21 October 2019
We meet our naturalist guide Gobinda at 6.30 this morning for quick cup of tea or coffee before heading out for an early morning trip down the Rapti River in a dugout canoe. It is very misty so the light is not good for taking photos of birds and animals but it has a peaceful, mystical feel. We all load into one canoe to be paddled downstream knowing that we might not see anything but hopeful that we will be lucky today.
Early on in our trip our wishes come true as we see a large male one-horned rhinoceros come down to the edge of the river. It is still amongst the tall grass but we manage to get a pretty good view of it. They are massive creatures, up to 2m tall and weighing 2 tons.
We see and hear lots of bird life (including spectacularly coloured kingfishers) and good views of the grasslands (20% of the park) and the riverine forests as we float gently down the river. We are hoping to also see the fresh-water, fish-eating Gharial crocodile – these are endangered and the Nepali government runs a breeding programme to release them into the wild (many go to India). I’m not so sure I’m wanting to see the much larger Marsh-mugger crocodile that will eat anything in its path. But there is not enough warmth or sun yet to coax crocodiles out of the water.
After an hour or so we pull over to the side of the river and walk along the banks, seeing the massive footprints of a rhino that has been down to the river overnight. The tracks sink a long way into the mud with their weight – we hope it is not still hanging around.
We think that we are walking to vehicles to be transferred back to the lodge but as we round the bend we suddenly see that breakfast has been set up on the banks of the river for us, complete with full tables and chairs, and a buffet breakfast with egg chef. It is magical.
Then we do transfer back to the lodge for some time to sort photos, write journals or whatever we want to do until lunchtime. I go out for an hour or so before lunch to try to photograph some of the beautiful butterflies and walk along the river bank (carefully on hotel grounds and being high enough up above the river). Lunch is another buffet – this time with an Indian flavour.
At 1.30 we set off for our afternoon safari: first we have to cross the river into the park and then we join our Jeep. The first kilometer or so is extremely rough so we get more of the ‘free massage’ treatment. We start off going through the grasslands and then into the riverine forest (where many of the trees we see are ‘blackberry trees’). Later we head into the Sal Forest that makes up about 70% of the park – these are extremely hardwood trees. Gobinda also shows us some termite mounds – mini Taj Mahals.
First we see spotted deer and a couple of rarer Samba deer. Later we see the hog deer and hear (but not see) the barking deer. Over the day we see another 3 rhinos – they are such huge beasts! Rhesus macaques and grey langur monkeys are often seen crashing around in the trees – we stop a few times and I photograph the big adult males but the baby monkeys that are much cuter seem to hide near the tops of the trees where it is difficult to get a clear shot.
A tiger has been seen in the area over the last few days and we head to the river bank. Over the other side we see a rhino stomping around but then Gobinda sees a tiger snarling at the rhino. It was sleeping under a tree and is extremely difficult to see. Gobinda and Kishor manage to find it for us on the cameras that have decent zoom, or by binoculars. I am very pleased when my little travel camera gets a better shot than the bigger specialist cameras! We watch for ages but the tiger just lies there watching us watching her. We get all excited when she gets up but then she disappears into the undergrowth.
We drive some more around the beautiful park and see both Gharial and Marshmugger crocodiles in the river, and more spotted deer and monkeys. It is starting to get late and we have to be out of the park by 5.00pm when the sun goes down so we head back. Just before we get to the last bit of road out, Gobinda suggests that we go out to the grasslands one last time to see if there is anything there. We see a large group of spotted dear in the tall elephant grass. Gobinda is standing on the seat looking out the top and suddenly shouts ‘Tiger!’ It has been crouched ready to take a lunch of spotted dear when we interrupt – it moves so fast that no-one is able to react in time to take a photo but most of us see the tiger and/or its back as it goes back into the grass. It is so close and the colour of its stripes is so vivid – just amazing. It is just about unheard of to see 2 tigers in one day (if you are lucky enough to see one at all) so we are feeling especially lucky – there are high fives all round!
On a high we head back down the track and across the river to the lodge. We have enough time for a shower before there is a dance demonstration by the local Thanu people, and then dinner.
Jenny is feeling quite unwell again, finding the dust making it difficult to breathe. I am not feeling unwell but I have been coughing so much that my chest and throat are really sore. I have a couple of hot lemon, ginger and honey drinks.
For this and other similar tours see:
Peregrine Adventures (Comfort tours)
Geckos Adventures (for 18 to 30s)
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