Saturday, 11 March 2017

The day we saw a rhino!

A quiet day in Sauraha yesterday to recover from the adventure of getting the 4 buses down. Completely spoilt by Michael, who arranged breakfast in bed for me after a long sleep in. We book our jungle walk, which seems pretty expensive but we figure we have come all this way, so we had better get out and actually see the National Park. A short while after we book, and after intermittent rain all afternoon, we check the weather forecast and it is due to rain for most of the next day, so we dither about whether to postpone the trip or not. Two hours in a dug out canoe in a rain storm does not sound like fun.

I wake in the night and am relieved to hear silence outside, however two seconds later the heavens open, thunder claps overhead, and I hear the pounding of water begin outside. When the alarm goes off in the morning the forecast is even worse than yesterday. Still, we get up, dressed, and prepare for our day in the jungle. The restaurant isn't yet serving breakfast when we arrive half an hour too early, but they manage to make us two omelettes and potatoes anyway.

Outside towards the river and thankfully it isn't yet raining, but we are still wondering if we should cancel or postpone. We pick up our tiffin, which Michael arranged to be full of curry, rice, and potatoes, and we head to meet the guide. And then we kind of get swept along with things, and any thoughts of cancelling disappear. We head towards the canoe and the guide casually mentions that there may be a rhino visible from the riverbank. Sure enough there is, his grey armoured back just in view above the grass. We would have been happy to stand there and watch him for hours, and now it doesn't matter if we don't see another animal all day. We have seen an Asian Rhino! The guides, however, have different ideas and soon we had adorned bright green life jackets and were tentatively stepping onto the long, thin dug-out canoe. One of the guides explained that it had been made out of one single tree, and while we understood the concept it actually looked more like fibreglass than wood. We are all sat in a line, one guide, then me, then Michael, then the other guide, then the driver who had a long pole to steer and propel us through the water. Michael and I were each given little wooden chairs that raised us barely an inch off the base of the canoe. It was a two hour ride to the start of the walk, and it was utter bliss. Sitting on the base of the canoe, below the waterline, gave us an excellent view of the wildlife, and barely a drop of rain. A lot of marsh mugger crocodiles, either swimming, eyes and snout barely visible above the water, or basking in the sun as it started to rise in the sky. Then the gharials, not so common but easy to identify with their incredibly narrow long nose, offer raised up in the air. We got to see one casually lift itself up from the riverbank and slink into the water, where it immediately disappeared from view. We saw spotted deer on the bank, including one huge stag with impressively large antlers. And then there was the birds; storks, egrets, kingfishers, and Siberian 'tourist' ducks.

We were lucky enough to see one kingfisher, with it's electric blue back, dive from a tree, into the water, to emerge seconds later with a little fish in its mouth.

After two hours gently cruising in the canoe, we got out on the far side and began the 8 hour trek back. It was pretty easy going, as it was fairly flat and we had lots of pauses when we thought we heard rhino or bear. Before we left the main track we received lots of intimidating instructions on what to do if we saw a rhino, sloth bear, or wild elephant. With a different instruction for each animal, including run, don't run, climb a tree, don't climb a tree, and fight, I was pretty much ready to not go into the jungle. We were mainly walking through tall elephant grass and though we heard several rhinos rustling close by we only caught a glimpse of one for a few seconds, we waited for them to emerge and use a watering hole but they eventually moved the other way after being spooked by another group of tourists. We had a really good view of a sloth bear that didn't see us for a while. And when it did see us it froze and then turned in its tracks to run in the other direction, bum wagging on the way.

Elated from this sighting, but still a long way from home we press on, and then there is a small river to cross, shoes and socks off and trouser legs rolled up, we squelch down into the mud. It actually feels quite nice and the water isn't cold at all, but then it changes from mud to weed and it's very disconcerting not knowing what we are standing on, even after we are reassured that the crocodiles don't use this small river. Through more tall elephant grass and ironwood trees, and then we are back along the main river. More walking, lots more walking, and we reach another watering hole where the guides are sure we would find a rhino -- only there is no rhino, just a few tourists and more guides. We rest a while, and the other groups leave and our determined guides decide that we must find another rhino today. One guide disappears into the grass and then when we hear a faint whistle, which we assume is a signal from him, so we head off, back tracking down the river a fair  distance, and then we finally spot the familiar grey of the armoured back of a huge solid rhino. We feel so lucky. We are so lucky. We have an amazing view of an endangered one-horned rhino, happily munching his way through the vegetation. One of the guides beckons us down to where he is standing, to get an even closer look. I refuse, happy with my vantage point and safe up on the bank, but Michael is practically running down the little slope to get a better view, just 20 meters from the rhino. The guide that stays with me explains that it is not 'too much of a risk' as there is still a ditch between Michael and the rhino. We walk along with him for 10 minutes or so, the whole time in awe at what we are witnessing, and then we let him wander off in peace and we start the long walk back. Finally reaching the far side of the river back near town, and then waiting for one of the canoes to ferry us back home. Exhausted, dusty, hungry, miraculously still dry as the rain never showed up, and very, very happy.

A busy evening arranging bikes for the next day and doing some laundry, where Michael manages to flush one of my socks down the toilet. He hadn't realised that it was still in the bucket when he tipped the contents away, and I am left with just one pair for the rest of the trip.  Much hilarity ensued as the toilet then backed up with water and he had to admit to the hotel what he has done and wait for a plunger to be delivered to our room.