While traveling, I experience a lot. Sometimes too much to remember after years. But the real experiences that make an impression stay with me all too well. The first story in this series of travel stories (in random order), is the day I met a rhino and came face to face with this extraordinary animal.
I am a nature and animal freak and can get extremely excited when I spot animals in the wild for the first time in their natural habitat. My first experience spotting wildlife, was in Costa Rica at Manuel Antonio National park. It was my first trip outside of Europe and the first time I saw various mammals, large reptiles and colorful insects in the wild. After this impressive and extremely special experience, my enthusiasm for travel could not be tamed.
In November 2018, I made my first real big backpacking trip through Southeast Asia. In 3 months I traveled through Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. But soon my homesickness for travel began to increase and I took the rigorous step of quitting my job and traveling for an indefinite period of time. In the summer of 2019, I started my backpacking adventure in Southeast Asia for an undetermined amount of time.
After starting my trip in Singapore, I started touring Indonesia for two months, followed by neighboring country Malaysia. Next up was the authentic Myanmar for 1 month and before returning to Indonesia again, I decided to travel down to the more remote Nepal for 3 weeks.
Traveling in Nepal
Nepal is a destination that does not go down well with everyone. It is a country of extremes and has a distinct culture, chaotic cities and wild nature. To be honest, I am not a big fan of cities, but the Nepalese cities didn’t really make me happy.
Motorcycles and beat-up cars roar through the small streets and on several corners of the street a mixture of rotting meat, garbage and spicy dishes awaits you. Nevertheless, the country has an enormously rich and colorful culture where religion plays a major role.
Chitwan National Park
Gray is not my color, so quite soon after arriving I traded the drab scenery for green forests and wild jungle. And so I ended up in the Chitwan National Park. The whopping 932 km² park was established in 1973, making it the oldest national park in Nepal.
With more than 350 identified bird species, Chitwan has one of the highest concentrations of bird species in the world. The combination of river plains and jungle also makes Chitwan a perfect habitat for the Bengal tiger, the Indian elephant and various panther species. But what makes Chitwan really famous is that it’s home to the second largest population of Indian rhinos in the world.
For a long time the rhinos were the main target of poachers because of their horns but after the official establishment of national park, hunting could finally be stopped. After concluding in 1968 that there were only 108 rhinos left in the area, the population has been able to recover to 605 rhinos in 2015.
With my passion for nature and wildlife, I was incredibly looking forward to my visit to Chitwan. Early in the morning I boarded a bus from the town of Bandipur to Sauraha, the village on the edge of the park. After checking into the ecolodge, I decided to explore the village on foot. To get a taste of the national park, I decided to take a walk to the river that separates the village and the park.
Face to face with a rhino
After a short 5 minute walk, I saw a colossal figure at the end of the dusty street. After blinking three times, my jaw dropped. It’s a rhino! This gentle giant decided to take a stroll through the village. I renamed this female rhino Maya.
Not much later she was joined by perplexed locals and tourists and there were surprised shoutings like, “Is that a rhino in the street?”, “Is that a real rhino?”. The striking thing was that the rhino remained remarkably calm, despite the fact that the number of interested people increased. More people started noticing her calm attitude and one by one they ventured a little closer.
The first daredevil gently touched the rhino. Then others decided to take daring selfies with their heads as close to the horn as possible. Knowing that rhinos can react unpredictably, I worried when several people found themselves in front of the rhino.
Maya strolled along the tarmac in comfort, passing several restaurants and hotels. A group of dogs in the street thought enough was enough and started barking wildly at the rhino to defend their territory. Again, she didn’t care and continued her path calmly.
The car that passed through the street was a perfect place to rest her head and after a minute’s pause Maya continued her walk down the street.
Hey you, back to the park!
After a leisurely walk through the village, Maya began to walk further and further away from the national park. Who could make her turn around? Perhaps a group of people or a jeep that would block the path? Neither one of these options. Instead, an older woman in her seventies dressed in long floral dress, took matters into her own hands.
Armed with a thin bamboo stick, she walked up to Maya and began pounding on the street to get the animal to turn around. This had an effect, as Maya was startled to the point that she quickly turned around. Another tap on her butt and she began to walk at a trot. The older woman guided her in the right direction like a herdsman.
Maya then turned down a side street toward a garden with a shed where rows of laundry were hanging to dry. She walked straight to the freshly washed laundry and disappeared with her large body between the white towels. Because right behind the laundry, a real treat was waiting for her. Crisp fresh long grass!
Here she was completely at ease and could comfortably feast on the juicy grass while the large crowd slowly disappeared.
I decided to slowly move closer and knelt down right next to her. I could look straight into her dark eyes and admire the brown brushy hairs on her ears.
At one point I was only half a meter away from her. Carefully, I reached out my hand. As soon as I placed my hand on the armored skin, a rush of adrenaline surged through my body. Her skin felt extremely firm and warm. I just touched a wild rhino!
To be so close to such a powerful animal was surreal and an unbelievable experience.