Robert Stanelle

 chasing rhinos in nepal

It is beautiful November morning, another day to highlight in my memories. I am at Tiger Temple Lodge in Nepal’s Royal Chitwan National Park. I’m up at 6AM and to breakfast at 6:30. By 7:00 I am on an elephant for a one elephant, one person safari - just me and my driver for the next two and a half hours alone in the jungle. We went through forest, grass lands, river banks and all over the park but were not lucky this time as we saw nothing. It was still enjoyable though as there was nothing but the sound of the birds and sometimes only pure silence. You see only a few birds but you hear them all around you. We are in the grasslands, but this is not grass as you and I know grass. This grass ranges up to 25 feet tall and even sitting on an elephant it is growing far over your head. As my guide told me, you do not see the tiger but he sees you. They choose not to be seen and they can be ten feet from you and you will not see them. You are glad you are safely atop an elephant. However, an elephant is not a smooth ride and I have no doubt that the fabled Tarzan had hemorrhoids and a callused butt! Mine was taking a beating but enjoying it! You want smooth, take a small boat in the ocean or fly a single engine plane.

Insects? Actually they were not a problem and I wore no repellant. I was told they could be a big problem in June and July, the same being true for snakes. You did not see them now but would see them everywhere in the camp in June and July as monsoon rains drove them to higher ground. There were 11 kinds of snakes and four were poisonous.

Lunch is at 12:30 and then I take a nap for a bit. After lunch, I spend some time chatting with Mohan, the young man who is sort of the activities coordinator and has been there almost six years. He is very nice and was always helpful to me. I also spend some time also with Bhumika, a 34 year old woman who is responsible for the accommodations. She is very interesting as she joined the organization at age 17 and has been with them for 17 years. She is the only woman on the staff. She told me that a few other women have come at times but they all leave quickly as they do not like the no TV, no internet and no shopping! She said she is happy there though as she doesn't like to shop and enjoys the peace and the wildlife - except she doesn't like the snakes! Mohan and Bhumika both said that living in the jungle is clean air and very good for their health.

I asked Bhumika her best and worse memories of her 17 years? She told me her favorite memory was sleeping with a tiger!!!!! She said when they were first building the camp they all lived in tents with just one communal toilet area. She was sleeping in her small tent when a tiger came into the camp and lay down next to her body to sleep! There was nothing between her and the tiger but the thin wall of the tent. She said they slept that way most all night and the tiger rolled over several times but never left her side. She was, of course, afraid to move. She said come daylight the tiger left and she was very happy!

Her worse memory though was horrible. Two of her worker friends were walking in the jungle when one was attacked, killed and eaten by a tiger. The other ran for help and when they returned they found his half eaten body. All of the workers wanted to quit but they formed a hunting party and hunted down and killed the tiger as it was now dangerous to humans once it had tasted human blood. She said it was the only attack and death in the history of the camp.

Then at 3:00 I am back on another elephant for a private 2+ hour safari that turned out to be a most incredible adventure! We started out walking through the lake and swamp. My elephant has water up to just below his eyes and is holding his trunk up out of the water to breathe!!!! This is a grass and plant filled swamp where I got a good look at some nesting swamp birds of several kinds. There was a wild orange tree growing up out of the swamp and we picked some green oranges from the back of my elephant. What do you do with a green orange growing in the swamp? Well, I peeled and ate mine sitting on the elephant! A little sour but good!

We finally left the swamp and went through the forest area for a bit but seeing little, just enjoying the peace. We then headed into the high grass lands - and I do mean HIGH!!! There is no trail but this means nothing as an elephant makes their own trail. They just go where they want to go - knocking over or ripping out anything in their path. It is amazing to be sitting on their back like a mahout, just watching them. The grass is far over our heads so you can see little but what is right in front of you. However, my guide is very good. VERY GOOD! He is watching everything and he will see some grass move and say, "rhino" and we are off! I am sitting on the back of an elephant and we ARE CHASING A RHINO THROUGH THE HIGH GRASS. The rhino runs off and stops. We creep up on it again. It runs off again, and so on and so on. We finally get close enough for some photos of the rhino hidden in the grass before he runs off again and finally disappears. I am almost deliriously happy!

We continue on for a bit in another direction when my guide again spots grass moving and says "rhino" and WE ARE OFF CHASING ANOTHER RHINO! Again, we do the stop and go bit many times until I can finally get some photos through the grass only 10-15 feet away. It was an absolutely incredible experience!

We then continue on our journey and come alongside a small river where a rhino is bathing and watch him from 10-15 feet away! It was my third rhino on this safari alone. I am thrilled. To find three rhinos in this very high and thick grass is very fortunate even for a good guide but we are lucky this time. That was the last of it as we headed back to camp. He spotted deer movement in the high grass also but my guide said that we would never see them. You have to find them in the more open forest to see anything. We were back for dinner at 7:00, then another cold shower and to bed - happily dreaming of rhinos!

Tiger Temple lodge, riding elephants and chasing rhinos; I do so love the life I have chosen.