AsiaNepalChitwan

Day 192: Jungle Ride

Chitwan Travel Blog

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The best way to visit the Chitwan jungle is by elephant

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.

Our elephants arriving
The elephant is controlled by voice commands and kicks behind the ears for acceleration and steering. Occasionally the elephant is whacked on the head with a stick. Not the most sophisticated way of treating an animal, but it is all relatively harmless - elephants have a thick skull.

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.
The safari was not the quiet, relaxing experience I had envisaged


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.
Rhino and its young, surrounded by elephants and its tourists
A good decision, I concluded, since the hundreds of tourists taking such a tour each day certainly leave their mark. Plastic bags are discarded carelessly by the (mostly Indian) tourists and even the elephant handlers are pretty careless when it comes to preservation. One mahout spotted a camera bag on the ground. His elephant picked it up with its trunk and handed it (err, trunked it?) to the mahout. When no-one claimed the camera bag the mahout simply threw it back in the bushes.

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.
Rhino and its young
A pity, because I had been quite looking forward to this. I'd seen pictures of it and it looked absolutely amazing.

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.
crocodile
All these were of the carnivorous variety (mainly interested in eating French, according to our guide). Unfortunately we didn't see any 'gharials', the crocodile species unique to Chitwan.

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.
Tiger paw prints - the closest we came to spotting one


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.
baby elephant at the breeding centre
Habitat loss, poaching and even global warming have caused a steep decline in the population, further hampered by the species' naturally poor reproduction skills.

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...

jethanad says:
Good review
Posted on: Apr 14, 2015
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The best way to visit the Chitwan …
The best way to visit the Chitwan…
Our elephants arriving
Our elephants arriving
The safari was not the quiet, rela…
The safari was not the quiet, rel…
Rhino and its young, surrounded by…
Rhino and its young, surrounded b…
Rhino and its young
Rhino and its young
crocodile
crocodile
Tiger paw prints - the closest we …
Tiger paw prints - the closest we…
baby elephant at the breeding cent…
baby elephant at the breeding cen…
Big snail outside my cabin in the …
Big snail outside my cabin in the…
Getting ready for the elephant rid…
Getting ready for the elephant ri…
boarding my elephant
boarding my elephant
Elephant ride
Elephant ride
Martin boarding his elephant
Martin boarding his elephant
Me on my elephant
Me on my elephant
Hundreds of tourists atop dozens o…
Hundreds of tourists atop dozens …
Amazingly enough, we did spot a rh…
Amazingly enough, we did spot a r…
wildlife spotting
wildlife spotting
Asian one-horned rhinoceros
Asian one-horned rhinoceros
Young rhino
Young rhino
Asian rhino
Asian rhino
disembarking my elephant
disembarking my elephant
Very traditional Nepali lunch: spa…
Very traditional Nepali lunch: sp…
River trip
River trip
kingfisher
kingfisher
kingfisher
kingfisher
our canoe leaving us stranded in…
our canoe leaving us 'stranded' i…
Our jungle guide
Our jungle guide
Jungle walk
Jungle walk
nicely coloured mushrooms in the j…
nicely coloured mushrooms in the …
the only wildlife we saw: huge ter…
the only wildlife we saw: huge te…
termite mount
termite mount
small lake in the jungle
small lake in the jungle
small lake
small lake
elephant breeding centre
elephant breeding centre
beautiful sunset with the Himalaya…
beautiful sunset with the Himalay…
elephant breeding centre - the fir…
elephant breeding centre - the fi…
Beautiful sunset
Beautiful sunset
beautiful sunset with the Himalaya…
beautiful sunset with the Himalay…
Not sure what cracked me up more: …
Not sure what cracked me up more:…
Chitwan
photo by: sandra_s021