Monday, September 17, 2012

south to sauraha

Our trip to Chitwan National Park was as planned as a short discussion about how we should go there, followed by a packing of bags and a taxi to Kantipath the next morning at 6:30 am, hoping to catch any bus that would take us there. Every bus in the long line of tourist buses turned us down, with the exception of one dodgy-looking one named Sai Baba. The last two seats in the back of the dilapidated bus were available for about 500 rupees each, which we gladly took.

The ride was perhaps the most hair-raising I have had in Nepal, with the driver speeding down the Prithvi Highway in the fog, slamming on breaks at nearly every bend, which took a good 10 minutes to screech to a crawl. We grinned optimistically at each other with clenched teeth, silently and desperately hoping to avoid taking to the sky— deeply aware that the Trisuli river was rushing somewhere frighteningly far below us in the white mist. Rather than study how the side of the road plummeted into nothingness, I kept staring at the small photo at the front of the bus of a smiling man with an afro. The faded photo seemed important to the driver, by its prominent placement. The fog eventually lifted as the hours passed, as the mountains and hills were ironed into flat green paddies.

We wobbled off the bus with jelly legs, surprised that we arrived in one piece— vowing never, ever to take a Sai Baba bus again. The moment our boots hit the dirt, we were approached from all sides by people offering us rides to their guesthouses. Though we had not planned out the trip, we did know where we wanted to stay: Gaida Lodge, which is run by one of Nepal's most renowned ornithologists. There are over 500 species of birds in Chitwan National Park, and with our hearts set on seeing anything feathered, we decided there wasn't a better place to stay than at a lodge run by an ornithologist. I offered Pedro one of the two boiled eggs I had been saving in my pocket since the rest stop in somewhere before Dumre, and with a vague notion of the direction of Gaida, we set off.

"Crumble the shells up small so the little birds can use them."

I ground the shells in my hand, delighting in the sensation. It tickled me, the thought of some colourful bird carrying off the little pieces to his nest, in hopes of impressing a lady bird. The air was thick, and smelled of animal.

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