21 January 2010

Day 17 - Sundur Kali: Queen of the Jungle

Day 17
Wake up feeling a bit lost. Had a dream last night featuring a lot of important people in my life – some of whom are no longer with us. Wish I was back home. Lie around feeling sorry for myself. I am starting to feel a bit frustrated and lonely here – I am somewhat ‘trapped’ in Sauraha because, unless your days revolve around the heffalumps (which mine no longer do at the moment), there really is nothing much to do. It is a small village, a tourist drop off point. See the heffalumps and then move on. I don’t have the budget, nor the courage, to set out on my own further afield. The buses here are far scarier (although in better condition) than in either Barbados or Africa and the roads are just insane. Nope, I’m better off staying put. I do try to push these feelings away as I know how ungrateful it must sound to my friends and family back home. I’m in this wonderful, sweet smelling country, surrounded by some of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen and I’ve had a river bath with an elephant – I shouldn’t be able to find anything to complain about. It’s hard to really explain without sounding like a spoilt brat really … I’m just homesick I think.

After my breakfast and shower, I walk to the village to visit the net cafe. One thing I really like about this one is the free tea and coffee. There are other net cafes closer by but the lure of something free (and warm!) makes me walk that extra couple of minutes. I settle down and update my Blog. The Manager asks me if I am a journalist or a writer seeing as I am in here every day. I say I guess I’m kind of, sort of, a little bit of a writer. Even if only my close friends and family find it of any interest! lol

At 1:00pm, I walk up towards the Women’s Centre, armed with my English curriculum books that the Headmaster kindly loaned me. But alas, they are studying Maths today. Well, that is something that I most certainly can’t help with being the only GCSE that I failed miserably (10 points for writing your name on the paper – check). The lesson is in Nepalese so I bow out politely and say that I will see them tomorrow. A dog takes issue with my presence and decides to chase me away, barking and foaming at the mouth. As I run around a corner, a man on a bicycle ploughs into me and we both end up in a bush. I anxiously check behind me but the dog has lost interest. I apologise profusely to the man who simply says “No problem”, dusts himself off and hops back on his bike. Blimey, how refreshingly polite. I however have landed on my dodgy knee and limp back to the guesthouse.

I drown my sorrows in a few cups of black tea before giving myself a mental slap and, after changing into suitably coloured safari clothing, I cross the road to the stables. Ali is making koochie by himself so I plonk myself down on the straw beside him and go about helping him. He tells me that Saki is not coming back until tomorrow now which is rather disappointing to hear as I really wanted to do the jungle safari with him rather than his older brother, Sameer. On cue, Sameer appears with Sundur Kali – back from ‘duty’ at Chitwan National Park – and when she sees me, Sundur Kali raises her trunk high and opens her mouth. Ali laughs and says “she want koochie”. Ah I see, I am just the ‘koochie lady’ – guess I have missed her more than she’s missed me. Ali starts to clean the straw and dirt from her back while Sameeer has a cup of tea. I lean against the front of Sundur Kali’s trunk, wrapping my arms around it, and give her a big ol’ smooch. Gosh, I really have missed her. I feel like crying with joy. It’s lovely to feel her warmth again and she leans into me as well. She doesn’t move her head, she’s just content on us leaning against each other. Can’t begin to explain how content I am with this – I could eat, sleep and die in this position, all the while with a smile on my face. Once Ali has finished cleaning off the debris from her back, I help him and Sameer strap on the box seat. Sameer asks if I want to drive Sundur Kali to the jungle – of course I do! I grab the lower part of her ears, she lifts her trunk slightly for me to step onto and when I’m in position, she lifts me up and I scramble onto her head. I really must remember to get a photo of this as it’s absolutely one of my favourite things to do!

We set off – Sameeer walking along beside us and me perched up high on Sundur Kali with my “don’t do that” stick. I am in seventh heaven as we walk through the village – me and my heffalump. It’s a bit hairy at times as, along with camels, Sundur Kali is a bit wary of chickens, babies, motorcycles, dogs and goats. And we see a lot of these on the way. She stops and turns her head to hide (as if!) whenever one of these things comes across her path. I have to give her a kick behind her ears (which I hate doing) and force her to keep going. Please don’t hate me Sundur Kali!

After about half an hour (which would have taken 10 minutes on any other heffalump), we reach the jungle entrance. I climb into the box seat behind me, Sameer takes his position as the driver, we collect three tourists from a ‘tower’ (some steps up to a platform where people can board the elephants easily) and we set off.

