Namaste as the Nepalese Say - Day Two

Owing to a series of niggles and some strong suggestions of outright skulduggery, the Tiger Tops resort in Royal Chitwan Park has been closed for the last six months, despite the fact it was actually founded before the land was a designated park. Now, with a new lease signed, the oldest tourism company in the region is getting ready to open again. Founded as a hunting lodge in the mid-60s, by 1972 it had been bought out and rebranded as a place dedicated to conservation. A couple of years later the park was founded around it; Tiger Tops even helped set the boundaries and rules for visitors. A shame then that their good work – including nearly 40 years of dedication to conservation – is so rarely rewarded by the authorities. Where one might expect tax breaks in the UK, here they are hammered into submission by greedy ministers.

A Jeep old enough to be my father takes us through the jungle and through a couple of streams before we transfer to a boat to cross a much meatier river. It's back in another 4x4 from there and into the Sal jungle (so named after the predominant tree type) and to the stilt-top residences. The two lanky buildings are separated by The Roundhouse, a Viking-style building with a log fire filtering up through the conical thatched roof. It's all located just on the edge of the jungle as it suddenly changes into fertile grasslands. This is tiger country.

We're a little late, so barely have time to dump our bags before having to gather ourselves for a trip into the jungle on an enormous tusked elephant. “He’s a handsome boy, but very rude.” Says Kalu Ram, our diminutive little guide who stands barefoot atop the behemoth’s shitting arse. Habitually dumping out is apparently the big boy’s signature move and, when he needs feels the need, no amount of prodding behind his big ears will get him moving again.

We cross the river, and veer off the path through the long grass, the elephant using it’s ivory, brute force and unending appetite to forge a way through the 20-foot-tall brush. It’s late afternoon as this is prime time for watching tigers, who are just waking up and thinking about addressing their hunger. I’m straining so hard to hear or see one of the big cats that I initially mistake a plane’s far off engine noise as a roar.

Unfortunately for us, three hours of rattling around in the old box, the wooden safety bars of which have been worn smooth by four decades of white-knuckle tourists, turns up no tigers. Or much of anything really, other than one nervous rhino and a far-off stork or two.

We get back to the lodge and try to summon some kind of warmth into our bones, but it’s tough work, especially as our stilted accommodation runs on solar power. Shivering, we head back to the Roundhouse for some dinner and a talk with the owner. He looks a bit like Willem Dafoe and is in his late 30s. He’s also definitely a little bit mad, but when I find out his life story the next day, that becomes perfectly understandable.