We take a ride in the back of a truck about 20 minutes out of the main township of Chitwan to our awaiting canoe. It’s a long dug-out and seats as many of us as our captain will squeeze onto it. He pushes his canoe off its mooring and from the instant rocking we know that our transportation is overloaded. Any slight movement and the canoe will tip us all into the crocodile-infested waters of Chitwan National Park; the water is lapping within centimetres from the canoe’s lip. We steady ourselves and our nerves to make the 30-minute float downstream. The current is constant and relaxes us into our trip as the mid-afternoon sun beats down on us and the sparkling water.
It’s not long before we spot our first crocodile basking on a bed of dried reeds hugging the riverbank. He is making the most of the afternoon heat, warming his blood while we point and shoot our cameras. He is about three metres long is content with his daily sunbake. Peacocks peck at grasses underfoot; their flamboyant feathers are tucked away for now. Pristine, white kingfishers stand at idle on their stilt-like legs, as if they’re posing for our photos. They know we’re here and they have impeccable timing. Tiny fish dart against the current in the calm waters that are lapping against our canoe.
We float deeper into the thick jungle; foliage blankets the path where buffalo can be seen. Wiry reeds hang from branches above as birds call from the bushes. It’s the only sound that breaks the calming silence engulfing us. We arrive at a clearing where a herd of buffalo can be spotted stomping their way through the park. We shakily disembark and start hiking through the jungle ahead. We part the thick shrub and pass over wooden planks that deliver us across smaller lagoons. We arrive at a secluded clearing where birdlife flutters by. Dusk is approaching and we crouch quietly to anticipate a white rhinoceros sighting. After what seems to be a lifetime of waiting, we make the reluctant decision to leave. We’re advised by our guide that we may be too early; rhinoceros prefer darker conditions to make their presence known. We pass through more shrubs before we’re treated to spotted deer nibbling on grasses nearby. They see us; their dark eyes locking with ours for a brief moment before they return to their grassy feast. Suddenly, a wild boar stampedes through the bushes sending the alerted deer bouncing off into the camouflaging comforts of the jungle.
We press on as butterflies and dragonflies float through the air and a wild rooster patters along while scratching at the dirt. We arrive at a bamboo bridge to bring us to the end of our wildlife adventure. We jump back onto the back of an open truck to make the bumpy and dusty ride back to town. Thatched houses line the track as their owners ready themselves for the night’s Diwali festivities. Marigold chains are draped over doorways and white paint handprints decorate rendered walls. Ducks and goats quarrel under humpies in front yards and dogs doze in ditches. Women can be seen cooking the night’s feast while men group in the street for a catch-up. They mask their faces with the fold of their arms as our truck roars down the road, kicking up clouds of dust. While we didn’t spot a rhinoceros, there is one big white that we do encounter – the snow-capped peaks of Annapurna mountain range towering from the horizon ahead.