Sunday, June 22, 2008

Four more Nepal scenes

1. I crouched next to Chanu behind a sparsely-leafed tree branch in the jungle on an island in Chitwan National Park. Chanu held his fingers sternly to his lips as I stared with wide-eyed fright at two 1,000-plus pound rhinos not thirty feet away. These wild one-horned rhinos were about eight feet tall and fifteen feet long, and covered with thick bulgy body armor. They looked like dinosaurs.

Along with me and our guide Chanu, there were four other tourists, Aliyah included, stalking these rhinos by foot. A fat sixty-something Canadian lawyer with a boring drawl and a penchant for retelling sleepy stories rode an elephant a few meters away.

Chanu had warned us an hour earlier, at the start of our jungle walk, that if we came upon rhinos we might need to run (in zig-zags that would out-agile the giant beasts) and possibly need to climb trees to safety.

"Why are we doing this again?" Aliyah whispered to me after Chanu's dire speech.

An hour into our wet buggy jungle walk we stumbled upon the rhinos. Crouching low, we crept forward, though I quickly had to dart aside as the Canadian-carrying safari elephant following on our heels nearly trampled me and an Australian construction surveyor whose name I never bothered to learn.

The Aussie and I then took just a few more steps toward the rhinos before Aliyah and the others started scampering fast in the opposite direction, mouthing "Run! Run!" I did, and while frantically looking for a tree to climb while I fretted about being impaled by a rhino horn, I ran straight into one of the elephant's tree trunk legs.

False alarm anyway. The rhinos weren't charging.

Moments later, we'd set up behind a thin layer of leafy cover, watching up close two gray jungle dinosaurs while the elephant noisily chomped on branches and vines. The rhinos were incredible. I felt like I was in Jurassic Park.

Then Chanu tapped my arm and whispered in my ear.

"If the rhinos charge, and they will come fast, we go hide behind the elephant," he said. "Rhino is afraid of elephant. Otherwise, we are in trouble."

I passed the whispered instructions onto Aliyah.

"Why are we doing this again?" she asked.

2. The fake guru at Planet Osho looked like Danny Devito's Penguin -- long straggly black hair, pointy face, lumpy bowling ball belly.

Looking for a yoga class on a rainy day in Pokhara, we'd stumbled upon Planet Osho and had signed up for an immediate one-hour private session before even meeting the guru -- billed as a "teacher with experience."

Inside the yoga studio, Penguin quickly sat down on his mat -- which was actually a thin mattress with white bedsheets and a feather pillow. A nearby plastic trash can was full to the brim with junk food wrappers.

"Please take off your watch," the fake guru said importantly to Aliyah, even as the glint of his own gold watch became visible beneath the sleeve of his maroon jammies.

"Now," the charlatan said, "watch me first."

Struggling, the guru reached out to touch his toes, his flabby breasts rolling over his cantaloupe belly, his fat fingers clawing at empty air, unable to touch his toes. He held his breath the whole time. I pictured yoga master Sukant Tiwari telling this idiot not to fight with his body.

Guru soon exhaled loudly and instructed us to attempt the pose. I nearly palmed my feet fairly easily, but was admonished for breathing.

"Now," the huckster guru said, exhausted, "we rest."

And he laid down on his bed-mat and shut his eyes.

3. The spider was crawling up Tom's face. He was freaking out.

"What is it?" he yelped, squirming in the tiny wood and canvas box strapped to an elephant's back in which the four of us rode.

"Turn toward Ben!" Aliyah yelled at the Yale-bound sociology scholar.

He did, just as the thin-legged, big-bodied arachnid began to crawl onto the underside of his glasses.

I flicked it off.

We were on the first of two elephant safaris through the jungle of Chitwan National Park, and as we brushed against or were dragged through thick jungle foliage as the elephant rumbled along, the four of us -- me, Aliyah, Tom and his girlfriend Jill -- were constantly on bug patrol. As the member of our foursome least terrified of bugs (though still quite terrified), the job of bug flicker offer fell to me.

We were beset by loads of spiders, shiny black buzzing beetles the size of silver dollars, bright red winged somethings, wormy crawlers, giant flies, scurrying ants -- but thank goodness, none of the giant red millipedes we saw so many times on jungle trees and rocks.

I liked flicking the bugs off everybody. Sometimes I even flicked their shirts with a cracking pointer finger push when there were no bugs there at all.

I didn't consider that as a misuse of my authority as designated bug flicker offer. They were simply preemptive strikes.

4. Straddling the elephant's tough leathery neck, I clung tightly to the surprisingly handle-like cartilage curls of his massive ears.

The elephant trainer standing easily on the pachyderm's butt yelled a sharp command in Nepali and the giant beast rolled slowly onto its left side, dumping me into the river.

The trainer laughed and urged me back on. I scrambled up the elephant, hung on for dear life, and after another barked order from the trainer, was thrown like a rag doll from a champion bucking bronco.

We repeated this exercise at least a half dozen times. Each time I was flung into the river, I tried not to think too much about the trampling power of the elephant's massive legs, not to mention the river's many crocodiles -- called marsh muggers by the British for their habit of snapping up unsuspecting villagers.

After getting tossed one too many times, Aliyah and I moved to the second and friendlier attraction of the activity our resort dubbed "Elephant Bathtime." Climbing onto a second elephant, we held tight as its trainer whacked its behind with a sharp stick. The elephant immediately dunked her trunk in the river for several seconds, then curved it into a sideways U and showered us with a soaking spray jet from its 10-foot proboscis.

We repeated this several times, and as I swallowed too much river water delivered by way of pachyderm sinus, I hoped silently that the elephant didn't have a cold.


Rakesh said...

Coming to India!?
See if you can plan your itinerary and visit Osho International Meditation Resort in Pune, Maharashtra.


DrScaryBeard said...

Bugs. Ew.
Come back to America. Our ancestors have killed all the bugs and wild life off, that way we only have to worry about other humans killing us.

Leslie said...

A commentary, in 4 parts:
1. I knew there was an endearing quality of elephants,
2. I see you have learned the game of "Who-looks-like-who?" in Nepal. Great entertainment while visiting foreign lands,
3. I think you have dutifully earned your boy scout insect bravery badge now,
4. Tick, tock, goes the crock...ohhh, for a sprinkling of pixie dust!!