The journey began with an extremely memorable jeep ride. We had planned a few days ahead of time to catch a ride on one of our international staff member’s hired jeep, when it returned to Dhangadhi after dropping him off. One of the nurses had also voiced interest in getting a ride to visit her family for Tihar, the festival of lights, and we were all excited to get on the road. As our departure time neared, people started accumulating rapidly in the parking lot, until there were at least 20 bystanders. It was not clear who exactly wanted to get in the jeep and who just wanted to watch the spectacle, but at the end of it, we ended up loading 3 oxygen tanks (to have them refilled in the city), 6 adults (including the driver), and 3 children. We were optimistic that an 11 hour jeep ride with 9 people would not be that bad, but our optimism was in vain.
Our first stop on the way was in the town of Sanfe Bagar (15 minutes down the hill from the hospital), where we halted just long enough for all of the children to get anti-emetic injections. This should have been the first red flag. As we sped off into the mountains, the injections not only proved relatively ineffective, but the prospect of containing all of the vomit these children emitted in tiny plastic bags also proved impossible. Due to the vomiting, etc., we had to keep the windows open for the whole drive, which led to everyone (except the driver, who seemed extremely comfortable) shivering and wrapping scarves tightly around them. Ryan and I had volunteered to share the front seat, which proved more challenging than we initially thought. Each left hand turn resulted in one of us sliding off the seat into the center console, and even with the seatbelt buckled around us both, the seating arrangement was less than ideal.
At about 3 a.m., we stopped by a small tea shop, which was staffed by the most friendly-faced, jolly old woman I have ever seen awake at such an hour. She built us a fire in the middle of the shop floor, and served us plenty of tea before we piled back into the jeep for the end of the ride.
After being dropped off at a bus park in Dhangadhi, and after our driver generously helped us negotiate bus fares, we climbed aboard a bus that would take us the rest of the way to Bardia. Two hours later, after a spectacular sunrise, we were dropped off at Ambassa, the tiny gateway town to the jungle.
Immediately being surrounded by a group of men competing to be our “guide,” we sat down for breakfast. The group of guides, of course, sat all around us, and continued to regale us with tales of their animal sightings, resorts, etc. Ryan managed them adeptly, telling the whole group point-blank that we would accept a ride from the first person who was willing to show us around multiple resorts. As they had all been telling us that their resort was “the best,” Ry made it clear that “if they were truly the best, they should show us the rest.” We ended up haggling for a jeep ride from the resort we had looked at online, which thankfully turned out to be the best resort around (in our price range). For $4 a night, good food, and private bathrooms complete with running water, it’s perfect.
We hunkered down early for the night, after not having slept in the jeep, and prepared for our first day’s activity of “jungle walking.”