Day 192: Jungle Ride
Chitwan Travel Blog› entry 235 of 260 › view all entries
Thanks to the people I met here and/or travelled with: Marco & Martin (Germany), Anna & Amelie (France)
After breakfast we were picked up for our safari tour. One of the special things about a safari in the Chitwan National Park is that you do it on elephant back. A new experience for me, I'd never ridden an elephant before.
I must say, riding an elephant surely sounds a lot more romantic than it is. Sitting on a tiny howdah (wooden riding platform) with three others rocking to all sides as the elephant walks with its heavy, rolling gait, is not particularly comfortable. But it sure is fun though!
An elephant is 'steered' by a Mahout, who handles the elephant throughout its life, looking after all the aspects of the elephant's captive life.
Apart from simple moving, the elephants have also been trained to do hard labour like clearing pathways in the thick jungle or lifting heavy items, or picking up items tourists (or the mahout) have dropped.
I shared my elephant with an Indian family or four (mother, father and two young kids) who were so noisy that I feared any animal we might encounter would be long gone before we'd even come close. I'm pretty sure it diminished our chances of spotting any tigers or leopards, but I was quite thrilled that we did spot a female Asian one-horned rhino with her young.
Getting to the rhino involved crashing through the thick growth of the jungle, with a pack of ten or fifteen elephants with noisy tourists. Not quite how I envisaged a safari. The rhino was quite startled too and when the circle of elephants drew a little too close it actually charged. Obviously it was just a warning shot, but the elephant that had come too close did retreat and the rhino and its young 'escaped'.
The second time it stopped the circle of elephants was much wider, leaving more room and several gaps as to not come across as threatening. Still, I can't fully approve of this tactic. This wasn't so much a wildlife spotting safari as it was a hunt.
Our safari was confined to what they call the 'buffer forest', not the actual national park itself.
Unfortunately the next part of the program was not longer possible. It used to be possible to watch the daily elephant bathing and even join in on the fun. Unfortunately the combination of twenty-odd elephants and about as many tourists in the water proved to be rather accident prone and after one westerner too many had been crushed by a 5 tonne jumbo the authorities had stopped this activity.
We had a few hours for ourselves until the next activity started, which I spent reading in the lazy chair in front of my cabin. Now this was starting to feel like a proper vacation.
At 14:30 our group was expanded with yet another French girl and two guides, and the eight of us walked the twenty minutes to one of the many unnamed rivers that flow into the Rapti river, which forms the border of the Chitwan National Park. Here we got into a traditional dugout canoe for a 30-minute leisure float on the river. The main reason for this trip was to spot the two species of crocodile that inhabit the park. Despite the fact that there wasn't much sun and thus no crocodiles lay basking on the banks, we did see quite a few floating in the river, with just the eyes and nose protruding above the waterline.
Besides the crocodiles we spotted several birds. I was particularly happy to finally see a colourful kingfisher up close. I did rather miss my zoom lens for this occasion though.
After the canoe trip we went for a walk in the jungle. This started with a little safety briefing from our guide. Chitwan is home to all sorts of cuddly creatures such as tigers, leopards, rhinos, wild elephants and sloth bears. The way to deal with them varies for each animal. Rhinos are best escaped from by running zigzag, or climbing a tree, tigers on the other hand prefer you maintain eye contact and slowly back up, while sloth bears can be scared off by standing still in a group.
Having said that, we didn't encounter any of these animals. You'd have to be very lucky to encounter any wild animals on a two-hour walk through the jungle. Rhinos are sometimes encountered, but tigers and the likes are only seen on walks of two days or longer, despite the fact that Chitwan has about three times the number of tigers as Ranthambhore in India. Nevertheless it was a very nice walk through the thick of the jungle. This is Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book jungle, which is surprisingly different from the jungle in South America or Africa.
We ended our walk with a visit to the Elephant breeding centre, a very successful breeding and training centre for domesticated elephants. While it may seem sad and even cruel that over 35% of the world's population of Asian elephants live in captivity, it might actually be the key to the survival of the species.
It was a long walk back to the lodge (for some reason our guide refused to arrange a pick-up for us) and by the time I got back to my cabin I was absolutely wasted. I hadn't particularly slept much since, well, Lukla really. So after dinner I retreated to my cabin to spend the evening reading my book, but it wasn't before long that I was reading the book with me eyes closed...