by Barry B.Burtis D.V.M.
The final chapter in our Nepal animal experiences took place in quite different surroundings than those I have written about in past columns. When our two week trek to and from Everest Base Camp was completed, we flew back to Kathmandu. My fellow veterinarian and business partner, Ron Fox, and I now planned to travel south and visit southern Nepal. It is very different geographically, climatically and in other ways from where we had been in the country thus far. The animals would prove to be quite different as well.
We had been invited to visit the veterinary school associated with Tribhuvan University in Rampur. As part of the visit we would have the opportunity to meet and address the faculty and students of the only college graduating veterinarians in Nepal. We had prepared a presentation about veterinary medicine in Canada. We would also be visiting Chitwin National Park(CNP). Rampur, located quite near CNP, is just 165 km. south of Kathmandu but it is a hot, tiring, 4 hour car ride to get there. Unless, of course, you are trapped in a traffic jam caused by an accident, have a flat tire, stop to have a roadside mechanic fix your flat or plan to drive through the outskirts of Kathamandu. Try those things and your trip will be increased by at least 2-3 hours, just as ours was, on our return journey.
Greater Kathmandu, with its 1.4 million population, lies about 1350m/4428ft. above sea level in the small mountain-sheltered Kathmandu Valley. Like many developing world cities, it is plagued with overcrowding, severe pollution and traffic congestion. By contrast, CNP and Rampur, at an altitude of 150-815 m/493-2680ft on the Churia Range, is a very rural, agricultural area. When you depart Kathmandu for 3 hours you wind up and down a two lane, well-paved but hopelessly crowded roadway. One side of the road is a wall of steep mountainside, the other, often, falls away precipitously to a river deep in the valley below. Makeshift human dwellings, of various constructions, sit almost side by side, clinging to the available small space at the road's edge on each side, for almost the whole distance we traveled.
The road is clogged with vehicles, almost bumper to bumper the whole distance. Most common are large dump-truck sized trucks hauling goods to and from Kathmandu. All of them constantly grinding gears, honking their screeching musical horns and belching the most awful smelling, toxic ( I'm sure), black clouds of gasoline or diesel fumes from their exhaust. Passenger buses, crammed inside and on the roof with people and luggage, mini-vans, cars and occasional herds of goats add to the traffic flow. There are certainly lots of sights to see as you ride along.
Finally the land levels out and you quickly know you are in agricultural country. The animals are domesticated ones. There are domestic water buffalo, cattle, usually Brahmin or Brahmin cross-breeds, goats, horses and poultry, ducks and pigeons. There are not large herds of cattle or water buffalo. Most rural families seem to have only one or two. They house them in open-sided shelter of some sort very near their own homes. If they are taken to a pasture, someone will go with them and sit under an umbrella for protection from the sun, as the animals graze. Part of the success of rearing water buffalo is their ability to thrive on poor foodstuffs yet be valuable economically. They are well suited to plough muddy fields - rice is a commonly grown crop in this area. Moreover, buffalo milk, and cheese made from it, are staples for many families. Buffalo meat, although rather tough, can also be eaten. Their hide provides tough and useful leather for shoes. They are very impressive beasts, weighing between 250 and 500 kilograms. They have the largest horns of any living animal - the average spread is about 1m/3.3ft but horns up to 4.2m/13.5ft, measuring from tip to tip across the outside curve of the forehead, have been recorded.
Our final animal adventures in Nepal were at Chitwin National Park. Here we visited the elephant breeding centre and rode on elephant back in search of black rhino. After a rocking and plodding yet steadily ahead ride and just as a late afternoon thunderstorm was about to break the oppressive 42 degree Celsius tropical heat, we located our quarry. Three black rhino were rolling about in a water filled mud hole, trying themselves, to beat the heat. Put out a bit, by our arrival, they jumped up, snorted their disgust but quickly decided not to challenge the very substantial and much larger creature on whose back we were perched. Feeling secure and safe on our elephant, we watched and photographed as the rhinos resumed their bath. We returned to park headquarters, through the jungle on elephant back, as large raindrops were about to become a downpour. As we tried hard to spot tigers on the ground in the dense foliage, we saw several deer with young trying with equal diligence to avoid being spotted by a tiger.
All in all Nepal had provided a trip never to be forgotten.