This past week in Nepal felt like we were in a Travel Nepal ad. We went on a safari, whitewater rafted, paraglided and saw Buddha’s birthplace.
Chitwan National Park is a large park southwest of Kathmandu. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to over 600 one-horned Rhinos; langur and rhesus monkeys; 120 Bengal tigers; leopards; wild elephants; gharial and mugger crocodiles; spotted and barking deer; sloth bears and over 500 types of birds. The park has 3 different landscapes; wetlands, grasslands and forests to support a wide range of animals. We stayed in a small town on the edge of the park where there are a lot of ads for elephant rides. Walking out of our hotel, the first thing we saw was a tame elephant walking by.
We hoped to see a rhino but had no expectations. On our first afternoon, we went on a walking safari with a guide from our hotel. We weren’t more than 15 minutes into the walk when we saw a one-horned rhino bathing in the Rapti River! We also saw a large herd of spotted deer, grazing in a meadow until a barking deer’s calls warned them of an approaching tiger or leopard and they all scampered off. We didn’t see the barking deer or the tiger. There are more species of birds in Nepal than in Canada and the US together and many of those species are in Chitwan. We saw peacocks, flocks of parakeets, Indian cuckoos and many other colourful birds.
We also went on a canoe safari on the Rapti River. The canoes are long, wooden dugouts that are very tippy. Before we loaded into the canoe, we saw several gharial (vegetarian) and mugger (aggressive meat eater) crocodiles swimming in the river so the tippiness of the canoe was a bit of a concern. After a few minutes we passed a small island where we saw a rhino eating grass and keeping an eye on us. We saw many birds including kingfishers, egrets, giant storks and other waterfowl, and of course more crocodiles.
After the canoe dropped us off down river, we went with our guide on a trekking safari through the park to return to our hotel. We were in Chitwan during rainy season, so it was quite wet, but the bigger problem was that the elephant grass was very thick and high, and we weren’t able to see much. In fact, we walked right past a rhino that we didn’t know was there until he snorted at us from behind the grass and then ran off. He was afraid of us too. Because of the wet conditions and tall grass, Park Rangers have to patrol the park on elephants.
The next day we went on a jeep safari where we saw 5 more rhinos including 2 moms with babies. The one-horned rhino is very peculiar looking especially with its armour-like skin on its back and rearend. It’s not an African safari but was still a great trip with a lot to see.
West of Chitwan in the town of Lumbini is the birth place of Buddha. He was born Prince Siddhartha in the 7th century BC. The Nepali have somehow been able to determine the exact stone on which he was born and the pond where his mother bathed before the delivery. The Mayadevi Temple (UNESCO World Heritage site) is located on the ruins of a 7th century BC temple which houses the birth stone.
From the temple there is a long, unkempt canal system leading to the large World Peace Pagoda. Between the two are several monasteries teaching the different sects of Buddhism. We saw monasteries from China, Korea, Vietnam, Nepal, Cambodia and the most beautiful one from Germany(?).
Not too far away is the small town of Tansen. It is set on a steep hill and has a few old buildings built in the Newari style. The buildings are brick or wood with intricately carved wooden eaves and window frames. There are a few hikes in the area, but it was raining so we decided against doing one.
Set in the foothills of the Himalayas, on Fewa Lake, Pokhara is the perfect playground for mountain activities. We have already done 3 treks in this area (Upper Mustang, Manaslu and Annapurna Circuit) and we wanted to try something different. We did a half day white water rafting trip on the Seti River. It was the beginning of monsoon season, so the rain meant the rivers were running very fast. From the moment we left the shore until the moment we stepped off the boat it was a non-stop adrenaline filled ride. The water was very high and fast with almost constant grade III and IV rapids. We don’t have many pictures because the water was never calm enough to stop and take a picture. ‘Paddle Hard!’ the guide yelled as we went crashing over huge, boiling rapids heading toward a group of massive boulders. At one point we flew over a large rock and when we turned to look, saw that it was a colourfully painted mani stone, now hidden under the river. We stopped at the half way point to jump off a cliff into a small, deep pool. Then on our way again we came to the most technical and dangerous part where the river narrows in a canyon. We got tossed around like clothes in a washing machine. We were supposed to keep paddling, but we were just trying to stay in the boat! It was a lot of fun in a scary, exhilarating way.
I guess the rafting didn’t provide enough adrenaline, because the next day we went paragliding. Pokhara is one of the best spots in the world for paragliding because of the thermal winds that come down the valley. We started from a hill, 600 m above town. Strapped to a pilot, at his command we ran a few steps down the hill until the wind filled the wing and we were airborne. It was exhilarating being so high, flying, from a sail with a little seat. We had beautiful views of Fewa Lake, the foothills and even saw the sacred mountain, Machapuchare. Before landing both of our pilots took us for a stomach churning, roller coaster ride with large drops and quick spins. It was another great day of adventure.
While in Pokhara we visited a few of the less athletic sites. A short walk from Fewa Lake are many old, interesting Newari-style buildings similar to what we saw in Tansen.
Devi’s Falls is a small but powerful waterfall in town. More interesting though, was to cross the street and enter a Hindu shrine cave that is 200 steps below ground. The cave is a long narrow tunnel that goes under the street and ends where the Devi’s Falls goes underground. There is a small slit in the cave where you can see the falls crashing down.
Pokhara also has a number of Hindu Temples. Bindyasbasisni Temple is on a small hill and is surrounded by a gorgeous flower garden.
Bimsen Temple is a little more unusual. It is the oldest Newari temple in Pokhara. It is a small temple in the middle of the street and has dozens of erotic carvings on the exterior. Apparently, the carvings are to remind worshipers to leave their urges at the door and enter the temple with a pure mind. They are quite comical though, one has a lady washing her hair during sex.
Coming up next: Historic Kathmandu Valley
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