After a 7 hour journey on a packed rickety bus around the dusty mountain side roads of the Kathmandu valley we reached our next destination; Chitwan National park! The district of Chitwan is one of 75 districts of Nepal with Kathmandu being the most well known. Chitwan is located in the southwestern part of Narayani Zone, and it is one of Nepal’s Inner Terai valleys between the Mahabharat and Siwalik ranges, both considered foothills of the Himalayas.
Out of all the destinations we visited whilst backpacking around Nepal, Chitwan was my favourite!
However as we stepped off the bus we were bombarded with a large group of men holding signs and all shouting at once in an attempt to persuade westerners to stay at their hotel. Let me just say: IT DOES NOT PERSUADE ME AT ALL AND I WAS FUMING. Being a quiet person with a lot of tolerance for annoying human behaviour I decided I had enough and sarcastically said to the men “Can you please shut up and stop rudely shouting in my ear and let me get off the fricken bus first?” which actually worked a treat and they backed away. This is quite common in Nepal and it’s almost like a desperate cry to be chosen for said sale, but it really doesn’t work, the fact that maybe a westerner has picked a hotel has nothing to do with the seller irritatingly following them around (with 20 other men trying to do the same thing), it is because said Westerner has chosen the hotel based on their own INDIVIDUAL idea of how they’d like their holiday to be, not because the seller wants to give you “best price.” I think with this Nepalis need a more tactful and quieter way of pitching their sales. But then that’s my opinion. In this case, you can walk into the main village where all the hotels and restaurants are but we had massive backpacks so we told one Nepali we’d like a lift in exchange for viewing his hotel but with no promise of staying there. It worked. We did look around the hotel complex and it was a nice accommodation of small huts surrounded by exotic plants but there was something about it we didn’t quite like so we left and found an Eco Lodge!
We LOVED this Eco Lodge and even the owner told us later “I tried to talk to you guys to tell you about this place but obviously there were too many other men annoying you in the car park.” Yes. Indeed. The owner is a quiet man and very much into living environmentally friendly. His complex is small but developing and I can see him doing so well in the future, I can see this being popular with the ‘hippie’, ‘yogi’ and ‘boho’ culture, I can see yoga retreats being provided here, small open mic nights of Rasta haired surfers strumming to their guitar and a small bonfire camp site to make friends under the stars. Already the Eco lodge allows for volunteers to stay for free in exchange for helping out on the site or being involved in developing this projects. We stayed in the cute bottle house but you can opt to stay in a traditional Nepalese “Nest”, there is a sweet open air hut for book reading and social gatherings, a reception room with snacks, open air showers that are solar heated and dry compost toilets. Evergreen Eco lodge also offer day trips and tours and are only 1 minute walk away from the river and elephant bathing!
Through the Eco lodge tours we went on Jeep and Elephant Safari through the jungles, rode on a donkey cart through a Tharu village and went to visit the elephant breeding centre. We loved it here so much that we decided to stay an extra night. This place was a dream and so relaxing. Even Jon said “I could live like this, in a place like this, own very little possessions, laptop, camera, internet, I can still work as a photographer, you could teach dance, yoga, art and English, I am not saying necessarily HERE is the future location but this is all we need really.” and it’s true, you can see from our photos how content we were.
If you are interested in staying in Evergreen Ecolodge you can find it on tripadvisor here.
The people here are so much more down to earth, perhaps a bit shy however very friendly and curious. You do feel like life has slowed down and the locals are genuinely happy to have you around. The weather was glorious and I enjoyed knowing I can just be me, dress in my silk sari skirts and harem pants, revel in feeling the dusty earth between my toes and allow my hair to be utterly unkempt and beautifully unruly whilst wearing mala beads and bindis and not one person looked at me like a mad woman like they do in the UK. Even Jon began to wear his mala beads every day and just knowing you don’t have to care how you appear on the surface to others takes a lot of stress off your shoulders! Not one person we met wanted to know how much we earned, what jobs we did, if we owned a house or car, absolutely none of that shallow shitty chit chat that has become the norm in the UK just wasn’t important here. We were free from it! This place and these people gave us paradise, we were left alone and given the space to just BE.IN.THE.MOMENT.AND.BE.OURSELVES. It was a happy state of grace.
Chitwan is so lush with plant life and the people here live in gorgeous humble hut homes. You are surrounded by the quietness of the river, the subtle movement of animal life and being at one with the primordial heartbeat of nature.
I loved every moment of walking around this place and even had a chat with a one legged man on crutches telling me stories of how Rhinos venture into the villages, he has been chased many times and I gasped “What did you do!?” and his reply was “I ran up a tree!” and we both laughed. And it’s moments like this, sharing story telling and laughters with people that is greatly missed in Western society, there are very few GENUINE and innocent conversations left, most conversations have an ulterior motive, encourages gossip and greed or have the shallowness of a puddle. Westerners have forgotten the power of story telling and of having deep conversations about life and the heavens, instead we chat about the weather, work, the latest crap T.V drama and that sofa we bought last month. In places like Nepal there is still that human connection that the West badly need to incorporate back into our lives for we are losing what it means to live and to love and instead replacing it with possessions and money, we are trying to fill a void that can only be filled with friendship and love. It is that simple.
