We walk to the river, where a small group of people is waiting for us. The narrow boats, carved from ancient logs, lie in the shallow stream of water and proudly point into the white fog. The river seems wide. We don't see the other shore, and all sounds are muffled. In a group of five tourists and four tour guides, we settle into the boat and sit down carefully. One by one, so that no one falls into the crocodile populated water. For half an hour we stay in the boat with our legs pulled to our chins. The humidity creeps into our clothes, and the cold settles into our bones. My joints start to hurt. The trees on the shore and the turquoise water, both almost covered by fog, are our constant companions. Our guides show us the species of birds they know. They are all new to me. We're lucky and see a little crocodile sleeping on the shore. His body is half in the water, and thin grass camouflages the rest. If it gets hungry, it will be easy for it to catch a bird.
When we arrive at the other shore, a few kilometres below our meeting point, we climb onto the muddy beach. After a few meters we reach the first trees, and within seconds we are in the middle of the jungle. Our guide tells us what is allowed and what isn't.
- If you have to go to the bathroom, look for a bush.
- Do not use the leaves of a plant to clean yourself, because the leaves can have thorns.
- When a rhino approaches, hide behind trees or bushes.
- If it's an elephant, you've lost, stay calm and hope it ignores you
Our guide has a thin bamboo stick and stones in his pocket. He doesn't need more to defend himself. He states that knowledge is more important in the jungle than weapons. We believe him.
After we get out of the boat, our group splits up. I walk through the forest together with an Australian and two Nepalese guys. We are a silent group and see two rhinos up close. Soon we stop behind a thin tree while the rhinoceros moves closer and closer to us. Soon our guide throws the first stone, after which the rhino angrily raises its head. It sees us and cannot decide. Does it have to be active or can it continue to eat? The moment passes, we have our first adrenaline rush and continue wide-eyed on our way. Among the trees we see deer and my first stag, whose head he proudly lifts, its antlers are raised high in the air. It's the most beautiful thing I've seen. Ever. (The rhinos are many things, but not beautiful.)
We continue walking and soon the landscape changes. The bush thickens, we climb over small side arms of the river, walk past idyllic ponds and find our first tiger tracks. I am glad that we don't see it, although our guides are hopeful. They always look around. I am busy looking at where I am going. In the shade, the leaves are moist and allow us to sneak through the bushes almost without noise. As soon as sunshine dries out the leaves or coincidence puts a stick in our path, a loud crack echoes through the forest, informing the locals that we are there.
That day we see an infinite number of birds, monkeys, crocodiles, geese and the wild elephant from afar. But the most exciting thing for me is the ever-changing landscape. The grasslands that make our guides nervous, the old overgrown trees, the dense undergrowth, the termite mounds, endless greenery, marshland, burnt grassland, lakes, meadows and the river in the evening sun. Never before have I seen so much beauty in one place.
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