all about elephants…
In fact it isn’t all about elephants, but as you’ll see if you care to read on…much like the longevity of an elephants – our memories of ‘Chitwan National Park’ in Southern Nepal http://chitwannationalpark.net/ and all the wonder it contained, will always be a tad marred by the reality.
We felt cold to the bone after completing the ‘Everest Trek’, and with 5 days remaining until the long haul back to Vancouver and no plans as such, it seemed the natural thing to do was head south to warm up. With this we made the 6 hour steep descent from Kathmandu by bus. I was on the outside edge of the two-way (but actually only fits one vehicle) winding mountain road, not by design of course, but it did enable me to take full advantage of the views of the river on the valley floor a few hundred feet below, knowing that at any given point along the way and particularly during our bus driver’s enthusiastic over-taking maneuvers, we were only a few inches from taking a much closer look. I was also able to re-acquaint myself with that special kind of adrenalin rush that comes when travelling by plane, train or automobile in a third world country. It was with some effort that my white knuckled grip on the seat was released when we finally reach the Chitwan region.
The quaint village of Sauraha is where we made ourselves comfortable for a few days while we explored the area, and although we’re not typically into the organized tour thing, this was the only way to see the wildlife and access the National Park itself across the river. To this end, we took every opportunity to join the various excursions (limited to 6 passengers) that were included in the price of our hotel, Jungle Safari Lodge, http://www.junglesafarilodge.com/. The hotel felt like luxury after the trek, with its hot shower, clean sheets and places to kick-back, grab a cool drink and chillax. It was also undergoing major renovations with a new wing in construction directly across from our block. The added dust and noise during the day however, could not impact our utopian state borne out of cleanliness and heat. Interestingly enough, we had recently seen the movie ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’, and this was the vibe we found ourselves enjoying, what with the quirky but very attentive and caring staff, and the high maintenance retired Brits who rocked up expecting something more I think!
As Chitwan National Park shares space with the Indian border, and has its own small population of Tigers, I had convinced myself we would be lucky enough to see (and photograph) one. But as it soon became apparent on the various mini-safaris we took, these kittys don’t often make an appearance for the touristos. I was clearly dreaming in thinking one would make an exception for us, just because I had my camera at the ready!
So we soaked up the sun, marvelled at our lush surroundings and enjoyed the laid back pace of village life – ultimately leaving feeling warm, somewhat rested and content.
(click on image to enlarge and scroll)
As you can see in some of the images above, I shamelessly splashed around in the river with one of the Parks many working elephants as it took a bath after a morning safari outing. I had no intention of either going on an elephant safari or joining one of these incredible creatures for its daily ‘tub and rub’. However, I was able to convince myself that the Park buffer zone generates much-needed revenue for the locals through the centrally kept community of working elephants (there is also a large population of wild elephants within the Park). Rationalization was akin to working horses in most countries across the globe.
The catch came when we visited the elephant breeding centre the day before leaving, and although the elephants are out and about around the buffer zone during the day, they are chained loosely to a post from dusk to dawn. We found ourselves there at dusk, and witnessed the saddening dance of two steps forward, two steps backward, as they apparently tried to wind away the hours before they could regain their natural form.
I couldn’t and still can’t reconcile the amazing high I felt being close such an intelligent animal, immediately on the heels of which came a crushing feeling of guilt at seeing how they spent their time off.