|Once we had waved our final good riddances to Giles and Natalie (just joking guys - it was very sad to see you go as we had such a great time with you), we had another 6 hour bus ride back to Pokhara the following day. This is because we had booked ourselves onto a white water kayak course down the Seti River - which was also the way into the Nepalese jungle (Chitwan National Park).
Our first day of kayak school was actually on the Phewa Tal Lake in Pokhara. Getting into the small little white water kayaks is somehat different from the normal canoes and inflatable kayaks we had been in before. For a start, it is actually pretty difficult paddling in a straight line, which one of the girls on the course soon found out (I swear it took most of us 40 mins to paddle across to the other side of the lake but she just kept paddling in circles and took twice that amount of time). Needless to say, she pulled out of the course the next day! So it was only us and two germans - Heike and Lother.
Day one of the course basically had us learning T-rescues for when we fell out of the kayaks, and eskimo rolls - which none of us got even after 3 hours training. So we were all a little nervous and bruised and battered as we were driven to the Seti River the following morning to start our 3-day ride downsteam towards Chitwan.
After loading up the raft with our tents and food provisions, we were pushed into the water and told to wait on the other side. So off I went into the river only to fall out of the kayak 2 minutes later when another branch of the river joined onto the one I had been paddling in. Quite embarrassing really however I was not to be outdone, as 2 minutes further downstream, where the main Seti River joined in, everyone but me fell out!!
So after our impressive starts and still feeling very nervous and unbalanced we all set off again and soon learnt the skills we needed to 'eddy-in' and 'eddy-out' of strong currents - with me going under a second time. We were all rather glad to get to our campsite that afternoon although our instructers had more eskimo roll training in store for us for a few hours - still with no progress! The campsite was lovely - just a nice white sandy beach inhabited by only us and the sound of the river - very nice.
The Seti River is actually a pretty big river with a lot of water flowing down it - a milky white/green colour, so quite pretty. It meanders its way through a steep valley which is mostly forested however you can always see at least one thatched roof hut somewhere and there are always children yelling 'namaste' from the bank. So when we were not clutching for dear life onto our paddles, the scenery was stunning. However most of the time I have to say, we were watching the river and freaking out at the sound of on-coming rapids!
The second day had us navigating our way through more grade 1, 2 & 3+ rapids. The grade 3+ rapid had a rather large hole that I paddled straight into and so of course came straight out, however Lother came out as well so I was not the only one. Shaun came out on a rather calm piece of water although he has been trying to convince me that it was actually a rapid. In fact Shaun mostly came out on the flat pieces of water for the entire trip! Actually these are some of the hardest bits of the river to negotiate due to the swirling waters - we called them the bubbling coffee pots. At least with the rapids you could actually see the waves and could work out which way to lean!
At our second campsite we met up with another girl learning to paddle (Heidi as well), and her instructer was actually pretty good so he had us training for more eskimo rolls - still no success however! As we were sitting waqtching the river towards the end of the day about 5 white-water rafts turned up and set up camp, so our nice peaceful spot soon turned rather noisy. However it was funny watching the russians and germans in their 'speedos' prancing around. The local villages that night came down to do a cultural show for the rafters, however we had already gone to bed (at 8.30pm!! - well it is pitch black at 6.15pm here), but the drums kept Shaun up for awhile.
The last morning we set off full of trepidation - this was the day of the big rapids (mostly grade 3 and 3+). This is actually quite small on a white-water raft but when you are sitting in a kayak, the waves certainly tower over you. Everyone managed to make the first rapid well however the second rapid changed direction half way through and there was a large drop and rock on the right. We were supposed to paddle to the left to avoid this however my arms just did not seem to be strong enough so I ended up straight in the hole - as did Heike and Lother, and were soon spat back up to the surface again to be rescued. The next rapid Shaun fell out of so it was even for the day. We then pulled up onto a beach and the guides started getting out of our kayaks. Thinking we had finished the trip, Shaun and I congratulated each other, both thinking, thank god we survived! However this soon turned back to fear as we realised the guides were actually looking downstream at the biggest rapid of the day and working out the best way down it! Even though this was a 3.5 rapid it did not go too badly and we all managed to pull it off. It was then that we let our guards down a bit and began to relax a little - we had finished all the rapids and managed to stay alive!! However that was not the end of the day as everyone except for me then fell out on a nice flat section of river - well it was another bubbling coffee pot area!
Eating lunch we reflected on how we were all glad we had completed the course however we all stated that it was not exactly an 'enjoyable' way to get to Chitwan - more a white knuckle experience. I guess once you have done it a few times your confidence grows and you probably start to enjoy it.
To get to our lodge in Chitwan national park we got put onto a local bus. This was full so we had to sit on the roof with all the bags which was quite an experience (this is a common occurance here). At least it was cooler than inside the bus! We passed through quite a large town on the way where locals would surround the bus and try to sell us things (pieces of coconut, peanuts, drinks, icecreams and samosas). There was actually quite a big market there as well so it was all very busy and chaotic. However the funniest thing about the market was seeing a large crowd of people surrounding something. On closer inspection from the top of the bus, we saw a trailer parked on the side of the road with a roof on it, painted in bright colours and emitting music. The locals all seemed to be praying in front of it which we thought was odd - a temple on wheels perhaps? But no - there was only a cow inside!! Oh to be a cow in Nepal where you are treated like a king!
From the bus stop we then got into a horse and cart for the final 6kms to our lodge in Chitwan.
Chitwan is a huge big National Park and it supposedly has tigers in it - as well as rhinos. There are loads of tourist resorts here however they are all spread out over a wide area so it still feels quite rural. Our lodge was in Sauraha on the edge of the park. The rice fields all around the area were all in the middle of being harvested so there were lots of people out in the fields bunching rice together and also lots of 'rice-stalk' haystacks along the roads. The two nights we stayed here we wandered down to the river-front to watch the sunset over the Himalayas with a drink and thousands of insects. Quite picturesque.
Most tourists here have a huge program they follow of various activities their lodges arrange for them. However we decided to only do one of these - an elephant safari. This is apparentely one of the best ways to see wildlife in the park so we thought that we had better do it. So on the second day there, we got taken to the elephant safari departure point - along with every other single tourist in the area! Man, talk about tourist central! At this stage we thought that there was no way in hell we would see anything due to the noise and congestion. However in the end, it was worthwhile as we got to see a rather large snake and quite a few rhinos including a rather cute baby one wading in the mud with his mother. Once we were inside the park, the elephants all split off into different directions so it was also quite quiet although we spotted no tigers.
With our last Dal bhats in our stomachs, we set off on a long bus journey to the Indian bordere the following morning....
Currency: Nepal Rupees $1US = 75 rupees
Weather: Hot (but not overly sticky) in the jungle and warm and sunny elsewhere except for the top of the mountains where it snowed
Beer: Everest, Tuborg, Nepal Ice, Ghorka and San Miguel - all around $2-3 for a 650ml bottle in restaurants/bars
Other drinks: Great happy hour cocktails (except for the bloody mary experience where they added honey to it?!)
Food: Dal bhat and curry - excellent! (average price $2US)
Best bits: the mountains, the friendly people and wandering the colourful city of Kathmandu
Weird bits: The burning bodies in the river thing; the prolific use of carbo-hydrates with every meal (e.g Spaghetti with chips as a side dish)
Annoying bits: hearing the same Nepalese songs time and time again (we think they only have 5 songs in total!), constant blaring of horns, travellers in their 'new-age' hippy clothes
Would we come back: Definitely - this country is right up there with Kyrgyzstan, we loved it.