Mahouts waiting with their heffalumps for tourists

Heading into the jungle with Sundur Kali

We must be in the jungle no more than 5 minutes and I’ve just begun to tell Sameer about the jeep safari yesterday and how Dal and I saw a Black Rhino when one of the tourists squeals and we all look left – a Black Rhino! Literally, right there!! I am slightly paniced as it is looking right at us – will it charge? Nope. It hasn’t spotted us – only Sundur Kali. And really – it’s not going to take her on is it now? The rhino keeps grazing and, once satisfied, starts to head into the bush. A white bird (an eegrit I think?) is perched on its back hitching a ride. No one has spoken at all for a few minutes – we’ve all been too busy taking photos and trying not to scare it away. I am chuffed to bits – two days, two Black Rhinos.

A birdie hitching a ride

We continue with our trek. Sundur Kali is very gentle – even as she is demolishing sapling trees which are unfortunate enough to be in her way. I video her as she stomps them down with her huge feet, not giving a second thought to going around them. She also doesn’t seem to take into account that we are higher than her and insists on going through some quite thick parts of bush testing Sameer’s reactions as he tries in vain to stop branches from hitting us square on in the face. He fails. But we are all laughing and having a great time. We see spotted deer (so beautiful!), beautiful Kingfishers, little orange monkeys, and even some sunbathing crocs down by the river.
Awww, ickle orange monkey

Sunbathing crocs

View of the river - so peaceful

Stunning Kingfisher - these are the most brightly coloured birds I've ever seen. Amazing.

We even come across some more Black Rhinos – a male and a female. They seem to be gearing up for a fight but Sameer says it is a mating ritual. They butt their heads together and then walk around in a circle, following each other, until they turn and face each other and start headbutting each other again. Not the most romantic courtship I’ve ever seen but each to their own, ha ha.
Oooh another rhino! (a small one tho)

Mating? Or fighting?

We head down to the river so that Sundur Kali can have a drink while we are crossing to the other side. We bump into her friend, Puja, who greets her by doing a loud fart in her face. It doesn’t seem to affect their friendship though and they nuzzle each other before we move on.
Puja crossing the river

A spotted deer watching us leave the jungle - shame it's a blurry photo, he was beautiful. And look at those antlers!!

We spend a good 4 hours in the jungle, spotting the most beautiful forest life. I wish it was safe to walk in these parts as some of the fungus growing on the tree stumps (yes, fungus) is really quite amazing. I would love to photograph it. Unfortunately, a lot of my photographs today end up being totally blurred as it’s quite hard to have a steady hand when Sundur Kali is rocking and rolling and demolishing the forest beneath you. Ah well.

Eventually we leave the jungle and head back into town. My legs have totally seized up and muscles that I didn’t know I had are screaming in agony. It’s actually quite hard work to keep yourself steady in a box seat on an elephant. Not quite the leisurely ride I had been expecting. I opt to walk back some of the way as I literally can’t stand it any longer and Sameer is still firmly rooted in the driver’s seat. I stop to cross the road as I want to check my emails in the internet cafe and Sundur Kali decides to stop too. She looks over at me as if to say “What are we doing now?”. I give her trunk a quick hug and say I will see her later. Sameer gives her a kick behind the ears (a bit less affectionate than my own gesture) and she slowly lumbers off.

After checking my emails, I head back to the guesthouse – but not before popping into the stables to say goodnight to Sundur Kali. She is lazily munching koochie and batting her long eyelashes. Ali is giving her a pedicure (bless) and Sameer is cooking up some rice and ‘greens’. I can’t wait until Saki is back tomorrow and I can ask if him it’s alright for me to come and visit more often. I realise now that I only have 6 or 7 days left in Sauraha and then – who knows when, or even if, I will ever see my beautiful heffalump again *sniff*

Back at the guesthouse, I sit chatting with Dal and we stumble onto the topic of tattoos. I tell him about the two I already have and he asks will I get another? I tell him that I’ve been playing with one idea and ask his opinion. He agrees that it’s a lovely idea and so I ask him to help me out with it. With the finished design ready, we draw it in place to see how it will look … what do you think? Can you guess what it says?


  1. Beautiful pics! :-) Loving the tattoo! Sundur Kali? Lu xx

  2. Hi Steph :o)

    I have just spent all afternoon catching up on the end of your Uganda blog and reading the whole of this one. My heart sunk when the Project ended, I so hope that you do get to spend more time with your heffalump once Saki is back.

    You write your posts so beautifully, I've been lost in it and even before seeing the photos I could imagine exactly what you are seeing from your descriptions. You have a real talent there :o)

    Sending you some warm hugs,

    Kerry xxx

    P.S. Does the tattoo say Sundur Kali by any chance???? I think it looks fab x

  3. Hehe i was thinking Sundar Kali too a very fitting and forever personal tattoo :) awwwwww big hugs sweetie glad there has been more Sundar Kali love going on i am sure she has missed you too x Gem x