Sauraha; Rhinosaurs from elephant-back; In which Sheryl has a lousy birthday; Sauraha to Tandi Bazaar

We were getting a bit more used to this getting-up-early thing, and so our third day in a row of waking up at 5:00 didn’t hurt quite as much. Today was our day for an elephant-back safari. We’d done it once before, in Corbett Park in northern India, but between a grumpy mahout, a lazy elephant and two shrieking Indian women scaring away the wildlife, it hadn’t been as much fun as we’d hoped. I was really hoping that this experience would be better.

Our elephant left at 7. The first couple of kilometres were along the road to the “community forest” on the north side of the river - not actually in the park, but close enough. I’d forgotten just how uncomfortable an elephant’s gait really is. You end up swaying in a sort of jerky diagonal up-and-down figure-eight movement. At least these howdahs had woven bottoms to sit on instead of hard wood like we’d had in Corbett.

It took half an hour to get to the forest, ducking power lines along the road. It was only Sheryl and I on the elephant at that point and we thought we were lucky and would have the elephant to ourselves for the safari, but no such luck. Two loud Nepali public officials got on at the checkpoint just outside the forest. One of them quieted down but the other spent the whole time bellowing jovially at us or on the phone. I really didn’t want a replay of Corbett, and, my spirits sinking, I casually told him the story, hoping he’d get the message. He didn’t, which surprised me not at all. All I could do after that was answer his questions quietly in monosyllables, but he was quite capable of carrying on both sides of the conversation all by himself.

Between the loud man and the fact that our elephant was, once again, the last elephant in line, I assumed we’d see nothing again except the usual deer and monkeys. True enough, the first four or five waterholes were empty. The last waterhole, though, had five rhinos in it! I was surprised and happy, and even the loud guy shut up and watched. There were three standing half-submerged and a mother and a young rhino with only their backs and heads above the water. The mother and child each had half a dozen frogs sitting happily on their backs and heads. Our mahout made his elephant circle around behind the waterhole for a better view. One of the other elephants and the biggest rhino squared off and nearly got into a fight! The elephant trumpeted and mock-charged, the people on its back holding on for dear life, and the rhino turned tail and ran out of the water into the undergrowth. Even after the warning from our guide the day before I was still surprised at how fast a rhino can run.

After the elephant safari, Sheryl came down very sick. She couldn’t eat and had started vomiting again. It was terrifyingly reminiscent of her stomach infection in Mumbai, but where on earth could we go for medical care in Nepal? Our best bet was to hightail it out of the country and back to India. Sheryl wasn’t capable of an overnight bus trip, though. We’d arranged for tickets out for that afternoon, and we went to beg and see if we could change them. We were told we could, but that there was a strike the next day so none of the buses would be running. That meant two more days in this stupid little village in the pestilential heat. There was no ATM in the village and we’d burned through all the money we brought with us. Luckily for us there was one money-changer that was capable of charging a credit card and giving us cash. I was very glad he was there, but a 6% service charge hurt a lot.

To add insult to injury, Sheryl’s birthday was the next day. She had gone back on the Indian antibiotics and had improved a little and at least stopped vomiting, but she still felt like hell and we decided to postpone observing the day for a better time. She felt better enough by afternoon to consider travelling the next morning. The bus left from Tandi Bazaar at the highway junction seven or eight kilometres north. There are only three ways to get there - hire a jeep for Rs200 each, walk, or hire a horse cart. We lost track of time and had to scramble for a horse cart to get us there by dark. It was a jolting and painful half-hour ride over bad roads and fields and I felt very sorry for the horse even though he had a jaunty neck bell. Tandi Bazaar was very ugly and very run-down, but the people were friendly enough. We found a reasonably clean room in the town’s only (and nasty) hotel. We knew we had a ticket waiting for us at one of the bus-booking agencies here (there hadn’t been time to get the ticket to Sauraha for us) but everything was closed. We looked and asked around to see if we could find the right place, but all we had was a man’s name and a phone number. The agency in Sauraha had told us that everybody knew this man and could direct us to his shop, which was near the bus stand. Nobody we talked to had heard of the man, but we found the bus stand and reckoned that we’d deal with the ticket in the morning.

Flourish

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Chris Liberty - Dispatches from a Gentleman Adventurer
Being the internal dialog of a vagabond who chased his own tail across five continents for 4 years and 2 days from May 2008 to May 2012, in search of something that never really became clear.
This travelogue comprises 16,426 photographs and 402,515 words in 307 dispatches written from 335 places in 52 countries on 6 continents around the world.
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