Chitwan Nationalpark + Annapurna Nationalpark + Kathmandu [2017]

Having visited Nepal for the first time in autumn 1988, I more recently had the chance to spent a few weeks in the Himalayan kingdom after an 12-day work-related stay in Dubai in spring 2017. Just two years after the devastating earthquake that hitKathmandu and the Annapurna region the damage was still very visible especially in the vicinity of Durbar Square in the capital. The extensive rebuilding and renovation of buildings as well as road construction together with an incredible amount of traffic navigating the rather to narrow streets cloaked everything in a layer of grime and dust and made breathing a less than pleasing affair. Well before the world ever heard of Covid I rushed into the next pharmacy and bought a couple of face masks …

After a couple of thunderstorms with copious amounts of water the air cleared up quite a bit – but things had very obviously changed a lot since my first visit, and not only in Kathmandu (which in the late 1980s still had the feel ofd a very relaxing and pretty pristine place – especially when one had traveled up from the hot-wet chaos of monsoon-ridden Northern India).

While even in 1988 the first signs of new roads into the mountainous areas being constructed under Chinese tutelage and with Chinese money around Pokhara were visible it was by no means possible to reach e.g. Ghandruk other than by hiking. Walking along kilometres of unpaved roads definitely took some of the pleasures of trekking in the area away, but progress in the form of streets and attached other modernities certainly have their benefits for the people living there as well as for us tourists. Not only go children to school now more often, but water supply is much healthier than before and we didn’t constantly have to fear the likes of intestinal parasites, giardia or hepatitis as was the case 30 years earlier. The choice of food items on the lodges’ menus, though, was as staggering as before.

A new discovery for me was the Terrai on the India-Nepal border, where I had only passed through in 1988, and especially Chitwan National Park which has plenty of wildlife. By coincidence my long-time friend Frank Bienewald (extensive traveler, cyclist and photographer – see his website would also come to Sauraha, and so we decided to hook up and spent a few days exploring together. Since I am more on the lazy side, it was wonderful to have a friend urging me to get up before sunrise (he often does) and walk along the river, watch the elephants being washed, the marsh muggers and gharials lazing on the sand banks and always keep a nervous eye out to a rhino – and the nearest tree to climb if one came charging. 

From a former trip Frank new a wildlife guide, and so we went on a highly pleasant walk in the jungle and some small  Tharu villages where we spent the nights and had a glimpse of still mostly traditional village life. Walking through elephant gras accompanied by just two guides (one walking in front of us, one behind) equipped only with iron-clad lathis, was somewhat eerie, as a tiger would certainly spot us, while we might walk past without seeing it… But though we saw pug marks, we didn’t see a tiger, nor did we smell one. On our third day, though, in a rather boring looking strip of sparse forest, we passed a spot where it smelled strongly of big cat, but couldn’t see anything. So during a short break we instead  occupied ourselves with an impressive spiderweb when suddenly one of our guides urgendly wispered “Leopard, Leopard,” pointing along the strech of dirt road we had passed before. And there it was, wearily looking back at us, slowly retreating, always, after a few strides, turning around again to see whether we would follow further. We also saw a few rhinos, tucans, deer, more muggers and gharials – and on our last day an old elephant bull (who had obviously killed 14 villagers in past years and had all guides and villagers in the vicinity in high alert and on the look-out) rushed past, retreating from bush fire the park rangers had started to rejuvenate the elephant grass – the young shoots being a favorite of the rhinos…

After Frank had left to head back to Germany I spent a few more leiruly days in Sauraha, keeping up the habit of going for walks along the river during sunrise and sunset before heading back for Kathmandu to meet my wife and the head into the mountains for a few days of trekking.

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