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February 10, 2012

Nepal- Part 2: Tiger Tops

Back in Kathmandu, we met up with Lilli (a Griffith family favourite who also happens to be Joel’s girlfriend) and her mum and brother- Annie and Jacob. Lilli and her family had been scooting about the desert in Rajasthan and we all felt we deserved some pretty serious pampering. So we (and by “we” I mean Dad…) splashed out on some luxury adventure at the Tiger Tops Jungle Resort.

We set off from the dust bucket they call Kathmandu and and headed west out to Chitwan National Park. From the hotel in Kathmandu we got a cab to the airport and hopped onto possibly the tiniest plane ever. The flight literally took 20 minutes, and apart from the time I spent consuming a small complimentary lollie (which tasted suspiciously like part of a urinal cake), it was pretty much all take off and landing. From our tiny plane we boarded a mini bus, then a boat across a river, then a jeep through the jungle. On arrival we jumped on an elephants and went on an afternoon safari. You know- your usual comute.

(Above: The team crossing the river on a boat– our 4th mode of transport in 2 hours.)

Tiger Tops in situated in the thick of the jungle and has been so for over 40 years. They’ve done so much for conservation and helped bring poaching in the park to an end once and for all in the park (animals not eggs. eggs are fine.). Bad news is the Nepalese Government is thinking about kicking all the lodges out,regardless of what they do in terms of conservation. If they follow through Tiger Tops only has another year left in them, max. Sad.

There are 4 different camps and lodge sites available to stay in. We  arrived at the main lodge, Jungle Lodge, and jeeped it through the forest to Tented Camp where we stayed for the first 2 nights. The Tented Camp is camping as it should be. Massive canvas tents you can stand up in, with beds, blankets, a balcony and even an ensuite. At night they lined the paths through the trees with kerosene lanterns and put hot water bottles in our beds. During the misty mornings and at night, the staff lit a fire and we gathered around to drink the endless complementary hot chocolates and eat the fresh popcorn that seemed to be served in bottomless baskets. Being the low season season we were pretty much the only guests so we had the run of the place- 37 staff each to be exact.

This meant we got to go on elephant safari morning noon and night (well actually just morning and noon but I’m sure we could have pushed for the night if our bums won’t so sore …). We got up early and stalked through the grass lands in the heavy mist, hoping to see a tiger or anything else that might be in the thick grass lands or swinging from the trees. It’s pretty safe to say that elephants, let alone elephants with 4 people riding on top, aren’t the most stealthy creatures. So although we spoke in hushed voices, and tried to be invisible, I was pretty certain that any smart tigers would have been long gone. It was so beautiful though. Thudding through the thick mist in the morning was pretty zen. No better place to have a good think than on top of an elephant. The mist was so thick you could only see a few feet in front of you. The morning air was so still you could only hear the thud of the elephant’s feet and the beeping of Dad’s camera as he took yet another photo of trees in the mist, grass in the mist, the sun in the mist or mist in the mist.

We didn’t see any tigers but we did see rhinos (most importantly BABY rhinos!!), monkeys, spotted deer, crocodiles, bison, tones of birds and the parks’s lone wild bull elephant. The elephant lurks in the bushes around the Tiger Tops elephant camp like James Dean in his tight white Tee and dangerously sexy motor bike or whatever the elephant equivalent might be. Apparently he’s whisked several special lady elephants away from the Tiger Tops camp and into the jungle for week-long flings and had even fathered a baby elephant. What a stud.

After the the Tented Camp we left via elephant and then via boat and then ox-cart (as you do) to Thuru Village which is actually in a community forest just outside the national park. This lodge wasn’t as luxurious as the Tented Camp but there were still hot water bottles in my bed at night so I was happy. We went on boat rides down the river and walks through the mist to the surrounding fishing villages and read our books in hammocks or on lounges around the pool.

I loved this lodge because we got to have a bit more of a look at local villages, what they do there and how they live. These guys have a sweet simple life, farming the land and fishing, sending the kids to school, making popcorn on outdoor fires and spending the nights screaming and chasing rhinos away from the fields. We visited local schools and the organic kitchen garden where the lodge grows most of its produce for cooking, the rest is sourced form local village markets.

A definite highlight was the good ole’ Dal Bhat served every day for lunch. I’m pretty sure everyone knows about the trusty dish found around all around Nepal. Rice with lentils and a bit of curry, and if you’re lucky maybe even a piece of carrot or cucumber. The Thuru Lodge took Dal Bhat to a whole new level. Fresh fluffy rice with delicious curries of soft meats and fresh vegetables from the garden, chipati, chutneys and papdums; all served on massive golden platters under a tree in the garden. Daaaaaaamn. (see below for mouthwatering goodness)

Elephants ridden: 4
Tigers seen: 0
Popcorn eaten: 9kg
Hot chocolates consumed: 1,009
Dal Bhats consumed: Not nearly enough.

A.

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