Wild Rhinos, Indigenous Tharu People, and Dysentery!

Thursday June 19th 2014 Chitwan National Park (Sauraha, Nepal)

Lookin' Rough
Lookin’ Rough

Better known as the day I got Amoebic Dysentery, heat stroke, and was relieved of my phone and all communication with the outside world. Don’t worry, I’m on the mend – up and walking around with a good bit of energy restored. I got very lucky and had the most wonderful, amazing doctor!

Short nose croc
Short nose croc

5am: I’m not feeling my normal self, but drag out of bed to the jungle walk anyway. 2 guides, 2 Americans, and 3 Chinese go lurking through the jungle in Nepal early in the morning. The ungodly heat has not yet enveloped the day and we are bright eyed with the prospect of real wild life. A crocodile sits on the opposite bank of the river. There are long and short nose indigenous crocs in the region, the latter being rather fond of human flesh. As we go creeping along a well-worn path we are entertained with whispered stories about the demise of guides. Just last week, a wild elephant bull killed a guide. A week before that, a guide had a group who was interested in water buffalo herds. Water buffalo are rather tame and in many parts of Nepal, are kept as domesticated pets who provide milk and cheese. Behind the water buffalo herd was a mother one-horned black rhinoceros with her baby. The guide failed to notice her, was speaking in a very animated manner, and ended up paying with his life. We hear some rattling and something drops from a tree: monkeys. Through the Tarzan worthy vines and tropical trees we see the very still bodies of spotted dear. As we move clumsily along the trail, the heat starts to press down through the shade of our thick green canopy. Suddenly, we are stopped and silenced. A few yards from the trail on which we stand, there is a swampy looking pond covered in lily pads. Staring at us from the edge of the pond is a huge black one-horned rhinoceros and her baby. Is this the one? In the middle of the pond there is another, mostly submerged rhino trying desperately to escape the heat, which is just beginning.

Black Rhino
Black Rhino

7am: The seven of us jump in a long wooden canoe with a driver and head down the river. One of the sides has somehow lost a few inches and makes me a bit nervous as I watch the tainted water ride a few centimeters from the top. There are definitely some landlubbers in this boat and it starts to rock as they make jerking movements from side to side! Aaaahhhh! With cameras poised, they lean against one side or another throwing our balance off. The water comes pouring over the short edge! As it is, we are sitting really low and have literally a few centimeters of wood keeping us from going down. The guides speak firmly and say not to make such an easy meal for the crocs. Egrets and cranes fish in the tall swampy grass next to shore and we see plenty of kingfishers emerge from holes drilled in the sides of the banks. We go through some rapids, but make it to shore without too much incident.

Jungle Canoe
Jungle Canoe
Tharu Life on the River
Tharu Life on the River

11am: I take a stroll around town and end up making friends with a bunch of old ladies. The Tharu are an indigenous people here. They migrated here some 350 years ago from India, but like the Sherpas, nobody knows why. They inhabit the entire terai region of Nepal, which spreads from east to west in the southern part of the country that runs alongside India. This area was wrought with Malaria until 1951, and the Tharu were the only residents, as their entire culture is unaffected by the disease. It’s now harvesting season and many people are in the streets preparing their crops. The older women all wear traditional tattoos from their hands to their elbows, and from their feet to their knees. This is how I make friends. We have very little way to communicate, but we are smiling, laughing, and inspecting each other’s artwork. They are more than pleased to take pictures with me, and they are beautiful. Compared to most Nepalese, the women are very dark with big bright smiles. They are adorned with lots of jewelry and the most gorgeous clothes. It does not matter whether they are going to work in the field or in the kitchen; they dress to the nines in their traditional clothing everyday. I can’t explain how beautiful, warm and welcoming they are.

Tharu Woman
Tharu Woman
Tharu Traditional Tattoo
Tharu Traditional Tattoo

12pm: I am ecstatic over discovering this indigenous people and the new friends I’ve made, but I am beginning to feel extremely weak so I rest.

3pm: Elephant safari time. A very fast ride in the back of a pickup over fields renders me unmovable. The gas fumes are overwhelming. I can’t ride the elephant much less stand. After returning very ill to the hotel, I tell the owner and manger that my phone came out of my pocket in the truck and could he please get it. I’m going to rest; I don’t feel well.

Then come the longest 15 hours of my life: I cannot stand, it is 120 degrees and I have a terrible fever and chills. I’m sure my temp is at least 104. There is no circulation in my hands or feet, they are white, my face is green. My entire body is racked with pain. My joints feel as if they are all broken. I have no water, and I have not shown up for 3 meals. Nobody comes. I have no phone and no way to communicate. I literally think this is the end. I’m hallucinating mildly, but come up with a plan. If I can just get the notebook out of my backpack on the other bed, write a note “HELP! I need a doctor…and water”, and put it outside. It took me 3 hours to prepare to do this, and when I did it, it was like climbing Everest; I’ve never done anything so difficult. Then I wait…

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