National Geographic : 1935 Mar
NEPAL, THE SEQUESTERED KINGDOM BY PENELOPE CHETWODE SEEING something which is a closed book to the greater part of mankind is apt to give one a superiority com plex. When travelers meet and relate their experiences each takes a savage delight in dwelling on the excellence of those parts of the earth with which his fellow is unac quainted. In this way, I derive infinite pleasure from telling my friends that Nepal iis the most wonderful country in the world be cause I'm pretty certain that they never will go there! And, incidentally, even if they do, I'm not at all sure that they won't whole-heartedly agree with me. Nepal is remarkable in a number of ways. It can boast of unrivaled natural scenery, of the highest and most fascinating mountains; of unique architectural monu ments; of an immense army quite out of proportion to the population; of an excel lent and enlightened system of government which brings peace and prosperity to the little Kingdom. VISITED BY A "CHOSEN FEW" Even the chosen few who gain access to Nepal may not wander at will. My ap proach was through Raxaul, on the frontier of India (see map, page 323). The most agreeable way of reaching Raxaul is by way of Patna, the ancient capital of Asoka. From here the pious Buddhist emperor himself set out, in 250 B. C., on his religious pilgrimage to Nepal and other sacred strongholds of his faith. At Patna you board a paddle boat and cruise five or six miles up the Ganges-the distance varies according to the height of the river-and get into a waiting train on the other side. Next morning you wake up in Raxaul. On one side lie the unbroken acres of the Bihar rice fields, yellowing beneath the sun; on the other lie more rice fields, in the sequestered Kingdom. You strain your eyes toward the eastern horizon and dimly perceive a dark green belt. This flat, low-lying tract of cultivation and jungle, lying between the Himalayan foothills and the border of Bihar, and stretching 200 miles from east to west, is known as the Tarai. From April to No vember this part of the country is infested with a deadly malarial fever. Thus the stray visitor to Nepal wisely confines his visit to the winter. Beyond the Tarai again rise huge shad owy forms, the Himalayas hiding in the morning mist. Then ensues the inevitable argument with your neighbor as to whether a certain white object is Mount Everest or merely a deceitful cloud. RICE FIELDS AND JUNGLES From Raxaul, a little meter-gauge train sets off across the Tarai. For the first mile the railroad leads through the main street of the city, with shop and house fronts on either side. Then it comes out into the open rice fields and so into the tiger- and rhino-haunted jungles beyond. And what jungles! Halfway through them our train drew up, we all got out, clambered onto the backs of waiting elephants, and padded silently off into the mysterious depths. The jungles of the Nepal Tarai are sub tropical and consist chiefly of sal trees with long, thin black trunks, and huge leaves starting very near the base. Here and there a giant teak, with its beautiful crocodile back, soars upward, stately and erect. Festoons of creepers hang from tree to tree. The most common variety has mag nificent velvety leaves, large and round like soup plates of palest green celadon. In the lower regions stocky little banana palms flourish, and wild ginger, with brilliant crimson fruits. All this thriving growth is interrupted in certain places by the passage of wide river beds. These have long been destitute of water, and their barren white sands and smooth round pebbles contrast strangely with the luxuriant vegetation on either side. A NOVEL TIGER HUNT A tiger shoot in Nepal is conducted on novel lines: the tiger is attracted to a kill and is then surrounded by a ring of elephants. Slowly the ring closes in until the angry beast, well aware of what is going on, charges. As the undergrowth is very thick, and by no means all the elephants carry armed men, he has a fair chance of escape. On our shoot we rode some two miles from the train to the kill, where we joined the ring of ninety elephants surrounding it.