Chitwan, page 3 of 3

Looking out over the fields, Chitwan National Park

It was very hot in the jungle by now and time to go back. The guides took a different route, on which we had to cross a couple of small streams, not too deep so our guides proposed they would carry us on their back to the other side. We had walking shoes on, while they were walking on slippers! I wouldn’t have liked to change with them, because of all the leeches that mysteriously appeared on my trousers and socks now and then (Jacques anyway got one on his ankle, the guide removed it and he felt a bit of pain, but luckily nothing worse). Anyway, our first try to cross a stream went fairly well. The next try not, the stream was a bit deeper than the Tharu village, Chitwan National Park. It looks already a bit like Kenia?guide thought and Jac a lot heavier… So poor Jac had to walk with shoes totally soaked. He didn’t dare to stop to pour the water out of his shoes, so it took some time till his shoes were dry!

We walked already for four hours, but the guides got more and more enthusiastic and we were going to visit the villages. Not very far, they smilingly ensured us! We came out of the bush in the open, beautiful views with fields of corn and far away mountains at the horizon, small houses in the foreground, a blue sky with decorative clouds as a background. But now it was really terribly hot! I had to put a shawl on my head to protect my head and my neck (surprise surprise: I really felt much cooler, so maybe a sarong wasn’t so terrible as I thought all this time!). Jac carried his towel - which was by now as soaked as his shoes - over his head. And we didn't have much water left!

Woman in Tharu village, Chitwan National Park.

The Tharu villages in these fields were very interesting. Judging from the reaction of the people on us it was clear not many tourist visited them. Our guides explained usually people did the half a day jungle walk and skipped these villages. It was much better to do the whole day tour, our Gurkha guide said approvingly, apparently forgetting all about our maximum of five hours... In fact he liked people to do a two-day trip, so they A mother shows us her babyreally got a chance to get to know the people and the animals and the country.

The people living in this villages were very friendly, women sometimes a bit shy but also curious, they didn't mind to be photographed. The children were interested and didn't even ask for pens, sweets, money etceteras. We rested a bit in front of the house of a family the guides knew well, got some strange bread to eat and I asked our guides if we could give some money, but they indicated that we shouldn't do that. All children were completely fascinated by my photo camera and I let a child watch through it. Complete surprise and now every child had to watch through the lens! I made some photographs of course and here you see one of the A bit itchy?girls, scratching her neck with a scythe! The mother watched it all, smiling indulgently, sitting in the shadow with her back against her wooden house and looking as if she had a long life full of experience with all kind of trouble - like her mother and her grandmother…

Our guides explained us the villages have to move in the next years, to keep the reserve intact. But I was happy we could watch them like they were for ages and I can imagine the villagers don’t like to move at all, they were here first! But when you want to preserve the animals you will have to move the villages, so this isn’t such an easy dilemma. I like it best when a solution is found that works two ways: I can't imagine this is an easy sleeping position?for example the grass in the reserve needs to be cut once a year (here in Chitwan Park but also in Keoladeo National Park in Bharatpur, India) and the villagers can do that for free and earn some money with selling the grass. But not everything seemed easy like that. You could see some similarities with the problems we have with the farmers in our country: we need them and we don't want to ruin them but we also need to keep our country and air clean. But let's not get into trouble!

Exhausted!Here you see us really broken down, at least Jac, since I will go on with running around as long as I have something interesting to photograph. Children passing by stopped to look at us, they were carrying special wooden structures they made (I saw some men in the villages busy with this too) to carry the candles in for the Festival of the Lights (Tihar).

At last we arrived at our river; this took us more than 8 hours in stead of the booked maximum 5 hours… We asked our guides for a nice beer and they didn't need any encouragement! Now we really started to feel like a family and our guide Raj told us tourists sometimes behaved a bit funny after all this bothering of touts and then Jac took the hint and Also the picture is not that clear anymore!apologized for our behavior in the beginning and then we all were friends. So we drunk some more beer and told our guides we wanted to leave for Pokhara tomorrow but didn’t book any bus yet. Raj Gurung shouted from the roof terrace where we were busy drinking beer that he needed a reservation for a bus tomorrow, which solved this problem very easily. Superb organizing: no time lost with arranging the journey - which happened oftener - but also no problems with the journey itself - less standard! These are very happy moments, when things are going so easily. Of course on other moments things aren’t going at all, but someway we always managed to arrive wherever we wanted! So no worries anymore about traveling on our own.

Fields and clouds, Chitwan National Park

Then our guides started to explain how they looked at us yesterday and judged an easy walk to be the right thing for us – something I completely agreed with! Only there seemed to be a slight difference in our definitions of ‘an easy walk’, because in our opinion this Strange people, this soaked whities!day’s walk qualified more for the difficult than for the easy walks… But I have to say: I didn’t have much pain in my muscles afterwards (which was very different after our small starting tour in the Gorge du Verdon in the South of France, we will do the real walk this year I hope…), it was just the heat that was the problem. So we are still worrying how a real exciting day tour would look like…

Raj invited us for theCandles everywhere, Festival of the Lights evening, we could watch a stick dance that was held at our hotel and after that dine with him and our other guide. We went to our room to shower – how nice to take a shower when you are completely covered with sweat and dust! When we came out of our room onto the balcony all balconies and the garden were completely covered with candles, it was the first day of the Festival of the Lights! A very special atmosphere, all these candles blowing in the wind (sorry, sounds somehow not so original…).

Sorry, couldn't stop with photographing the fields!

The stick dance was interesting, dark drums, rhythmic dancing imitating attack and defend movements with sticks, and then everybody could join the dance so I tried and I was totally covered with sweat in only 10 minutes… (again!!). We went to eat ‘Dal Bhat. You have to learn to eat this (or just don't): rice in a mix of oil, herbs and pepper-seeds, yogurt with some fruits, 'very' expensive spinach with a lot of spices… We dined in the small boarding house were Raj and our other guide shared a room. They paid together as much for one month as we for one night, this information made us rather ashamed about our wealth! Children playing in a small Tharu village, Chitwan National Park

Especially Raj liked very much to talk with us and explained a lot of things about the reserve, but also about his people and about Nepal. The other guide explained to us how difficult it was to be a married man: you had to be present at half past six in the reserve, seven days a week, and stay there till sunset. He lived at one hour walking distance, so things weren’t very easy. But Raj, the head of the guides, tried to make things as good as possible and there was a general pot of money, to pay men that had problems at home or were ill so they couldn’t work. I liked very much to hear his enthusiastic story and we were very happy to meet this man, so concerned about his fellow people and so concerned about his country and his reserve. For me the meeting with this man made up for all the negative experiences we had in India.

The next day everything went perfect for a change, like I told you already, so I see you again in Pokhara!


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