844 days, 20,256 hours, 1,215,360 minutes, or 72,921,600 seconds. That is the approximate duration of my world tour. I never wanted it to end and now, in a manner of speaking, I suppose it never has to. If you wish to go by country do so by clicking on one above. They are numbered in the order I visited them, more or less. If you enjoy reading about it even a tenth as much as I enjoyed living it then you will not have wasted your time. Grab a refreshing beverage, settle in a comfortable chair, and make a journey across the world, experiencing it as I did. Then get off your ass and check it out for yourself. You're not getting any younger.

Wild by Nature (Chitwan National Park, Nepal)

March 4th, 2010 - The next morning I arose to the misty wonderland that is such an enchanting feature of the early morning landscape. I am sure Chandu felt exactly as he looked, which is to say shitty. While Denis was off at his home preparing our lunch for the day my expedition leader was supposed to take me for breakfast at the local food stall where he'd inebriated himself the previous afternoon. I have a sneaky suspicion that his failure to do so was related to his lack of funds and the probable debt he'd incurred the day before. What he did do was to ask for a bit of cash to pay for my night's lodging and meals. He said that it would be better for him to pay as they may demand more from me being a tourist and all. Nothing out of the ordinary there. What I learned after our trip (assuming Denis himself was being straight with me) was that Chandouchbag pocketed the money and never paid Denis and his family for the meals. I was an unwitting pawn in the deception.

When we set out for the misty riverbank to hop a dugout canoe to the other side Chandu appeared to be as excited for another jungle run as I am when I purchase deodorant. Sloshed Chandu is much more jovial than hungover Chandu. Once again we entered the cloud forest in search of exotic fauna. Once again we visited places of rhino frequency only to be flabbergasted at their absence. The fact that local villagers were cleaning a small lake (as in removing floating debris in order to make fishing easier……I think) where the pachyderms like to frolic did nothing to aid our efforts. A stop at a wooden watchtower yielded no better results but, again, the misty backdrop was so spellbinding that I hardly cared. We moved on.

Tiger scratch. Mr. Kahn's way of letting other kitties know that this mutha f***ing tree is his.

Since we (as in Chandu) decided to skip breakfast in the village we opted to take a break and have a small bite. As it turns out the place where we stopped was the gharial breeding center inside Chitwan National Park. Chandu seemed to be surprised that I was interested in going inside to have a look. Maybe he thought I was jaded from the untold thousands we'd seen along the river (by 'untold thousands' I mean zero of course). I don't believe Hungover Grumpy Pants had any interest in going inside.

The zoo-like nature of the place does diminish the effect on one's sense of adventure but it was still worth a look as gharials, although harmless, look unmistakably menacing. There was also some interesting information about the center and their conservation efforts.

After my crocodilian extravaganza we pressed on and began our jungle trek along one of the jeep tracks that transverse the park's interior. It was along one of these tracks that we encountered one of the armored giants. It started with some rustling in the nearby forest and culminated in the appearance of Horny the Rhino. It happened to be at a crossroad and as we turned the corner we spotted him/her standing by the road. Although unable to see us (they have terrible eyesight) its sense of hearing and smell, both impeccable, alerted it to our presence. Chandu and Denis were a bit on edge and became unsettled when it started to slowly plod in our direction. This normally denotes an aggressive rhino so Chandu decided climbing a tree might be in order, not only to escape any possible wrath, but also to get a better view. Seeing as Chandu was hungover and slow to begin with he probably figured any footrace between the rhino (up to speeds of 30 mph) and us would not be to his advantage.

However, it was not long before the object of our affection decided he had better things to do then fiddle around with the Three Musketeers. He disappeared into the elephant grass. That was not to be our only sighting. I was fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of a mother and baby in a different area of the forest. Unfortunately, our distance and the tree cover prevented me from getting a photo. Getting too close to a mother rhino is never a good idea anyway so we kept moving.

The second night was spent at a Madi village at the other end of the park. This is another farming community on the outskirts of the park that, from what I've read, barely manages to eke out a living. Trapped between the national park on the north and India to the south their access to basic necessities, especially health care, is extremely limited. The fact that they live on a flood plain (the monsoon season is a difficult time) and are under constant assault from wildlife (their crops provide easy fodder for all sorts of jungle inhabitants) does nothing to aid their situation. And yet you still see the smiles.

I watched a group (from small children to old women) sit in the dying light while producing roof tiles from mud. So I as stood there and watched this and other village activities I felt of a sense of gratitude for being blessed enough to visit such a place but could not escape that all too familiar feeling that being a tourist in a place like that takes on an almost criminal component. Accident of birth. That is all. I was lucky. The little girl with the headscarf and million dollar smile making roof tiles in the mud was not. 

Considering I slept on wooden planks I felt remarkably well rested the next morning. After a spot of tea we once again headed off into the mist. Not longer after leaving the outer confines of the village we came across some extremely fresh tiger prints and a pile of tiger poop that was practically steaming. Khan was close. I have a feeling that the elusive orange furball was watching us, mocking our ineptness and inability to catch even a glimpse of his magnificence. You'll see me when and if I decide it will be so. Fools. You would think that with all the evidence of a tiger's nearby presence we would've lingered a bit. But no. Sober Chandu equals Boring 'I would rather be drinking' Chandu. We pressed on.

