As always, I apologize for the delay since my last blog post! We’ve been out of town since very early Thursday morning, and I’m finally getting caught back up here at the house. That said, the family trip was amazing, albeit trying at times.
Our trip began at 6am on Thursday morning for the 350 mile drive to Chitewan National Park. Due to the fact that Nepal’s highway system is largely one lane, and winds through hills, valleys, and mountains, the average speed for any trip is roughly 30 mph. That meant that this bus ride, which would be about 4 hours in the states, quickly turned into a 14 hour trip. In addition to the distance, we also crammed 50 people onto a 40 person bus which led to some cramped spaces. Unfortunately, there weren’t really rest stops along the way, and despite stopping at “Paradise Plaza” there was not much by the way of food. We brought juice boxes and snack food, and fortunately Maggie brought some snickers bars for the volunteers to snack on. After some serious delays on the bus, we ended up getting to the Rhino Lodge at 830 pm, and proceeded directly to dinner. As I’ve mentioned Dhal Baat is the big food over here, and not surprisingly that is what we ate for dinner. After dinner we headed to our rooms, I shared with Ben, Matt, and Ian and luckily snagged the single bed, while another person slept on the floor and two in the double bed. All things considered the hotel was decent and I slept well, in preparation for our big day at the park.
On Friday we all woke up at 630 am for breakfast and preparations before getting loaded on to two people movers, which brought us into the park. Chitewan is the first National Park of Nepal. It used to be the site of safari’s and game exhibitions, but has been converted into a habitat for Tigers, Rhino’s, Elephants, and a number of other species. Our first stop on the journey was the elephants; the park is home to roughly 100 Asian elephants, 46 of which are used for elephant safaris. All 50 of us broke out into groups of 5 for the trip. I had the same group from Halloween and as always they were wonderful, fun, and extremely well behaved. One of my guys got extremely afraid that the elephant was going to fall over, and I had to hold his hand for much of the trip, while reassuring him that everything was going to be ok. This was in addition to my right hand man, Bishal sitting in my lap for the duration. I think I was the leader of the “fun” elephant, and we had some songs going and chants. Initially this was intended to help Hari through his worries, however, it turns out we might have scared off some of the animals… Despite our group’s boisterous mind set, we had an amazing time, our Mahout (elephant driver) was wonderful with the kids, and they asked a boat load of questions. In addition the ride lasted for about an hour and a half, so we got to see much of the parks beauty from the back of an elephant. I’ve actually wanted to take an elephant ride for some time so this was a huge treat and I enjoyed it immensely.
Following the elephant ride we made our way back to the hotel, where we regrouped and then walked over to the river to watch an elephant bathing. This is somewhat of a tourist town, so there was actually a bunch of café’s on the river overlooking the animals. In addition to the elephant bath we went on a long canoe trip down one of the rivers, where some slightly inebriated tour guides gave us a wonderful cruise. This was a game time decision though; as our principal point of contact explained that the kids had to be absolutely silent if we wanted to go on this tour. Evidently the crocodiles can be somewhat irritable and screaming kids splashing in the water is not the best. As a result of this conversation Maggie explained to the kids that if they talked they would get eaten, and that they had best be quiet. Well, I think her warning was a bit of an exaggeration and it SCARED the kids into absolute silence. I think this was the most peaceful part of the whole trip, and we got to see some crocodiles, birds, and some beautiful scenery. After the canoe trip, we got off near the elephant breeding center and to see the elephants and hear more about them. This part of the trip was extremely interesting and I learned a great deal about the Asian elephants we rode earlier in the day. We also got to see a baby rhino, and a really bizarre animal museum. Towards the end of the day, we realized that there wasn’t much space for down time at the park, and rather than staying Maggie made the decision to head to Manakamana temple on Saturday. Unfortunately, Saturday is very popular at the temple and in order to get tickets to ride the gondola up we needed to arrive at 730 am, which meant a 415am departure from Chitewan. This reality did not stop us from having a fantastic dinner with the uncles and the volunteers, which was a welcome change from the Dhal Baat.
