Date: 12 May
Location: watching the sun go down over the jungle, Ghumtee Rivera Lodge, Chitwan National Park
Notable sightings: one-horned rhinos!
“And the bathroom situation…” This is Ravi, explaining the planned accommodation for tonight.
“No toilet, no shower?” finishes one of the honey twins, the Brazilian one, with a resigned, sad smile. Her face is a mirror of all of ours. So broken are we by India.
“No,” responds Ravi gently, “I was only going to say bathrooms, they are shared.”
If you'd asked me to pick a favourite spot from this trip so far I'd have refused to choose between Periyar and it's exotic jungle beat, Kochi and it's European bones, gem-studded Jaipur and the thick chaos of a Varanasi. Now, however, it's totally Chitwan. Best in show. Clear overall winner. Blue ribbon.
Yesterday, after 5 hours driving from Lumbini, we pulled off the main road out of Chitwan village and went through a series of smaller villages. The scenery grew greener. We passed crude arrow-shaped signs bearing labels like 'Rhino Resort', 'Jungle Camp', 'Ripty Riverview'. In the village of Sauraha we followed the signs to 'Royal Park Hotel' and pulled into a lush jungle shangri-la. Ok, so my standards have been lowered into the dark fathoms by India, but this place is lovely. It's a collection of jungle bungalows (did you know that 'bungalow' is a Hindi word?) in a park with palms and hibiscuses — and giant hemp plants. The bungalows are basic but they have fans, and showers and toilet paper and mosquito coils and we're thrilled.
In the afternoon we took bikes around the local villages. The roads were mud and rocks and I can no longer feel my butt, but riding through the jungle was magic. I fell in a bush. Before that inauspicious event, we saw: colourful kids at play in the streets, tall elephants at work (the shock is what caused the bush incident), baby goats with mama, a chicken get beheaded, grass and mud houses, women collecting snails from the river for dinner, men pumping water, the dark wet jungle.
After a blissful night's sleep we set off for a day in the jungle proper, first by canoe then by open jeep. It was hot. Like, sear the skin on your bones hot. Like, breathing dragonbreath hot. Like, imagine being a marshmallow in a campfire hot. However, we saw crocodiles, kingfishers, deer and – spectacularily – one horned rhinos, including a mother and her baby. Funny moment: the Terrific Texan (yes, still here despite his dire imaginary illness) was filming the rhinos and narrating. It went something like “We're all here with the rhinos and we're trying to keep absolutely silent so they don't charge…” Death glares all around.
Other than the presence of the Texan, Nepal has two notable negatives. First, the power and water cuts are pretty brutal. Down here, the power seems to spend more time off than on: not cool in an environment of soaring heat and so many photo ops. Girl wants a fan and to charge her iPad. Second, we're in malaria territory. There's just no stopping that awful paranoia that comes on when you wake in the depth of the sweaty night, that horrid fear that a mosquito has penetrated your fortress, your insecticide-soaked mozzie net.
Tonight we're staying in a jungle 'lodge' in the national park buffer zone. It's incredibly rustic (open rooms, mosquito nets, no running water) but they do have drinks. Miss California and I just shared our first ever Everest beer (they are, like their namesake, mammoth). Then we shared another.