March 2nd, 2010 - The morning of our foray into the jungle I had the privilege of meeting Chandu's grandfather (At least I think it was his grandfather. Sometimes relational terms are used a bit loosely as is the case with 'brother' and 'cousin'). I was told he was 101 years of age and, in his heyday, one of the few intrepid souls to ride a wild rhino. Ride a rhino? When I was little I tried to ride a St. Bernard so I know where this guy is coming from. Apparently, the best time for a rhino rodeo is when they are bathing in a lake or stream as this creates an acceptable level of lethargy and diminished reaction time. Ride a rhino on land? That would be stupid. You could say this guy has been around. When I asked for a picture he was more than happy to pose.
So into Chitwan National Park we went led by my seasoned guide (Chandu) and his trusty assistant (Denis). The first leg of our journey required a canoe trip down the river that forms a natural boundary to the park. We arrived riverside around 8 am and attained the services of a local boatman. One of my favorite things about the park and surrounding countryside is the mist that blankets the area in the morning during this time of year. It makes for a mystical scene, as if one is venturing into a primordial forest full of strange and wonderful beasts. What lurks beyond that mist? Danger? Intrigue? A steaming pile of tiger shit?
So we boarded our dugout canoe and made our way downstream. It was not long before we left the patches of human activity behind and found ourselves with a peaceful jungle backdrop. Birdlife abounded. Some of the local denizens included Siberian Ducks. Although I have not verified it Chandu claims these ducks inhabit the plains of the Terai during this time of year to escape the bitter Siberian winter. Apparently, they mate for life and are often found in pairs. Chandu also said that when a mate dies the other commits suicide. Romeo and Juliet ain't got shit these birds. I am a little curious about their methods of self-termination. I suppose starvation would be the most expedient but the romantic in me envisions a more dramatic end. If I were a Siberian Duck I think smashing my body against a rock kamikaze-style would be suitably theatrical. Or maybe I'd wiggle my feathery ass in front a mugger crocodile's face until dispatched. Perhaps a bit histrionic and undignified but satisfyingly creative none the less.
After a short spell floating downstream we beached along a small sand island in the center of the river for a wee break. We were not the only creatures to use the area for the purpose. There was also a rather large pile of rhino crap in the vicinity. It appears that when inhabiting a certain territory they enjoy returning to the same spot for repeated poops. I guess when you find a spot you like why not go with it? The analogy to my itinerant lifestyle was not lost on me. I am a like a rhino that can't find a suitable place to keep shitting. Profound.
At this point I also learned that rhino piss has medicinal qualities and is collected for a number of ailments to include asthma and flatulence (I could have done with a spot of rhino wee as I was feeling the effects of the previous night's meal). I am a little unclear as to how exactly the urine is gathered but it appears that it is scooped up immediately after Mr. Rhino relives himself. So I guess this means you have to follow one until mother nature calls. Who gets that job?
The lower Terai, and the Chitwan Valley specifically, were first inhabited by the Tharu People (both Chandu and Denis are Tharu). A curious fact about these folks is their apparent immunity to malaria. In fact up until the 1950's this area was the sole domain of the Tharu due to the threat of the mosquito borne illness. But then along came DDT and the World Health Organization's efforts to eradicate the disease. And with it came the migration (or invasion one might say) of other ethnic groups and peoples who started gobbling up fertile soil and essentially making the Tharu second class citizens in their own backyard, mere farmhands for rich landowners. I was told an estimated 11.5 million people now inhabit the Chitwan Valley of Nepal.
By 9 am Chandu was well on his way to being smashed. As he was sitting behind me in the canoe I did not realize he was sipping roksi (homemade brew) out of a glass bottle. I became aware when we passed a friend of his coming upstream on a boat and Chandu hailed him in order to share the wealth. When the Chandster begins to glow he becomes exceeding garrulous. And although it was rather endearing and I happen to agree with many of his sentiments the truth is the more shitfaced he gets the more enigmatically philosophical he becomes and, by default, all the more incomprehensible. His English is decent but degrades exponentially with each roksi injection.
