Thursday, February 14, 2013

Chitwan-It's not Kathmandu!

Chitwan seemed like the most laid back place on the planet. We would be sitting at an open air restaurant having milk tea or a meal when we would see an elephant walk by like it was no big deal. It was something that made the entire atmosphere somehow 'unworldly' to me. How does an elephant just walk down the street? My brain couldn't adjust to a reality where elephants bathe in the river only a few hundred meters from where you sit having dinner. 

The people were very nice and friendly. Both of the tour operators we got to know seemed quite honest. We were disappointed with the food situation and joked about Chitwan being a 'dieter's paradise.' We only found a couple of places throughout our stay that served food I could actually finish. 

We spoke with two tour guides that impressed us. Both claimed to recognize over two hundred birds by sight or sound. Sure enough, both of these men would stop talking mid sentence to identify a bird for us, and then continue his sentence without losing a beat. I had never seen so many kinds of birds. I watched one bird with amazement as it stopped mid flight and then dove head first into the river. 

We found a couple of well priced guest houses along the river, which was a nice surprise (from 400 NRs. with attached bath). One of the workers at the first guest house told us a rhino had walked through the middle of the property the night before we arrived. We heard jungle sounds all night long from our room and we walked freely home at night without fear of assault. Although we exercised normal precautions, we didn't feel any abnormal fear. I actually found the people to as honest as people in Kathmandu or Bhaktapur, or at least more down-to-earth.  

Something happened on the first morning that could have potentially ruined our trip. After waking up and feeling fine I turned wrong and my back locked up. How I missed Dr. Sykes, my chiropractor from Fort Pierce, Florida. There are actually no chiropractors to be found in Nepal, so I took full responsibility for my health. I had the guest house owner send out to get a back brace and a massage therapist. I rested for the day while Genae went on a bird watching, nature walk.   

Back to me; there I was in so much pain just to move. I explicitly told the owner that I wanted a therapeutic massage, not the other variety. And that is where the story starts to get comical. The young man was darling, with big brown eyes, not that it mattered. So as I lie there on my belly, he begins the massage. "Oh, nice cell phone," he says as he sees my mobile on the bed. "Oh, two SIM cards! I am looking for a phone like that. How much to sell it to me?" I explained that not only was it not for sale, but I would be cheating him if I sold it; it wasn't working well. He went on about the phone until I actually got annoyed enough to mention it to him. 

The massage was decent and I felt like it might have begun to help. Then the hand got placed in a place much too private for a first time encounter. Now it made sense about the phone. It was time to roll over, so I told him we were finished. "Don't you want to wash your hands?" I asked him as he was leaving. No, he didn't. He called me three more times to see when I wanted to schedule the next massage. One the third call I explained to him that I did not want him touching me because he didn't use professional boundaries, not to mention hygiene. I told him that even though I needed to have my clothes off for the massage, it was not appropriate to touch me anywhere. 

So, why am I writing about this? Because it illustrates a point about the Nepali male that seems to be a repeated theme. Many Nepali men think all Western women want to have sex and these men are most willing to comply. But sex is only on the journey to the destination, your pocket; never loose the meaning of this. 

It was late morning by the time my gigolo had left, so the solar water was hot enough for a shower, so it was onto my second step of my healing process. The back brace worked quite well and I renewed my commitment to my posture. By the next day I was walking around quite well. 

You will find a myriad of tips on coming to Nepal in my eBook, Nepal: An Insider's Secrets. Additional tips for going to Chitwan:
1. If there is solar water heating you will find it best to take a shower from mid-morning on until dark. If it's electric water, that is if you do not see solar panels on the roof you can bet it's electric water heating-the best time to get hot water is in the very early morning. If you get up in the night you can check to see if it's hot. It will be hot around 5:30 am for the staff to shower. It is usually turned off after that at many budget guest houses. Just like my back ache, you have to take responsibility for everything that happens to you in Nepal and the shower is no exception. Complaining or wishing you could get up in the morning to a nice hot shower won't help. 
2. After checking for hot water you will want to check for bed bugs. 
3. Be sure to bring binoculars. You can buy or rent binoculars in Kathmandu at any trekking supply store. I found some very unimpressive binoculars in the Bishal Bazaar Shopping Center in New Road for 1,200 NRs. Renting them should cost around 100NRs. per day.

Referrals from our visit: 
Uption Restaurant, Sauraha, Chitwan 9806867492 They make a decent Mexican enchilada, as well as local dishes. They are priced moderately, but it's outdoors and a bit of squirm factor, but excellent by comparison.

Kahtmandu Kitchen Restaurant & Bar, Sauraha, Chitwan 9845342111 This is a favorite tourist hangout during high season, as it's mentioned in the Lonely Planet. We ate lunch here. They made a good Hakka Noodle dish, but are a bit pricy.

This is a picture of the Tree Land Lodge with Genae and the owners. Not bad for 400 NRs.
This is one of Tree Land Lodge's cottages with a shared bath for 150 NRs.
Tree Land Lodge, Sauraha, Chitwan 00977 056-580254, 9845523406 This only cost 400 NRs. for both of us with attached bath. It was quite nice, but had some mildew on the aluminum ceiling. The owner told me they were going to take off the roofs and replace them with a thatched roof. They had solar water and the place was clean. I would not recommend their food. Not only is the kitchen a bit rough but they took three hours to bring us our meal the first night. It is small and they are not up to professional standards-nice people and great price. 

Chitwan Village Resort, Sauraha, Chitwan +977 56 580485, 9855062152 This second place will cost from 1,200-2,000 NRs. per night. It was nice and new and near the river and town. They have a decent restaurant and elephants live just next door.

This is Genae and Shanta sitting near the river at the Hermitage Hotel
The Hermitage Hotel +977-56-580090, 580120 Sauraha, Chitwan, +977-1-4424390 / 4421303 (Reservation Office, KTM) They have rooms for 2,500 NRs. per night. They have a beautiful garden and reasonably priced food. They are also located near the river. What we liked about this place, other than the view, was the nice tour guide they have. Shanta is an older man, as far as guides go; he is very experienced and knows the local flora and fauna-particularly birds. We strongly encourage you to book a trek from the Hermitage Hotel if Shanta is your guide and you are not on a tight budget.

This is the most humble trekking guide office I've ever seen.
Wildlife Tour Office, Bijay Lama +977 9808608972, 0156580199. This young man and his colleagues focus on backpackers and budget travelers. We were impressed with these young men for their very friendly personalities as well as local expertise. These guys are a lot of fun and will work with you if you don't have a lot of money.

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  1. Thanks for posting this Frugal! I appreciate that you provide an overview of places to stay and eat that are appropriate for budget travelers. Chitwan is a tourist trap no doubt, but even a budget traveler can visit and have a great time. Thanks for always posting great tips for those of us who have caught the wanderlust! --Genae Barron.

  2. Also, I absolutely LOVE the first two photos in this blog. Really, I think that they could be framed and hung on a living room wall. Just beautiful! :)