Bob: Gorkha Nepal

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Am continuing to have a wonderful time, though I won't be sorry to breathe clean, Canberra air and will not miss the filth that encroaches on every city and town. Only the countryside is relatively free of rubbish.
In my last email I forgot to mention that while in the canoe in the morning we saw a large stork, only metres from us, catch a substantial eel from the river, and try to kill it before eating it. I mentioned that I was to take an elephant ride on Sunday afternoon. I'd been told it would be about 2 hours, but I was on my elephant (unable to get off for a piddle!) for 3h 40m. It was also much more exciting than I'd expected, as most of the time we were in the national park, with all its wildlife. The elephant handler knew where particular creatures were likely to be, and the animals ignored the presence of the elephant despite there being myself and 3 Singaporeans on my elephant, a well as the handler. It was the same effect as being in a jeep on safari in the game parks of South Africa. We saw a total of nine rhinos - some only a couple of metres away - and including several very young ones. We came across several deer, wild boar, wild peacocks and an eagle at close quarters. By the end of the ride I was filthy from brushing against the leaves, cobwebs and so on at about 4 metres above ground.
On Monday morning I left Chitwan by local bus and travelled back to Privi Highway towards Kathmandu, along the mountain-sides with the river far below. This time I was on the side of the bus on the open side of the valley. It was hard to relax, travelling on such a narrow road, with no road-side barriers and heavy traffic with vehicles constantly overtaking each other.
I alighted at a cable-car, built by Austrians 12 years ago, where I met my guide, Kamal, who was to look after me for 4 days. The cable-car travelled 2.8km, climbing 1,000m, to Manakamana, a small village that exists because of the presence of a highly significant Hindu temple. Pilgrims travel from across Nepal, and from India, to give sacrifices and worship at the temple that I found surprisingly small and modest. When we arrived there was a long, very slow moving line of pilgrims with their offerings of food and flowers, and sacrificial animals - chooks and goats - ready to be slaughtered. The temple has many bells around it, and as the pilgrims arrive they ring the bells to announce their arrival to the gods. So the whole effect was quite electric, with bells ringing constantly, the animals bleating and squawking, people chatting, incense smoke filling the air and blood from slaughtered animals covering the stone grounds around he temple.
After a while marvelling at the scene, I headed off with Kamal to climb the hill behind the temple. (Kamal told me that 17% of Nepal is mountain i.e. more than 3,300m, 68% is hill country, and 17% low rain forest, as I had seen at Chitwan. So anything less than 3,300m is a "hill".) It took us most of the afternoon to climb past small, terraced farms and up through the forest to the peak, surmounted by several small temples. We returned to Manakamana, where we stayed in a small, basic hotel.

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