It took about 7 hours on the local bus to reach Chitwan from Pokhara. About 30 minutes before we arrived the monsoon clouds rolled in and it started pouring rain. As expected, the touts were waiting for the bus and pestered everyone on the bus the moment we stepped off. I found one legit guy who was charging a fair amount to take me into town. The driver dropped us (there was a couple already in the jeep) off at a lovely riverside lodge in town where we waited for the rain to subside. The Dutch owner was really nice and was definitely angling for us to stay there but her prices were too high for me. The couple considered it but they too decided to shop around town for somewhere cheaper so the three of us walked around looking for more reasonable accommodations. All the places in town had pretty much the same lodging quality but varied in pricing. We settled on the Annapurna View Lodge, which was a bit away from the main street but had cheap rooms and a quiet atmosphere. We booked these activities with them for the following day: elephant safari, elephant bath, and guided canoe ride.
We got up bright and early the next morning for the elephant ride. The private elephants are not allowed to go into the park but they can go in the community forest, which is the forest bordering the park that is shared by people and wildlife alike. Only the government elephants can enter the official park so I insisted on taking a government one. It was my first time riding on an elephant and I quite enjoyed it till I started feeling a little queasy. I also felt horrible for the elephant when the driver started hitting the animal on the head with the blunt side of a traditional curved blade to make it go faster. There must be a better way to train them…
We didn’t see much wildlife till at one point the driver got on his mobile for a few minutes, then we did a U-turn and found an adult rhino wallowing in a pond. The one horned rhinos in Chitwan are found nowhere else in the world so it was really amazing to be able to see it in the wild. After the elephant safari we headed down to the river for the elephant bath. There were several elephants in the water with their trainers shooting water on people brave enough to get into the water with them. Most of the tourists stood on the river bank taking photos. Unfortunately my camera was out of energy so I had to use my mobile to take the photos.
I found out 2 days after I had left Chitwan that someone died at the elephant bath, but not due to the animal. The current in the river was quite strong and a tourist who didn’t know how to swim landed in a spot where he was unable to swim back to the cove and was swept downstream. After lunch we walked down to the canoe point with our the lodge’s resident guide who was really knowledgeable and explained everything from religion and culture to local flora and fauna. The canoe ride was really relaxing and we saw several kingfishers but no large animals. After that it was off to the park’s official elephant center, where we did a small tour and got to feed them too.
Early the next morning I caught the bus back to Kathmandu, where I left the rest of my belongings in storage. It would have been much better if I had stored my things in Pokhara before starting the trek since Pokhara is closer to the Indian border but I failed to think of that beforehand. I spent a day and a half in Kathmandu running errands like fixing my mobile phone which got damaged by the rainfall when I arrived in Chitwan, picking up a camera charger, purchasing a guidebook for India, and purchasing a bus ticket to the border. Rather than pay the exorbitant prices the travel agencies were charging, I walked to the bus park myself and bought my ticket directly. The walk was surprisingly one of my favorite experiences in Nepal; I grabbed a snack at a local restaurant, picked up some supplies at the local supermarket, and several times was mistaken for being Nepali.
Sunauli is the border town between Nepal and India. The overnight bus ride took about 12 hours and thankfully I was really sleepy because I was really uncomfortable the entire time. The seats on the bus were all too small for me and as a result my knees were pressed into the seat in front of me. Thankfully the guy sitting in that seat in front of me didn’t mind not reclining. We got to the bus park near the border at around 06:00 and then I bargained a 40 rupee cycle-rickshaw ride for the 4km to the border. I was surprised to find out that I still had 24 hours left on my visa even though the date of expiry matched today’s date so I decided to make use of it and spend the day at Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha. I jumped onto a local jeep (hanging onto the outside of the vehicle) back to the bus park area where I got a room for the night, cleaned up, ate, and then walked 1km to where I could catch the bus to Lumbini. The 22km ride took 1.5 hours and cost 40 rupees (~ 0.55USD), but it got me to where I needed and they kindly notified me when I should disembark. The bus stopped at the same place in Lumbini for the return trip.
Lumbini is a UNESCO World Heritage site but from the looks of things not much money has been put into it. The site marking the birthplace of Buddha is well maintained and is a peaceful place for meditation, but the rest of the site has been in perpetual construction for over 20 years. Several countries with large Buddhist populations such as China, Thailand, Japan, and Vietnam have built temples within the complex. The area around the central canal is an obstacle course of mud, cows, unfinished brick walkways, and dirt road. There are bicycles for hire to explore the site but given the poor state of the main path between the entry gate and the World Peace Pagoda at the opposite end of the site I would recommend walking despite the fact that the site is 3 square miles. I hired a bicycle for 50 rupees / hour (all of them were too small for someone my height) and unfortunately fell when I hit a patch of gravel and dirt. Thankfully wasn’t serious, just suffered a few minor scraps on my elbow and legs.
There’s really nothing else to do at Lumbini and absolutely nothing to do at the border so I went to bed early for the border crossing in the morning.