Saturday, March 21, 2015

January 16 - Day at Chitwan

Today was our exciting day visiting Chitwan National Park! The weather was exceptionally sunny and warm - perfect for the hours we would spend outside. The hotel provided a wake-up call and a large buffet breakfast (which included the ever present and delicious option of milk tea) to begin our day and then we were off.
            We all piled into the back of a pick-up truck and bounced our way to the park. The roads were so bumpy I seriously thought that a couple of us might be catapulted out. After a short ride, we pulled up to the edge of the park into an area full of men riding elephants (the mahouts sit right behind the elephants’ heads). Elephants are huge up close in case anyone was doubtful of that and large platforms with ladders were set up for mounting. Mounting (and dismounting) was a somewhat difficult affair - four people per elephant squeezed onto platforms with railings which was fine until the last person had to push their way into a sitting position with minimal space. Each person got a corner and our legs hung out over the side of the elephant. As Liam, one of the Australians we had met at HerFarm, had warned us, riding an elephant is quite rough but totally worth it of course. The whole ride lasted almost two hours and was largely uneventful apart from two exciting instances. First was the rhino we got to see up close. This entire area of the jungle is full of people riding elephants and whenever one mahout finds a rhino he shouts out to all of the others so that all of the tourists can get their share of the excitement. And so it was with our unfortunate rhino friend. It turns out that rhinos are quite afraid of elephants and this rhino certainly was not pleased to find itself surrounded. Rhinos are super cool and wrinkly and huge. The second bit of excitement came on our way back when a couple elephants decided to pick a fight with each other (or something). Loud elephant trumpeting echoed all around along with loud purring-like sounds. Our elephant started dancing around a bit and rumbling in discomfort which was a bit nerve wracking as none of us wished to end our trip crushed by an elephant having a temper tantrum. But our lovely ride above the jungle came to an end too soon and we headed back to the hotel for a huge buffet lunch.
            After lunch we had a canoe ride and a walk through the jungle that culminated in a visit to the elephant breeding center. The canoe ride was honestly my favorite part of our visit to Chitwan. The boat was really narrow and long and a man with a pole stood at the front to guide our progress along the river. The bank was covered in crocodiles soaking in the sun and our guide strongly suggested that we keep our fingers out of the water to avoid becoming a snack. Turns out there are two main types of crocodiles in this area of Nepal: the huge stereotypical crocodile that reminds one of Steve Irwin and the Gharial crocodile which has a long, narrow snout. We also saw another rhino from far away and lots of different birds. Our canoe ride ended about an hours walk from the elephant breeding center and the edge of Chitwan. Before we set off into the jungle out guide gave us a rather disturbing warning. If we should come across a rhino we were to run as fast as we could and try to climb trees to get away. Tigers would be scared away by the size of our group but a rhino would almost definitely charge us. Come to find out, our guide was one of the few to brave bringing tourists into the jungle. Luckily, we didn’t come across any rhinos though we did see a couple herds of deer. The breeding center was our final destination and was quite interesting. Elephant training isn’t as kind as I’d hoped but wasn’t as cruel as I feared. The general condition of the elephants was good but it seemed to me that they were kept on chains that were much too short. While we were there a wild, male elephant came to inspect his captive female audience. Apparently he had discovered that the breeding center was a source of free ladies and free food. If I thought the elephants we had seen so far were huge, they had nothing on this guy. He was the most massive animal I have ever seen with massive tusks at least a meter long (though probably longer). After we left we could hear a huge ruckus of shouting and trumpeting, so I’m guessing he got into some mischief.
            That night after dinner we went for a night time walk of the town to collect snacks for our six hour bus ride back to Kathmandu the next day. There were many bars and restaurants open as well as small convenience stores full primarily of toiletries and alcohol.  Like the rest of Nepal, there is a very strange dichotomy involving alcohol - on one hand, native Nepalis don’t drink at all and don’t respect people who do. On the other, there is an expectation that all white tourists get drunk all the time. It’s quite strange and somewhat perplexing.

            Chitwan is extremely beautiful and was a lovely addition to our trip. - Isabelle

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