Tiger Tops Tharu Lodge
We were 13 of us ready to hit the road in a shuttle van, all from the tourism industry. It was a Fam Trip (familiarization trip) to the Tiger Tops facilities in Chitwan and then to Pokhara.
One brief stop to have tea and to freshen up, a little bit of road delay due to the ongoing highway constructions, and we stopped in the premises of Tiger Tops Tharu Lodge.
The minute I got off from our air conditioned van, the mid-September heat knocked me on my face. Surprised, I swallowed a gasp of hot air, and was reminded that I was on the Chitwan turf.
We were welcomed into a Tharu style abode with a Thai-Australian PRO, a volunteer lady who briefed us excellently on what to expect in Tiger Tops Tharu Lodge. Some hospitality exchange program had her there for a couple of months. We were shown to our rooms, which were in a row, on either sides of the Tharu style high-roofed living area. We basically dumped our luggage in there and came out for lunch.
Nepali lunch was arranged outdoors in the garden, under the shade of a large tree. Strangely, the heat had not killed my appetite! Or probably it was the delicious food. I’ve always believed it’s not so much the dishes as to who makes them, and the Chef there clearly seemed to be doing an awesome job!
Some amongst us, who felt the heat more, would reach out for wet wipes or tissues every couple of minutes as sweat ran down their faces, almost like they were standing under a slow trickling showerhead. We were advised to drink water often. The waiters filled our water glasses the minute we emptied them. At a point we had to request them to stop.
I decided to go for a quick swim in the outdoor pool right after lunch, it was probably around 2 o’clock. It was a beautiful pool with great view. A couple of hammocks swung by at a distance in the garden.
Next on the itinerary was elephant safari, scheduled for 4 p.m.. We dressed up in long sleeves, pants, socks and shoes. Some of us even had hats on. It felt like I was taking a sauna bath dressed that way in the heat, but going into the thick of the jungle on an elephant would mean we would encounter with scratchy twigs and branches. A naturalist and the elephant driver accompanied us on each elephant.
We were told tiger was a rare sight and we could expect to see Rhinos, Deer and a few others of the habitat. We hushed ourselves, talking only occasionally in low voices.
Except for some chirps of birds and the soft thud and swishes our elephant made, it was extraordinarily quiet in there.
I could feel an echo in my mind - sometimes of the silence and at other times of the sound of the jungle.
Towards the end of it, we did manage to see 4 Rhinos, 1 Barking Deer, some monkeys and a wild rooster. It was a pleasant ride.
We came back to an energetic and colorful cultural performance by the Tharus. The outfits of the dancers looked exquisite. We were all on the lawn, next to the pool. The pool bar was open and we sat there enjoying our drinks and munchies, taken in by the alluring show. The full moon would occasionally appear from behind the clouds. Towards the end, the performers came to our seats and took us with them to join the dance. It was very enjoyable.
Dinner followed next and I felt, it just affirmed the mastery of the Chef. We were served Continental cuisine. Interestingly, most of the items induced a local touch. We were seated at the other side of the huge garden under the moonlit sky.
The next day, I went for an early morning swim. Some of the bird lovers went bird watching accompanied by an expert, and then again for a village walk. After that, we all sat together for a hearty breakfast and collectively went to the elephant breeding centre and listened to the elephant trainer.
We were told that elephants live as long as humans. African elephants are harder to train than Asian ones. African elephants have rough skin, while Asians have softer skin. Elephants have a huge appetite and in Tiger Tops Tharu Lodge, they feed on elephant sandwiches - a straw bundle with carbs and protein supplements wrapped inside. Elephants are vegetarians. The trainer, who seemed to be around 70 years of age, told us a lot more of course. He even proudly but tactfully boasted to us about his experience of training African elephants in the USA zoo.
After the session, we stopped by to pick umbrellas at our Tiger Tops Tharu Lodge and walked towards the river. It was time for elephant bathing! We were instructed not to stand next to the legs, for while they lay on their sides, they could jump up abruptly to a standing position. We splashed water onto the elephants and felt their skin under our palms. It seemed pretty rough and I wondered how rough the African one would be!
It was time for a Thai lunch. A little improvised, a little localized - according to the availability of ingredients, but none the less, delicious. Post lunch, some of us, decided to lazily swim while the rest took a nap. In a matter of two days, I was excited to have acquired a pretty deep tan!
Having spent hours in the pool, I was running a little late for the river safari.
I hurried to catch up with two of our friends waiting for me and the rest who were already walking up to the point (10 mins walk) from where we climbed onto a bullock cart and rode for a good 1 hour. The bullock cart ride was again through the jungle.
8 of us fit in to one cart accompanied by a naturalist and the cart driver. We had 2 carts, some foreign guests staying at the Lodge joined us too. Our elephant trainer from the elephant breeding centre, was on foot showing the cart drivers the way. The naturalist would relate incidences where tigers ate their staff some years ago.
I could feel the hair rise on the back of my neck, the forest suddenly felt never ending! At a point we got off the cart and walked for some 7 to 10 minutes contemplating what our strategies would be if a tiger suddenly appeared in front of us or if a leopard jumped from the tall trees on our heads! Thankfully we reached the river in one piece from where we were to board the canoe.
The canoe ride was absolutely surreal. We were surrounded from all sides by unmatched beauty. It felt like a sudden, dangerously stunning entrapment!
We started off when there was daylight and were still on the boat through the sunset, and well into the blue of the night. The water stretched on all sides reflecting the changing lights of the dusky sky.
Every which way I turned, the view was completely singular and glorious. As I sat in the boat overwhelmed by the unusual spectacle, the sky filled my heart with its grandeur and magnanimity. On top of that a rainbow appeared!
All good things come to an end and it was time to get off the canoe. At the point we stopped, a bus was waiting to receive us and take us back to the hotel. Like after every trip, we got inside the lodge and pulled our chairs around the Tharu style mud table and fireplace (during winters), in the middle of the living area.
We were still trying to process the sum total of the beauty we witnessed as we emptied chilled glasses of drinks one after the next, and gallons of water. A scrumptious localized Continental dinner was waiting for us in the outdoors.
Next morning, some of us went bird watching before breakfast. The rest is a hasty blur! We ate, packed our bags, took numerous group photos, thanked the ever so hospitable Tiger Tops Tharu Lodge’s staff…..
Then, after hurriedly trying to take in the view of the gorgeous place that housed us for two beautiful days, we left for Pokhara.
Story: Aparajita Acharya
Photography: Sunil C. Sharma, Aparajita