We make an early start for Chitwan. The lowlands are richer and cleaner than the midlands near Pokhara and crops are more varied. We decant into an army lorry for entry to the National Park, where we move into basic bandas with generator lighting.
In the early afternoon we bath an elephant, a tourist gimmick where you get on its back in the river and it squirts water at you left, right and centre; then it rolls onto its side depositing you with a splash into the water. Squeals of fun.
Then we go for an elephant ride, four atop a platform into the dusk. We see both spotted and barking deer, wild boar, peacocks, and armour-plated rhinos which are most impressive, especially when they turn their backs to us.
We sway and dip as our majestic beasts plod over banks, through mud, and up steep slopes. It is a wonderful way of enjoying the jungle – but the mahouts issue constant urgent instructions with their toes behind the scraggly flapping ears. We enjoy another elephant ride in the dawn, but there is a murky mist allowing us to spot only one or two birds and a rabbit, but nothing big.
While the others go on a jungle walk (seeing nothing but trees, they report) Harka takes me on a bird walk, and we add 45 to my list. We also find three lapwing eggs, like mottled stones in the grass. Towards mid-morning it is still humid and muggy, so I have a cold shower and down two cokes in a row before sitting in the mottled shade with my solar hat spinning madly.
A heavy hailstorm surprises us, putting paid to the planned afternoon’s jeep ride. Once the storm clears, Harka and I dally outside the elephant stables watching the orioles and drongos; a shikra swoops and darts at the myriad insects, chattering wildly. We visit a tiny baby wild boar rescued days before, and work up an appetite for supper, watching, then taking part in a village stick dance; athletic and rhythmic, going on and on and on… first the white-robed men use sticks, then harvest sheaves, then rattles with great timing and dexterity.
Tuesday morning’s game drive is in monotonous forest, passing sambar, and barking deer. We have to stop and remove debris from the storm, and fill up a wash-a-way before the jeep can pass. And just as I begin to regret not opting for another bird walk instead, Udaya claps his hands in a signal to stop, and a beautiful giant hornbill flies across our path. A couple of sunbirds round off the Chitwan stay – a very satisfactory total of 70 birds in all.