Once settled in the front of the canoe, I looked forward to a relaxing, three hour trip to our campsite. Moments later, screams of terror interrupted my relaxation: "Rhino, Rhino, Rhino!!" Disney’s Jungle Cruise with an over-excited guide? Not quite…The Rapti River, Royal Chitwan National Park, Kingdom of Nepal.
Our adventure began when the five of us arrived at Kathmandu for ten days of trekking and safari. The Land Rover ride from Kathmandu to the park was enough to bruise even the strongest kidneys. Potholes that made the moon look smooth as a baby's bottom. After an eternity or two, we reach our safari destination.
After a brief rest, we prepared ourselves for a trip to what our hosts called "The Tented Camp", a campsite in the jungle where we’d spend the night. Personally, I’d prefer the monorail ride to the Polynesian Village. Had a hankerin' for some poi, I guess. A long canoe ride was a chance to unwind, watch a great sunset, listen to the birds, and inhale fresh air that brought me back to a childhood of summer vacations in Northern Minnesota.
Our canoe was definitely made by Lewis and Clark (Jerry and Roy). Carved out of a log, "seaworthy" isn’t a word I'd use in describing it. Something closer to "the timber Titanic” came to mind. As we rested in it, water inched towards the top. Two guides came with us, one steering from behind, the other pushing from the front with a long bamboo pole.
The ride eased away our tensions. It'd been a long, hot day of dust, potholes, and car sickness, but now vacation began. With the setting sun on the horizon, I enjoyed the sounds of a nature that today's western man rarely experiences, only to be interrupted by the occasional camera shutter. Occasionally, the guides pointed out a birdcall. I pretended to hear it. Although, I am swear I heard the Country Bear Jamboree in the distance.
Fifteen yards ahead, the river at this point only forty feet wide and partially covered by a shadow, had a bend to the right.
I saw it just before the guide, ten yards ahead of us in the river, a small horn out of the water.
A rhinoceros. Of friggin’ courseros.
Using his pole, the guide tried to stop us. He screamed to his partner of the danger ahead as I shouted bad words. We stopped about twenty feet from the animal. We were completely defenseless and this Rhino, first, is an actual Rhino, and we are an actual group of five, twenty-something Americans who, though we expected to see some wild animals the next few days, did not expect be sharing bath time with one a few minutes after our naps!
Feeling the need to document my impending slaughter, I snapped pictures. The guide slapped his pole in the water to frighten our friend. I continued photographing the beast as it moves out of the water. It circled us, making the hoof scraping dirt, charging bull motions. The size of the creature was amazing. It was as big as a van, but it appeared to be afraid of five tourists and a bamboo wielding Nepalii.
The incident lasted only minutes, but I realized this vacation was different. I am in Nepal. This place has its own little fifteen minute time zone. If I died, no one will know for a week. Disney, this isn’t. Ok, back in the boat…
After a quick change of underclothing, the trip continued.
We were only a few minutes into what was a two-hour trip. We stopped to get into a larger canoe, because we had to pick up another worker carrying a stick. It was at this point we found out that no guide had ever been as close to rhino when not riding an elephant. That’s funny, same here!
Oh… the worker we picked up, he was our “animal fighter”.
Part Two: It’s a nice day for a stroll, as long as you don’t get attacked by a rhino, Bengal tiger, or sloth bear.