Our safety talk was brief. The guide said, “Ok, I tell you safety thing.” Aude and I leaned in grim faced, but determined to learn the ways of the jungle.
“I say run, you run. Only thing. Ok?”
“That’s it, if you say run, we just run?”
“Anything else?” I was hoping for advice on how to run circles around a tree to slow down an elephant or something somewhat useful.
“No. Just run.”
“Right, when you say run.”
“Cool, thanks, great talk.”
Our main goal was to seek out some rhinos of which there are several hundred sprinkled around the giant Chitwan National Park in southern Nepal. Tigers are far more elusive but then again, we were on foot, so that’s probably a good thing. The most dangerous of all were the wild elephants, and we were informed that a tourist had been killed just two weeks before by one not far from there. Rudyard Kipling visited the area in the 1890s and was so enchanted by the landscape and animals that he wrote what eventually became The Jungle Book.
Aude and I arrived the day before after a bus ride I can only describe as hell, and booked this walking safari in the jungle. We had two unarmed guides.
So, setting off after our safety talk, we slogged through tall grasses, vine covered trees, a number of cobwebs and lots of mud for most of the morning. We were actively seeking rhinos, but so far had only seen hoof prints. We did come across some tiger poop, which I meticulously photographed from many different angles.
We finally found a rhino. He was out in some tall grass about 200 meters from us. The guide put his hand up signaling us to stop. I was snapping photos, but the rhino was too far, so I was just getting tiny rhino-dots. Our guide then started tip-toeing towards the rhino and beckoned us to follow him. Aude and I looked at each other wondering if this was a good idea, but we shrugged and started to creep after the guide. As we got close, the rhino flung his head up to look in our direction. The guide crouched down, so we did as well. The rhino looked away, and we crept a bit closer, still half-crouched. He looked at us again. We froze. He looked away, we moved, he looked back, we froze. He looked off to the right as if thinking about leaving.
"Ok, now run."
"Yes! Run! Run! Run!"
“Ok, ok! Take photo! Take photo!” the guide whispered loudly. I obeyed, clicking away, crouched in the grass.
But the rhino was just kidding about leaving and decided he was not having it. He lurched towards us.
“Ok, now run.”
“Yes! Run! Run! Run!” the guide yelled, shooing us with frantic arms.
I turned around and sprinted for the trees, zig zagging through the tall grass and mud, the other three right behind me. I felt a strange urge to laugh. Life could be so surreal. When we got to the trees, I stopped and turned to catch my breath and see what the situation was. The shrubs closed behind us, and I couldn’t tell where the rhino was.
“You can climb a tree?” the guide asked me. I studied the tree. The first limb branched out above head height, which meant I would have to haul my body up over my own head.
“Because, Madam, rhino is coming.”
I could hear the grass rustling. It turned out I could climb a tree when highly motivated. In the process, I scraped all the skin off my arms. But, I made it.
I still wasn’t quite high enough though, I figured. I tried to ask the guide if I was quite high enough. But he and the other guide were too busy working to haul Aude up another tree. She could not climb a tree. They eventually all made it up.
My tree was covered in really large black ants, and I winced back from them. But it was rhino or tree ants, so I chose the ants and they swarmed around me as I tried to position myself. I wondered if the ants were the kind who could gang up and eat me.
The rhino lost interest once we disappeared up into the trees which was all he really wanted in the end. He had made his point. Satisfied as such, he meandered off and we could hear the cracking branches slowly fade in the distance. The four of us clung to our tree limbs in silence for a few more moments.
“Ok!” the guide called out all sing-song as if it was time to wrap up a fun craft activity. He dropped down and I watched with interest as they struggled to get Aude back out of the tree. I slid down reluctantly once it was inevitable. We gathered our composures.
“We look to more rhino?” the guide asked un-facetiously.
“I think I’m good. You?” I looked at Aude. She didn’t look enthusiastic either.
“Let’s find some different animals,” I said, flicking a large tree ant off my bleeding arm.
“Ha, ha, that rhino naughty,” the guide remarked.