The new year is approaching and we have some expectations for starting it right; we want to spend it surrounded by nature, one of the most enjoyable things for us.
Nepal has several national parks, most of them very large, some less visited than others, some serving as the habitat for many migrating birds, others for endangered and highly sought animals like the Bengal tiger, the one-horned rhino or wild Asian elephants.
The majority of visitors to Nepal choose Chitwan National Park because of its proximity to Kathmandu and a wider range of accommodation options. By the end of the year, Chitwan is celebrating its annual “Elephant Festival”, which consists on several days when they have these big and smart pachyderms play tricks for human entertainment, such as soccer and polo matches, “beauty contests” and other non-sense activities.
Since we have decided to veer towards the West of the country—and because you know we prefer to avoid the crowds and don’t support animal captivity— we opt to go to Bardia National Park, where wildlife is very similar to that of Chitwan but with half of the crowds and touristic infrastructure.
From Lumbini, a taxi leaving at 5 am drives us towards Butwal, where we embark on an 8-hour, hellish bus ride to Ambassa, the village that serves as arrival point for visitors to the park.
Well, any long bus trip in Nepal —and more specifically in a local bus—can become eternal, endless, everlasting…! The experience varies a little depending on what part of the bus you sit. If you get a seat in front, you´ll probably be next to the door, which is left open during the whole trip having you almost shivering from the cold. Another plus is having the speaker at level 11 with the high-pitch and repetitive Nepali music in a constant loop, breaking your ears in the process; by the time you get off the bus, you compare the traffic noise to the sweet melody of a violin.
If you seat in the least desired back seats, you’ll have 6 or more people sharing the 5 spaces in the rear, and you’ll need to get a good grip during the constant bumps that will make you miss your sit for an instant.
For this particular trip, we have all the usual, plus some extras… We have to change bus after a few hours for some unknown reason and switch our privileged seats in the middle for the rear uncomfortable seats. The aisle serves as good as luggage storage as any other place, so we have an open cardboard box and a heavy bag inside it at our feet, limiting our personal space even more. After approximately 6 hours have passed, a repeated complaining noise catches our attention more and more, similar to a child screaming, but we cannot identify where it comes from and forget about it with the next event: carrying twice more than that bus should be, there obviously is a flat tire. No sweat! The bus stops and the tire is replaced while we serve as the entertainment for all waiting passengers before carrying on with our odyssey.
In the next hour the strange “child noise” repeats several times until a man identifies it and finally reveals it. We switch our look back to the box at our feet, where two puppies are jam-packed inside, bearing the high temperature in the bus, under the heavy bag with almost no air, no water and no space to move. This is unreal, nobody in their senses would have two living beings in such conditions. We take the dogs on our laps and give them some water the best way we can along the bumpy road, getting our pants soaked in the process. A small girl sitting next to us is terrified when she sees the puppies; her father explains that she thinks the 1-month old puppies might have rabies and could attack her. All the others on the bus just laugh and chatter about us. In that moment of big frustration, when we clearly see the non-existing concept of animal welfare or compassion towards them, we feel angry and unable to calmly try to communicate with the “owner” of those two puppies. They could have very well died and he would not care.
Some stops afterwards, the disgraced “man” who owns the dogs has us put them back in his crappy box and takes them away. We can only wish them the best of luck, continuing our journey in silence to the next milestone. As we are trying to calm down and think we have had enough emotions for the day, the bus suddenly reduces its speed. There is some commotion among the passengers in the front, all looking towards the left side of the road. The image becomes clearer and clearer. There is a human figure on the ground. A motorbike rider with no helmet is lying inert, his look lost in the infinite, blood around his head. In front and on the opposite side of him, a halted truck. No ambulance, no police, no assistance whatsoever to the injured man is to be seen anywhere. We want to stop and approach the man hoping he still lives but our bus advances, slowly and around the motionless body, passing the truck too. All emotions of the long journey are now exploding inside us, impotence, confusion and silence, all palpable now in the ambience. After a pretty short distance, the accident is reported at the next checkpoint by our driver. We can’t help but ask why we haven’t stopped, why nothing was done, and the answer is even more frustrating—Nepali law states that no one but the Army or the Police can approach people harmed in an accident. It is funny how different cultures work… In many Western countries, denying assistance to someone in need may get you imprisoned, but in this case, it is exactly the opposite.