By this point of my excursion it was impossible to distinguish Chandu's (a.k.a Mr. Wild by Nature) true abilities from a steaming pile of bullshit. At one point he told me he could smell a nearby rhino and, when we had come across those fresh tiger prints I'd mentioned, he said he could smell the kitty. I could smell something alright.  Later that day we heard two male rhinos battling it out in the nearby jungle. I wanted to have a look. Chandu wanted to run in the other direction. I followed Chandu.

We also passed some employees from one of the lodges inside the park (Tiger Tops) that showed us the damage an angry male elephant had done to the stable area where they keep the domesticated elephants. They believed 'Dumbo the Belligerent' had gone in the direction we were headed and advised us to be careful. Apparently, this particular elephant has a reputation for being an asshole. We moved forward and I was told if the shit hits the fan we should head for the hills. That was a perfect plan until we reached the fields of ten foot elephant grass. Perfect.

Dumbo was a no show. However, we did come across some gaur (wild bison). Weighing in at around 2,500 lbs they are not to be trifled with. The two we spotted were angry but, luckily, not with us. It appeared to either be a mating issue, territorial dispute, or both. There was a moment of tension when, as we passed the area where they'd entered the tall grass, we heard a sudden crash and scream (a cross between a pissed off wookie and a cow in heat) of a fast moving beast. Not knowing what direction they were headed we hauled ass in the direction of a nearby hill. I nearly soiled myself but had to laugh when I spotted Denis half way up a tree. Fortunately, for us they had proceeded in the opposite direction and were much more concerned with kicking their own asses than grinding us into a pulp. Chandu told me one of his friends had been in the hospital for two weeks after being attacked by one of these creatures. Chandu was sober at this point so I am reasonably sure the story was accurate.

Our final night was spent at a tented camp along the river outside the national park. It was a peaceful place and a relaxing way to end the journey. A sunset walk along the riverbank was excellent. 

Chandu's cousin showed up with the jeep that would be taking us back to Sauraha the next morning. Although not really in the mood I was once again invited to have a drink (rum this time) and sit and have a chat along the river back. For Chandu and his cousin (or brother. I am still not certain) alcoholic bliss was insufficient so Mary Jane also decided to join the party. You have to keep in mind that Shiva (Nepal's most sacred Hindu god) is fond of the ganja so it is not as a sordid an enterprise as is the case in other societies. Moderation is key. Chandu and his cuz seemed to have misplaced theirs. 

I arose the next morning to find Chandu barely capable of speech. Him and his compadre had forfeited a night's sleep in favor of debauchery. They were a mess. I gave Chandu the money for my room and my food bill. Instead of paying it he doled it out to some of the employees as a tip. I was to learn that him and his cousin ran up a bill somewhere in the neighborhood of $222. That is no easy feat but I suppose when you buy drinks and food for the entire village it is not unexpected. After breakfast I was presented with a bill I'd already paid. Not only that but it included the three glasses of rum that I thought had been provided as part of an invitation to sit and enjoy some local camaraderie. When I saw that I said Nuh-uh. Time to draw the line. Denis, who was rather disgusted with our leader's behavior, came to my aid.

It turns out that Chandu is friends with the owner and believed that all the accoutrements of their bender were going to be provided free of charge. Ingesting enough alcohol to send an elephant to the infirmary did nothing to temper his irrationality. The owner showed little concern so I believe it had been decided that 'Chandu the Magnificent' would compensate him at a later date, but who the hell knows. Good luck.

The apogee of my morning came when I discovered that Chandu's partner in depravity would be driving us back to Sauraha. I found that prospect to be a bit frightening to say the least but as I had little choice at that moment I climbed into the back seat and crossed everything on my body that could be crossed for good luck. Luckily, the roads were unpaved and uneven so it was necessary to drive at a reduced speed. I also monitored his movements fairly closely, ready to bail at the first sign of erratic maneuvers. Amazingly, his driving was remarkably steady and deliberate. Years of practice would probably account for this anomaly. Still the situation was not ideal.

Even more comical was the fact that no one in the vehicle appeared to know the way back to Sauraha. I will admit that it is a confusing patchwork of small dirt roads stretching through villages and farmland but one has to wonder how the *$%# the guy got there in the first place. Along the way we stopped to make an inquiry (one of many) and Chandu's 'cousin' did something that blew my mind. He purchased a beer which he then placed in the pocket of the driver-side door for sipping as he drove. The time: 8:45 am. At that point I was ready to start drinking.

Thankfully, the drive was extremely pleasant and the cruise through the flat farmland of the Terai dotted with villages and folks milling about was beautiful in the morning light. I did not even mind the few stops we made as it gave me an opportunity to get a few shots of the bucolic landscape. Even with all the nonsense I was thankful to be there and appreciated the experience.

I made it back to Sauraha and subsequently Kathmandu in one piece. Notwithstanding the high drama soap opera (As The Jungle Turns) I did manage to enjoy myself but Chandu is definitely off my Christmas card list. If not for the kindness and patience of his much more capable assistant the trip probably would have been a total disaster. Denis is a good man and we may meet again. There is another park in west Nepal. It has tigers. 

'I wanted a perfect ending... Now, I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious ambiguity.'   

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