One of his soliloquies went something like this: "Riiiiichaaaard. Do you see the nature beauty and quiet jungle river both sides? I enjoy going into jungle to see the nature, listen birds, and get way from people. Birds are freedom. They don't care the problems have to do this or that. They just fly and no care about troubles. You see fisherman [pointing to riverbank]. He come sit in morning eat fish sleep very quiet enjoy like birds his canoe the quiet. I like this. I not just about business. I not like Raju (the 'pirate' that bilked me for dinner and a small bottle of whiskey the previous evening). I like the nature. I wild by the nature. Many years I come to jungle to fish, watch birds, enjoy the nature, see the fish, drink roksi in canoe with the moonlight, enjoy the nature, I wild by nature. I meet you and I want to come to jungle with you to show the wildlife, the birds, the nature, the quiet, far from the people ruin the nature go to doing this or that….Ahhhhhhhhh….this is the nature, jungle, quiet, I guide twenty two years…..Riiiiichaaaard….do you understanding with me the wild by nature?"
Luckily, I was sitting in front of him which allowed me to conceal the permagrin I was constantly sporting. Every once and a while I would interject with a 'Yep' or 'Yeaaaaah. It sure is nice' or 'Sure I do' or 'I agree. People suck'.
After a time we arrived at the starting point of our trek and worked our way into the jungle. Unfortunately, the animals decided (as they often do) to play hide and seek. I am endlessly entertained by a pattern common to wildlife guides the world over. I am always told that the place we are headed is a great place to see this or that creature but when we arrive are confronted with the unthinkable: no animals doing their animal thing in the place where they are always supposed to be. But the best part is when, as on this occasion, the guide behaves as if this were the case along. Oh rhinos wouldn't be here now. Too hot. They hiding in the forest. The come to drink and bath in the morning and late afternoon. Riiiiiight. During a quick side trip into the elephant grass to see if he could smoke out a rhino Chandu sliced himself on the gargantuan weed (the grass is sharp and can be unforgiving). I am sure it had nothing to do with his blood alcohol level.
|Denis doing a bit of Rhino reconnaissance|
But it was not over. For our first night's lodging we crossed the river once again to a village on the edge of the national park. This was the home village of Denis. He built a small hut with a few rooms to house tourists like me who want to get a taste of village life in Chitwan Valley. Although not near his actual house his family was only a short walk along a meandering path. It was there where we would be eating dinner.
When we arrived Denis went to his home to get the keys to our rooms. During this time Chandu also disappeared. As for me I took a rest and quietly read a book (Rubicon: The Last Years of The Roman Republic).
Denis returned with the key and I entered my humble abode. Not long after that Chandu returned to fetch me. Being the obedient fetchee I followed him down the road to a little food stall where I discovered he was quaffing large amounts of alcohol…..again. He wanted me to join him. Although I had little desire to drink I did not want to be impolite, not only to him, but also to the owners and locals that sat down with us to chat and check out the white freak show (i.e. me). As always I found myself in a situation I was incapable of fully understanding. Chandu was five sheets to the wind making his English almost unintelligible. And after gin, red bull, roksi, and who the hell knows what else I was glowing a bit myself.
One thing I did catch from my intoxicated chaperone was his belief that he was one of the most popular people around. As I watched the faces of those he interacted with I was not so sure they shared his enthusiasm. I was now starting to get a clearer picture of my fearless leader. I probably would have been a lot more worried about the upcoming days if not for the fact I was now also drunk.
After a good hour or so Denis came to get us to go for a short walk along the river bank before heading to his home for supper. Chandu was a puddle and lagged behind, behaving as if collapse were imminent. At one point he started screaming something about getting marijuana from some dude named Baba. We just giggled a bit and let him venture through his own little world. While Denis took me on a pleasant stroll through the village area Chandu went on ahead, more out of necessity than anything else.
|The spots for standing, squatting, handstands, and cartwheels are in a different village|
Post a Comment
'Love me or hate me, but spare me your indifference.' -- Libbie Fudim