Days 92 to 93 - Chitwan National Park
Trip Start Jan 10, 2011
221Trip End Jan 08, 2012
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Where I stayed
Jungle Adventure Hotel
On arrival we enjoyed a tasty vegetarian lunch and settled into our cabin. The room was basic, reminiscent of a cottage bunky or camp section cabin, though was a bit tired. It had a washroom and shower en suite, a bird living in our roof (on the other side of the hand woven thatch panel) and a pink bug net that despite the gloomy appearance of the room reminded both of us of a young girls dreams of being a princess – a humorous juxtaposition of images.
With one of the guides, we toured the stable that houses the elephants used by the Nepali military to patrol the park for poachers as well as taking census on the wildlife. These Asian elephants have smaller ears than their African counterparts, hollow tusks and are slightly more bent forward at the head/trunk. There were a couple of females as well as a male with huge white tusks gleaming even in the late day sun.
Getting up close to these massive beasts, it was immediately evident that they have intelligence and emotional depth to match their physical stature. After receiving permission (of course!), Eli was able to approach a female, hold onto its floppy ears, feel the course texture of its skin under sparse 5cm black hairs and observe the tensile dexterity of its trunk. Being eye to eye with such a powerful creature was captivating to the point of almost being intoxicating, and after a few minutes Eli withdrew to a safer distance. Mia enjoyed sticking out her hand and having the elephant 'sniff’ her hand for food – what a marvellous adaptation!
At first blush, these pachyderms presented a depressing portrait of exploitation: front legs chained together and then chained to a post glumly munching on some of the 2000kg of greenery each consumes in a day. However, later seeing these elephants taken out for their daily romps and grazing in the jungle provided a distinctly different perspective. At times the elephants were wacked rather sharply with a stick by the ‘drivers’. However, this didn’t seem out of line with disciplining a canine or moving along some stubborn cattle.
After a dinner of ‘traditional Nepali food’ – for some visitors this was probably their only taste of the Nepali staple Daal Baht – we went to a local cultural presentation. We were admittedly sceptical and pleased to enjoy the demonstration of dancing and chanting which was performed exclusively by young men (including a courting dance with the ‘prey’ in drag). The local culture was steeped in tradition and pride of their heritage.
The local theatre hall was jammed with over 200 people, mostly Nepali tourists visiting the area for the celebration of the Nepali New Year for 2068. We gathered sort of Akin to a Niagara Falls for Ontarians.
Up early we boarded a long dug out canoe with 3 other foreigners and our guides and set off down the shallow river with the boat ‘captain’ in the stern ‘poling’ his way down river in lieu of paddling. Along the way we got just a little wet from some very small rapids, saw some birds as well as a fresh water crocodile. This type of crocodile is known as a ‘fish eater’, it’s evidently very fast and has changed little over the past thousands of years. Mia snapped a great shot of the reptile which was probably 5 or 6 feet long. We did not see any of the more common ‘meat eater’ croc which has a shorter snout and we confirmed will and has attacked humans.
Exiting the canoe, we set off with our party of 4, our guide in the lead followed by Eli & Mia and another junior guide in the rear. Eli observed the guides periodically checking behind them looking for anything that may be following us…
Within minutes of landing we stepped over a massive mound of steaming dung the guide excitedly proclaimed to be Rhino. We followed the trail and turned a corner to see the hindquarters of a giant quadruped dinosaur disappearing into the foliage merely 10 meters ahead of us! We scampered down an embankment and looped around the Rhino to the river bed where we tailed the giant male to a watering hole. The Rhino knew we were there but with poor eyesight was content to resume his drink and bath while we gazed in awe at the 2 ton (roughly 2000kg) Rhino from higher ground on the bluff, only 15 meters away. After staring at the Rhino, the sounds of the jungle emerged from our observant silence and we gleefully walked back up river noting deer, birds, monkeys and ubiquitous red cotton bugs.
After we spent the heat of the day lounging in the shade successfully moving as little as possible we met up for our elephant safari. We were paired with a nice Australian couple who coincidentally both had Canadian fathers. The perch atop the elephant was surprisingly comfortable and a very interesting way to traverse the forest style jungle, trickling streams on the flood plains and the uneven ground of the grasslands. Branches were cooperatively held and moved with hands and feet while we fervently wiped spider webs from our hair.
Through the high grasses (up to 3m high!) we saw a variety of tiger food – plain and spotted deer – including a skull and miscellaneous bones littered about, though no actual tiger. It was an enjoyable type of scary to think about walking alone in the towering grass with a giant kitty cat slinking just out conscious sensory range stalking you…!
In the forest, not very far from settlement, the elephant drivers collected around a pile of leaves at the base of a tree. A driver urged his elephant to eat and it began investigating the branches near the forest floor. When it realized (smell vs sight?) it recoiled, stepped away and had a look in its eye that closely approximated ‘WTF’. Closer inspection revealed the rock python to have recently consumed a small animal (maybe a goat) and it was resting with its engorged body stretched as tight as a latex glove around a soccer ball sized area of its midsection. It was tough to tell but the snake was probably 10 feet in length.
Each night we would congregate by the river bank (along with the rest of the tourist set – though it didn’t seem that bad…) to watch the sun set. It was very pleasant and we enjoyed the atmosphere, the beer and the thoughts of friends and family seeing the same sun set on their days back home.
Our last outdoor experience was a bit anticlimactic. We were met for our bird watching walk by a bleary eyed young man who if not hung-over in the very least ‘smelled like a brewery’. The park is home to over 500 species of birds. We saw many of them including: kingfisher, crane, egret, stork, Siberian duck, peacock (with its varied calls – one of which sounds like a wounded cat!) and many others.
We left Chitwan a little disappointed at not seeing a Tiger but thrilled to have seen the Single Horned Grey Rhino and to have had such an intimate encounter with the Asian Elephant. The drive back to Kathmandu took over 4 hours and we were glad we chose to hire a driver and expedite the trip.