Our hand-hewn dugout canoe bumped against a muddy bank that materialized out of the soft fog hanging over the Rapti River in Chitwan National Park. Regretting that we had to leave the ethereal, misty river so soon, I gingerly walked the length of the narrow wooden boat, trying not to upset its delicate balance and scrambled up the embankment for a pre-trek briefing. Earlier, our guide had warned us to be on the lookout for crocodiles and poisonous snakes, which occasionally jump into the boats. Even so, the canoe had felt relatively safe, but now we were standing in thigh-high jungle vegetation dotted by an occasional small tree.
As a veteran of a nine-day safari through Tanzania’s National Parks and a day tour in Botswana’s Chobe National Park, I am no stranger to safaris. However in Africa we were not allowed out of the car, with one exception; in Arusha National Park I strolled through herds of warthogs, water buffalo and giraffe, accompanied by an automatic rifle-toting park ranger. Here, the only weapon allowed our guide was a long stick.
“Chitwan National Park is home to sloth bears, tigers, elephants, and the endangered one-horned rhinoceros, so we must be prepared before trekking,” he explained. “If we encounter a sloth bear, you must run and climb a tree; a small tree is OK. If we have problems with rhinos you must run as fast as you can and climb a larger tree. Do you know what to do if we come upon a tiger?”
“Run?” one of us suggested meekly.
“No. You must back up very slowly. Then you turn and run.”
“And what about an elephant?” one of us inquired.
“You cannot run from an elephant and climbing a tree will not help. If an elephant charges, you die.” And with this final comment he turned and headed off into the jungle. Continue reading