|Scared Kids getting on to the Canoe!|
The next morning we woke up at 4am in order to head to the Temple. Manakamana is a sacred Hindu site up in the sky, which is where people go in order to make a wish and a sacrifice. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to see the Himalaya’s from the summit, because it was a rather hazy day. This was actually my favorite stop on the entire trip. For some reason I’ve always enjoyed cities that are tucked away off the beaten track, and this city was certainly out of the way. We walked around for several hours, received blessings, and tikka, and ate lunch before deciding to get on the road once again. We went back and forth on whether we wanted to stay in the park, but after some thoughts we decided to head to Budha’s birth place at Lumbini which was another far drive. Along the way to Lumbini we stayed at the sketchiest hotels I’ve ever stepped foot in. This was not a part of the plan, however, at 830 pm we realized we needed to find a place to stay and were still a decent drive from Lumbini. The place we showed up to had no power, and had some of the dirtiest rooms I’ve ever been in. The volunteers all stayed in one room, while 11 of the boys slept out on the balcony. I’m sure everyone would say “don’t let the bed bugs bite” unfortunately they did, and I was ripped apart by those little critters. Thankfully they didn’t bother me too much the next day, however, my legs and torso were covered with red spots from the bed bugs. Fortunately, the other volunteers got spared, but I was not so lucky. In all honesty the bed bugs were the worst part, and I actually had a surprisingly enjoyable time at the creepy hotel. As with anything I think the key is just having a sense of humor and a positive attitude about it, and the fellows remained very upbeat. Thankfully we don’t really have too many complainers in our group, and we did our best to make light of an otherwise lackluster sleeping situation.
|Gondola to Manakamana|
|Super sketchy hotel room...good times|
Creepy hotel aside, we woke up at 6am the next morning to head to Lumbini, and arrived at roughly 8am. After a quick breakfast we proceeded to the park, where like Buddha I found enlightenment. For me that came in the form of coke zero which I purchased near the park’s entrance. For those of you who don’t know when I’m in the states my diet consists predominantly of pretzel M&M’s and Coke Zero’s…Unfortunately neither of those things really exist in Nepal. They do have soda, however, it’s mostly Coca-Cola Classic, with an occasional Coca-Cola Light. Well, you can probably guess that I was ecstatic when I saw the black outline of a Coke Zero in the distance. Not sure if the other fellows fully understood the reason for my excitement, but my friends from home most certainly would.
Sorry for my Coke Zero aside, moving on we ventured into the park to see the sights. This is a sacred spot for a great number of people, and is one of Buddhism’s holiest destinations. While in the park, we saw the exact site of Buddha’s birth, a sacred Bodhi tree, and a huge number of Buddhist monasteries constructed for worship. During the day I learned a good bit about Buddha and his teachings. Following our trip to Lumbini we got in the bus, had a quick lunch and began the long trip home…a trip that could have been even longer had it not been for Maggie and Tope’s negotiation skills. About 2.5 hours into the drive, we ran into a road block as a result of one towns protest against the government. The prime minister was in the area, and the locals blockaded the streets to show their distaste for the government. We could have been sitting there for hours, had we not pleaded to get through. After sitting in the road for 45 minutes, Maggie came back to the bus and asked all the white people to get to the front. This was to show who was on board, and the only reason we were allowed to pass was because our bus was filled with white people and children. After we got through the road block the bus let out a triumphant cheer and we continued on our way.
|Under the Bodhi Tree|
Having been home for a day and a half now, I’ve had time to reflect on this trip and think it really exemplifies the best and worst qualities of Nepal. There is amazing scenery, sites, history, and people however, there is also unrest, a terrible infrastructure, and depilated accommodations. During our vacation we saw both extremes, which I think is a wonderful thing. People often visit new countries (myself included), and only see it through the lens of a resort or through a carefully planned itinerary. I really feel blessed to have seen the real Nepal, the way it is supposed to be seen. There were some very uncomfortable moments, and I have the bed bug bites to prove it but all and all it was an incredible experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
I know this is the longest blog post ever, and each paragraph is really deserving of a new post with more detail, but, I will conclude with one entertaining story. During our first day at the Rhino Lodge, my little minion Bishal was following me around all day (as he usually does). Well, when we stopped for a bathroom break, he followed me and kept saying long toilet, not knowing what he meant I let him into my bathroom to do his thing. Turns out he says “Long Toilet” and “Short Toilet” depending on what he has to do in there…Also turns out her is not used to using a western toilet and accustom to a squatter. Well about a few minutes into his long toilet, I realized that things were getting a bit gnarly in the bathroom. After he got up I had to clean him, using a bucket of water, and the rest of the bathroom which somehow looked like a bunch of monkey’s got in fight. This was my first experience taking care of a small child after they used the bathroom, and man was it a rude awakening. I continue to say, this fellowship is doing wonders for my future fathering skills, and this was a big step. I actually had to help out a couple more times during the trip with some kids, and thankfully it has gotten easier with every wipe…probably too much information!
|My main man Bishal|
Miss everyone a lot, and will write more soon! Diwali begins today, and there will be lots to update on!