competition. At right, the girls watch their friends perform.