By Phyllis Weston
Nepal, tucked into the Himalayas, and its capital, Katmandu are well worth a visit. In preparation for King Berendra's coronation in 1975 a grand refurbishing had taken place: streets and roads paved, the temples of Durbar Square improved with much paint and general repairs. However, the people were much the same and were everywhere, walking, many carrying loads on their heads or suspended from yokes across their shoulders so that we could still see such sights as walking straw stacks, the bearer's legs the only indication that the load carrier was indeed human.
On our visit, we were the guests of Dr. Gerald Hankins of the United Missions Hospital and his wife, Alison. We could not have been in better hands to see and learn about our beautiful and often exotic surroundings. One of my favorite memories is the sight of the Gorge near Chovar whose grandeur is enhanced by the frail-looking foot bridge which crosses it and by the homely scene of women washing clothes in the pool below and spreading the garments to dry in the sun. And always, as I lifted up my eyes, there were the hills and the distant snowy peaks, for Katmandu lies in a valley.
However, an important part of this visit was for us to pass a few days in the Royal Chitwan National Park, home of the tiger.
We went by plane to Tiger Tops, the hotel of the park. We were in the lap of luxury even though lanterns provided our only light after dusk. Showers we had, the water heated by solar energy. It was never more than tepid which didn't matter as the weather was unremittingly hot.
The buildings which housed bedrooms-cum-bath were two stories high, raised still higher on tall stilts. At the top of the first flight of stairs was a platform from which we mounted the elephants, which were to take us sightseeing. The howdah was a crude box with railings instead of solid sides to keep us from falling off. The mahout sat in front of the box holding a pointed stick which he used to direct our mount.
I sat on the side facing the elephant's tail. This was quite comfortable although it was rather like a mobile seesaw. When the elephant went up a slope I slid forward, and back I came when it descended even the smallest declivity.
However, the sightseeing was so rewarding I managed to forget all else. We rode through very tall elephant grass as stiff as reeds, across streams, up hill and down dale, seeing one-horned rhinos, oblivious of us because we were on elephants, spotted deer, parrots and peacocks. The mahout whispered in the elephant's ear and it plucked a lovely purple blossom. Another word from the driver and it picked up a peacock feather, all iridescent green and blue.
Before dinner, we were called to walk the blind, a structure to hide in while we watched for the tiger. It certainly was a blind walk and hazardous. We saw leopards, all velvet spots and tawny skin, but no tiger. This performance was to be repeated the next night, but we declined. I would resort to that inward eye and conjure up the tiger of Blake's poem, "burning bright in the forests of the night". And as we had feared, again there was no tiger.
The next afternoon we went by jeep to the Narayani River where we embarked in canoes to travel to a tent camp. The river was a lively scene with fishermen casting their nets and leg rollers, four or five men rowing a boat, each with one leg in the water.
After a very good tea, scones dripping with butter and strawberry jam, we boarded the jeep for the return journey. It was a memorable ride in an open jeep with good springs, a pleasant breeze blowing us a little cooler, and jungle and elephant grass areas fraught with animals and birds returning to activity after the siesta hours of the day: a large herd of the graceful spotted deer, languor monkeys chattering excitedly as we passed, peacocks strutting proudly, an Indian roller with a glimpse of purple wing, mynah birds, woodpeckers, a black grongo with a flash of red on its tail, doves, and many a stately white heron.
The jeep ride itself was something to marvel at as we forded streams, traveled faintly marked roads, and mounted what looked like impossible slopes. This was a fitting climax to our visit.
The next morning we paid a farewell visit to the elephants. These remarkable animals would be turned loose in the monsoon season. Would they return? Indeed they would! We learned that the great attraction for them is a sort of mega-vitamin pill consisting of rice and molasses wrapped in elephant grass.
And then we were off, very happy with a truly unique experience.
Copyright © 2001, P. Weston
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