Do you know the best way to run away from a rhino? (Not a wooden one). Tamara Pitelen gets a crash course while up a tree.
It’s not every day you scramble up a tree to escape having your behind gouged by the horns of a rampaging rhino but there I was, deep in a Nepalese jungle, clinging for my very life to a tree trunk not much bigger than my forearm while an enormous rhinoceros roamed below.
The tree, which in human terms was a pubescent teenager, was struggling to stay upright under the weight of not only my more than adequate arse but also my friend Sharon’s, as well as a local Nepalese woman (who weighed about the same as my leg) who’d scrambled right up the tree and now kept putting her foot on my head.
Around us, other trees were also doing their best to provide sanctuary for quivering Westerners who, at the first rhino warning, had leapt squealing upon the nearest thing bigger than a bush and tried to climb it to safety.
Unfortunately, your average Western tourist isn’t very good at climbing trees so the rhino had a smorgasbord of ample behinds to choose from. None of us had managed to get ourselves higher than about a metre off the ground. So it was lucky that the rhino that happened upon us during our stroll in the bush that day turned out to be an elderly beast who really couldn’t be bothered with gouging and just wanted to be left alone to chew foliage in peace. But we didn’t know that yet. To us it was a slavering, vicious, fire-snorting beast, stamping its feet and sharpening its horn in preparation for an afternoon of carnage and slaughter.
Just before the rhino alert, we were ten tourists being taken on a leisurely walk through Nepal’s Royal Chitwan National Park by our guide, Burma.
Funnily enough, a few minutes earlier I’d been asking Burma what one was supposed to do if one came face to horn with a rhino? Hypothetical question, I’d thought at the time.
“Best thing to do is climb a tree,” Burma said. “If you can’t climb it, hide behind it. If there’s no tree and nowhere to hide, run away in a zig zag.” Rhinos don’t do zig zagging apparently.
Ten minutes later, we’re deep in the forest when three local women came up behind us carrying loads of branches on their back that were bigger than their bodies. Burma knew these ladies and thought it would be really funny to play a trick on them so, using rudimentary sign language, he motioned to us to keep walking ahead while he hid in the bushes, ready to scare the women with rhino noises as they walked past. Oh the larks!
Ironically, at exactly the same time that Burma was pretending to be a rhino, the real thing was stumbled upon by the woman at the front of our group. She stopped dead, spun round and whisper-shrieked, ‘it’s a fucking rhino!’ before shoving us aside and bolting back the way we’d come in order to hurl herself up the nearest hapless tree and begin the job of crying. I was right behind her so had the dubious privilege of being able to immediately see that she was correct. The large horned beast with the small ears and skin like armour plating was indeed a rhino and it was about three metres away from me.
To sum up the next few seconds; sheer, unadulterated panic ensued. Widespread hysteria was the order of the day as we crashed around the bush desperately searching for branches to hang off. My heart thumped against my ribs like a jackhammer and images of my mum falling to her knees at the news of my tragic, pathetic death screened in my mind’s eye like a B-grade movie.
Once we’d all positioned ourselves up a tree, the tricky thing was trying to keep quiet and still while adrenalin coursed through our veins like 50 cans of Red Bull. So this is what the ‘fight or flight’ response feels like. Apparently, I’m a ‘flighter’.
We all seemed to hang from our branches for decades, which is ample time to ponder what a rhinos horn might feel like as it tore the flesh from my bones. Finally though, Burma gave the signal it was safe to come down and we got ourselves out of that jungle as fast as our jelly-like legs would carry us.
Ah yes, the joys of travel to exotic locales.
The Royal Chitwan National Park, Nepal
About Royal Chitwan National Park: Nepal’s first and most famous national park, it provides shelter to the last endangered Asian species including the one-horned rhinoceros and the Royal Bengal tiger. Other animals found here are the leopard, sloth bear, wild boar, rhesus monkey, grey langur monkey, wild dog, small wild cats, bison, the four species of deer and many small animals. Marsh crocodiles inhabit the swampy areas. The Gangetic crocodile that only feed on fish are found in a stretch of the River Narayani as well as fresh-water dolphins.
How to get there: RCNP is accessible by car or bus on the Kathmandu-Mugling-Narayanghat Highway or through Mahendra Rajmarg Highway from Hetauda. It’s about a six-hour drive from Kathmandu to Narayanghat. If you don’t have a car, local buses are available to Tadi Bazar, which is about an hour’s drive from Narayanghat. From there, it’s a six-km walk or bullock ride to get to Sauraha, the park entrance.
Where to stay: Situated in the Royal Chitwan National Park, the Chitwan Adventure Resort offers all-inclusive packages for pre-organised jungle activities. Go to http://www.chitwanadventureresort.com
Need to know: Visas can be bought on arrival in Nepal but you’ll need a passport-sized photo. Go to http://www.nepalimmigration.gov.np/