A serene lake in the Sal jungles of Chitwan is the perfect antidote to the kerfuffle of Sauraha.

After a two-hour walk in the jungle, followed by an evening filled with thumping music and the clinking of beer bottles and laughter – everything that you hear and see in Thamel on Friday nights – my friends and I set off early the next morning for Beeshazar Tal. Riding motorbikes made the spring morning in Chitwan extra nippy; we regretted not wearing jackets. To get to the lake we rode eight kilometers south-east from Narayangarh, on the Mahendra Highway, to Tikauli. At Tikauli, we turned south-west and rode another seven kilometers. We arrived at a rusty iron gate, which barred the trail to Beeshazar Tal. The gatekeeper’s hut, too, was locked.


We decided not to wait, and leaving our motorbikes outside the gate, began walking to the lake. I was particularly interested in seeing Beeshazar Tal, which means ‘Twenty Thousand Lake’ in Nepali. Sauraha had disappointed me. I felt the loud music, the garish colors, the bright lights and the concrete buildings did not belong in a place so close to the wilderness. Sometimes in Sauraha, a rhino browses on a little patch of grassland across the river to the accompaniment of a ludicrously-worded Bollywood song. Beeshazar Tal was in a community forest. There would be no restaurants, no music. It would be wild.


It sure was, for within a few moments it did what, I believe, a true wilderness does to people—make them realize they are outsiders. A couple of charred trees stood in the middle of the lake, like giant torches someone had stuck into the water to put out. Coots were rummaging among the cluster of aquatic plants for breakfast. Startled by our approach, they took off in that beautiful way that would delight a cinematographer, beating their wings frantically to get the lift and creating tiny runways on the water with their trailing feet.


We crossed a canal on a wooden plank bridge. A graveled road ran parallel to but nearly seven feet higher than the canal. The canal was almost dry; what water there was in it wasn’t flowing. Trees on either side leaned forward to create an arched roof, giving the canal the appearance of a tunnel. Brown and yellow leaves carpeted the water. So quiet was the place that leaves landing on the ground had the loudness of a heavy step on brittle leaves. In one place where the fallen leaves had parted to form a little gap, I saw a tiny turtle glide to the safety of a cluster of decaying leaves. Our timing was perfect: teasers of Nature’s beauty were on show, offering glimpses, promising more. In the prospect of seeing more was the thrill.


I found a spot where the canal wasn’t covered in leaves, creating a mirror-like patch in the dim tunnel. I descended from the road to take photos. I was trying to photograph a dead log in the tunnel when I saw a big, black body descend into the canal some seventy meters from me. It was a Sambar doe. I hastened back to the road, hoping to get to my friends before they would startle the deer. I succeeded in this. We tip-toed a few feet to a bend on the road, hiding ourselves behind a bush. A little later the doe appeared on the road. As she stepped onto the gravel, she caught sight of the three individuals of the alien species. She stood still, gazing at us for nearly a minute. When I finally took a step on to the road, she ran into the bushes across the road.


A day before we had been walking with two jungle guides, one of them killing off every other scent in the forest with the alcohol on his breath. We had had to walk for an entire morning, climb machans, and in some places risk going into tall grass (this last the idea of the drunken guide, who, being older, was supposed to be wiser than his younger colleague) to catch glimpses of animals. All we saw were pugmarks of tigers, droppings of rhinos, and tree trunks bruised by elephants with itchy backs. And we heard occasional barks, alarm calls, and the crashing sound of fleeing animals. Beeshazar Tal won me over, not because we were seeing an animal at every step, but because we were free from the need to try.


But I soon found that this secluded place wasn’t spared completely. We had just seen a herd of Chital grazing on the edge of the forest when a motorcycle sputtered past on the gravel road. The rider stopped, and I asked him where the road went. He told me that it went to a village. A little later a groaning jeep went by, laden with people. The stillness and quiet of the place had made me hopeful. And when I am in a jungle in the Terai my biggest hope, like most people that go there, is to see the Royal Bengal Tiger. As I watched the back of the jeep disappear round a curve on the road, I knew that so too had the chances of seeing a tiger.


We turned around and crossed the wooden bridge to the largest of the many lakes in the area. (There are not even a hundred lakes in the area, let alone 20,000). There were a few couples in school uniforms sitting with their backs against trees. Some were playing music on their cell phones. A couple of motorbikes came roaring to the lake, ridden by teenaged truants out on dates. I knew that ‘Earth Hour’ had ended and ‘Love Birds’ had begun. !

 


 

The need-to-know index

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  • Finding your way to Beeshazar Tal is not very difficult. You can ask locals for directions. The lake is in a community forest, so follow the rule and enter through the main gate. Limit walks to a few hundred meters around the lake. Avoid wandering off into the jungle. Go with someone who has been there before, or better, hire a local guide. It is best to go in groups. The best time is early mornings.
  • What to Carry: Drinkable water is not available in Beeshazar, so carry a bottle for each person. An hour or two at the lake is enough, so carrying something to eat is not necessary. If you want to spend more time, carry something light, like biscuits or packaged noodles.
  • The lake is a 30 minute ride from Narayangarh, so staying at hotels close to the lake is not necessary. Hire motorbikes, or, if you want to go green, bicycles.
  • Rs. 2,500 to Rs. 3,000 per person (including hiring motorbikes, hotel rent and meals, travel to and from Kathmandu.)