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Today began with a 5 hour bus trip, out of Kathmandu and into the jungle. The drive was very interesting and contained many elements that I would not consider trying at home, including overtaking buses while on a windy mountain road and squeezing between trucks while barely slowing down. Major props to the drivers for getting us to Chitwan alive.
It’s ridiculously humid in Chitwan. We’ve reached the tropical area of Nepal and everyone is feeling it. The afternoon was spent inside under air conditioning until it was cool enough to go on a tour.
And what a tour. Elephants are a big way of life in Chitwan. Many families own an elephant and look after it; some are for tourist use, but many are used by the park rangers or for other tasks for the community. People ride elephants down the street as if they were bicycles.
We were introduced to some of the ranger’s elephants, but it was disappointing to see their legs chained up. However, the guide assured us that they spend most of their day down at the local river keeping cool, and that the chains are only for when they are eating or for when the females are in heat. Still, I’ll be glad when their trial enclosure is made available to all the elephants and they don’t have to be chained up.
We continued on the tour, and came across a rhino in the river. There it was, probably 40 metres away from the group. It didn’t even care that we were there. It was amazing.
We were introduced to other wonders, including some interesting flora. There was a carnivorous plant that closed its leaves as soon as they were touched, curry leaves and all sorts of medicinal herbs.
We continued our walk and ended up next to the river- but not too close, there are crocodiles- just in time for a lovely sunset.
But that wasn’t the end of it. As we were walking back to the hotel we started following a couple of men on an elephant. That was pretty cool. Then it turned out their home was right next to the hotel. They dismounted and told us we could pat the elephant! So I got to pat an elephant, and that was exciting. Her head was hairier than you would think- it’s like she has whiskers all over her head. Then we got to have a photo with the elephant! She was very warm.
Monday July 7
We had a huge day today.
It started with a nice relaxing canoe ride in the crocodile-infested river. The canoe was made in the traditional manner, carved out of a single tree trunk. It was huge too- it sat ten people. We were warned that we should avoid moving our bodies around, though it was okay to move our heads. This was because there was about five centimetres between the top of the canoe and the surface of the water and sudden movements could flood the canoe and send us into the river with the crocodiles. Also, we had to be quiet, or the crocodiles would become curious.
I feel like I should point out that I am currently alive, unharmed and dry.
The actual canoe ride was very cool. We saw heaps of kingfishers and our punter was kind enough to point out a couple of mugger crocodiles, the Chitwan equivalent of Australian salties. Fortunately, like everything in Nepal, they were very chilled out and stayed far away from the canoe.
We reached the elephant breeding centre without incident. Unfortunately, like yesterday, all of the mothers were chained up under their shelter. They have some room to move and apparently it’s only when they’re eating or when they’re around visitors, but elephants seem to eat all the time and it’s a really unfortunate method of keeping them from harming people.
However, the youngest babies are left to roam, and they are gorgeous. One cheeky little elephant has developed attention seeking tendencies and despite the best efforts of the staff he continued to leave his mother and mingle amongst the visitors. He was so cute.
We ventured out of the hotel again when the humid afternoon sun had died down. It was time for our elephant jungle safari, and it was just as awesome as the name suggests. Four of us crammed on to a small platform on the back of an elephant- our combined weight was far less than the 700-off kilograms an elephant can carry- and we set off through the jungle. We could see an amazing array of wildlife, including peacocks, deer, wild boar and monkeys, all from the safe height of an elephant’s back. It was amazing.
The final part of the day was a cultural dance concert. The Tharu people are indigenous to the Chitwan area and lived there for years before the Nepalese people worked out how to live in the area without contracting malaria (which was eventually wiped out). They keep their dancing and singing traditions alive through a concert every night.
The highlight had to be the peacock dance. A dancer dressed in an elaborate peacock costume performed a version of the peacock mating dance, complete with a fan of tail feathers. Best dance ever.
Then the audience got to have some fun. The final dance called for audience participation, so half of our group obliged. We had no idea what we were doing, but we copied the local dancers as much as possible and had a good laugh.
We got back on the hotel trucks and they sped us through the town and into the safety of the hotel compound, which meant that there was one famous jungle animal I didn’t get to see.
However, I don’t think I would have enjoyed seeing a wild tiger up close.
We return to Kathmandu tomorrow.
This post was modified from the original entries on my personal blog, Erin’s Written World.