To see where Chitwan National Park is
Still having so much time left on our Nepali visa extension, we decided to take advantage of it and make a stop off at Chitwan National Park on our route back into India. We stayed in the picturesque town of Sauraha which is set along side the banks of the Rapti river with a backdrop of lush greenery and a view of Chitwan Park on the other side. The warmth of the lowlands felt wonderful after spending weeks at altitude with cold nights.
Every morning local elephant owning entrepreneurs make their way down to the river to let tourists pay for rides and to be thrown off into the water a few times. This just looked like too much fun to pass
up, however cheesy and staged it may be, so we made our way down to the water and chose an elephant that looked friendly. Before we got on we heard someone saying hello to us in familiar British accents and turned around to see a retired couple from England who we had originally met in a small town on the Annapurna Circuit trek. Covering the well worn tourist route through Southern Asia makes for a lot of little coincidences like this and we took it in stride handing Ivan our camera to snap a couple photos of us on the elephant. It was quite an amazing experience to be so high up on such a powerful animal and we had a great time playing around in the water with it.
Later that day we rented bicycles to ride out to the Elephant Breeding Center. We wanted to go to the center in particular to see
one elephant with her new twin babies who were only a month old and turned out to be incredibly cute. The elephants sleep with a chain around one leg attached to a bolt sunk into the ground and this mama got impregnated one night by a wild male elephant who wandered out of the jungle. During the day the other elephants go out with their mahouts (trainers) to take tourists on safaris or to just have a walk in the park. We wound up at the breeding center at the same time that the herd was returning from their day of work and were so busy looking around and taking photos that we were kind of surprised when we noticed that there sure were a lot of elephants unchained and wandering about, at the same time we also saw sections of the wood fence divider that had been shattered into splinters by previously angry elephants. Although we saw all off these things I guess it didn’t really sink in because as an adolescent elephant was walking towards me I was too busy taking its photo to get out of the way. When I realized it wasn’t slowing I tried move away but the only place I could go was up against the wood fence. As the elephant started passing me it got the bright idea to stop and lean into me, trying to crush me. This beast was as tall as Andy and when Andy saw what was happening he hit the elephant causing it to rear up for a slow motion kick aimed towards him. I managed to wiggle up over the fence to the other side and get away, I guess he was trying to assert his dominance or something. At least I got a good photo of the jerk.
The following day when we showed up for our half day jeep safari, who should be there but the British couple, Ivan and Jean. We all
crammed into the jeep with two other clients plus the two guides and headed off for the National Park where we saw a wild elephant, one-horned rhinos, deer, and gharials. We also got to see a gharial breeding farm and a sad looking tiger kept in a tall wood pen. Apparently the tiger was an orphan whose mother had gotten the taste for human blood, when the mother was finally caught the game keepers accidentally over-sedated her and killed her, leaving behind her two orphaned tiger cubs. The wild elephant we saw from a distance coming at a quick and steady pace down the dirt track towards the jeep, the guide was acting really nervous and made us get back in the jeep before we really had a good look. That was probably for the better given my experience with elephants. Luckily our guide did allow us to get dangerously close to a rhino. We followed a few other jeeps to where a rhino had been spotted, and while the other guides forced their clients to stay in the vehicle, we got to get up close and try to take some photos. On the way out we saw another rhino, which was very fortunate because some tour groups don’t even get the opportunity to see a wild animal other than deer. If you’ve never heard of a gharial before, you’re not the only one, I had no idea what it was until we got to Chitwan. They are an endangered prehistoric looking fresh water reptile that are the second longest crocodilians in the world, after salt water crocs, and have a sinister looking snout filled with sharp interlocking teeth. Those teeth made me think twice about swimming in the river.
We made plans to meet up with Ivan and Jean to share an elephant for another tour outside of the park. On top of the elephant was a
basket that fit four people, each with their backs to one another and facing outwards towards each different compass point, the mahout rode on it’s head behind the ears whacking it with a stick every now and then. The novelty of riding on an elephant wore off as soon as the first person’s leg fell asleep and an hour and a half was plenty of time to get our fill of basket life. We were lucky again that day seeing three rhinos, one of them very young, plenty of deer, and a wild peacock as well as various other birds.
It’s surreal to be reading the Lonely Planet guide book and have a man come up to you and say, “Hi, I’m an author of a guide book and I
want your opinion.” Turns out he was in fact one of the authors of the new Lonely Planet book for Nepal and after we gave him a few suggestion he went off in search of some other traveler’s opinions. He was taking only three weeks to gather information on Pokhara, the Terai, and Chitwan, then would head back to Australia to piece the information together to update the ‘Book’. Busy schedule.
We spent a quiet Thanksgiving eating tandori chicken, sold our Nepal Lonely Planet book for 400 nepali rupees, and made the arduous journey to Kolkata with a stopover at the Nepal-India border in Raxaul.