The jeep and elephant safari was fricken amazing! I was beside myself with happiness being taken through the jungle whilst riding on the back of a beautiful elephant! (Do not worry folks, these elephants are well looked after). This beautiful animal had no care in the world that she was taking us for a ride, she gently walked through the trees and stopped numerous time for a snack and I found it utterly delightful like a child to witness an elephant eating leaves whilst I was sat on her back! Whilst on safari we saw a few Rhinos bathing in small lakes, numerous deer, wild boar and exotic birds, tiger scratches on trees and a very quick look at a sloth bear before it hid away into the bushes. A lot of these animals are shy and nocturnal and you can book to go on a night-watch with these tours and you can stay over night in the jungle (with a guide) on a watch tower to spot tigers hunting with night vision binoculars. I think if we stayed longer in Chitwan we probably would have done this, especially Jon who has no problem being out in the dark, in the wilderness, roughing it with only his camera bag and a banana to keep him company. Whereas I on the other hand would probably be slightly reluctant mainly because I can’t stand the idea of being out in the open, in the pitch dark with large flying bugs landing on me! Just thinking about that makes my skin crawl!
Next up we went elephant bathing twice! And enjoyed musical entertainment and a traditional dance show in the evenings.
Needless to say, the elephant bathing brought me such joy! I love elephants! Alongside Whales and Foxes they are a favourite animal. We were involved with the elephant bathing twice over two mornings and it’s good to get there early before herds of Japanese tourists ruin the moment. We actually had three very annoying and rude girls suddenly turn up to our elephant and essentially pushed us away from the elephant in order to ride it; So yeah, go early to spend quality and peaceful time with your elephant before it turns into a zoo of moronic groups of tourists!
When we did get a chance to be with our elephant who was 26 years old and named Marikali, we bathed and scrubbed her and I sang soft buddhist mantras to her and told her how beautiful she is, I am hoping she felt the love I had for her and I hope she felt as happy I was that day to have met her.I named my hand carved Nepali elephant figurine after her. This was a special moment for me and has been something on my bucket list I have wanted to do and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
During the evenings we enjoyed plentiful musical entertainment from two brothers who are talented musicians and singers and we became good friends with them during our stay. On our last night we ventured to a theatre room to watch a show of traditional Nepalese dancing, I learned so much about more folkloric dance styles and even discovered they have their own version of belly dance movements too, which I excitedly pointed out to Jon as some of the women did hip shimmies and hand gestures! I was over the moon that I was given the opportunity to meet these women after the show. The lead dancer held my hand and said “You beauty! You beauty!” to which I replied “No, no, you are beautiful, your dancing is beautiful, you are amazing!” it was such an honor to meet such talented and incredible people in a beautiful place in this part of the world.
On the last day we were supposed to go on a bike ride to a lake that was 15 minutes away, however because I hadn’t ridden a bike in years and these bikes were clunky, steel, heavy things I fell off! I nearly cried, I literally couldn’t ride something that was twice my body weight and drove like it was on rails. Jon comforted me and we joked that actually it is possible to forgot how to ride a bike and then we decided instead to take a walk through the Tharu villages to meet the locals. We realized very quickly that my inability to ride a bike was a blessing in disguise, this is exactly what I constantly remind people of in regards to “divine timing” and “the universe always has a plan.” I 100% believe that even in the most chaotic times when we think our life is falling a part that this is the plan to clear away the debris to bring fourth new beginnings and amazing blessings. You hear stories like “When I lost my job I was distraught but suddenly, out of the blue this opportunity came about and I now live in Australia! That couldn’t have happened if I hadn’t lost my job.” or in my case “If I hadn’t have fallen off that bike we would never have walked through the Tharu villages, met amazing locals and Jon would never have gotten such incredible photos for his travel photography.” The universe essentially said “Erm..No you are not going to some silly lake today, I have other plans for you both and it’s amazing! You can thank me later!”.
Needless to say, we are utterly thankful and grateful for that afternoon, I felt like my heros Dan Eldon and Elizabeth Gilbert immersing myself in real life Tharu culture. These people are utterly beautiful and want nothing more than to interact with you even though there is a language barrier they enjoy bringing their children out to meet you, are happy to be photographed and love seeing themselves on a screen. Because life here is so simple the locals may not own televisions, mobile phones or even the internet and so meeting a tourist in strange clothing with contraptions that can capture your face is magical and fun for all! The people here are so lovely and we never once felt unwelcome. We felt bad that we couldn’t give them a memory, that we could not print out our photos of them to keep which gave us the idea of buying a Polaroid for our next trip to the Far East, that way we can give something back as a thank you for allowing us to take their portraits.
Chitwan is unforgettable and magical, I’d go back in a heartbeat! If/when I am qualified to teach dance and yoga I’d set up retreat workshops here, that are both affordable to my students and give back to the community of Chitwan. Being in a place like this is life changing and took my breath away! Imagine waking up every day to do yoga by the river, bath an elephant, make friends with the Tharu, teach yoga workshops and learn folkloric dancing in the evenings? I mean how heavenly does that sound? I really did not want to leave this enchanting place, Chitwan is another destination that holds a place in my heart.
Next up: 2 days in Lumbini the birth place of the historical Buddha. We very nearly did not venture here, either we stayed in Chitwan an extra two days or take the plunge and go to Lumbini? We were in two minds as to what to do, we weren’t sure if it was worth it but in the end we were so grateful to have been there, more on this next week!