Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Chitwan National Park and Elephant Riding!

I just got back from Chitwan, a National Park about 7 hours south of Kathmandu, and let me just say that I finally got to ride elephants!! We journeyed down there by private bus early on Saturday morning and arrived at around 1230pm just before lunch. We stayed at a resort called Chitwan Jungle Adventures which was right next to the river and across from the National park. Once we had settled in to our respective cabin's (ours was nothing more than servants quarters with a concrete bathroom and a cockroach friend :) we then headed on our first look at the resort and surrounding area. We were taken by our fantastic and enthusiastic guide to see where the elephants are kept and bred. Since it was later in the afternoon, at this point, we were able to view a baby (5 years old and huge) elephant eating, her name was Sweetie and I think I took about 20 pictures out of pure excitement. At this resort, like many others in the Chitwan area, they breed elephants because it is too dangerous to take wild elephants and use them for riding etc. We went over to the place where they keep most of the male elephants and there were about 15 full grown male Asian elephants chained to their respective shelters resting from a days work.
The next morning we woke up early and prepared to depart on our Jungle adventure. I was wearing my 'jungle outfit' with long sleeved cotton white shirt and army green capris when our guide told me to change because I might be charged by a Rhino. I had no idea that Rhino's didn't like the color white and I didn't bring another long sleeved shirt so I had to borrow Bri's purple one. Who knew Rhino's were colour orientated. Once that was all settled we got into boats and were taken across the river in the Jungle part of the National Park. When we first entered we saw some monkeys, the same ones that are at a Monkey Temple in Kathmandu. We walked for about 1 hour before we stopped at a small watering hole, typically visited by Rhino's. I realized then that I was being attacked by leeches in my shoes, which wasn't really all that pleasant, but I tore the ones I saw off me and continued walking. We hadn't seen a Rhino yet (as promised), so we carried on through the jungle. It was incredibly peaceful and green in the parts of Chitwan we adventured to. For most of the walk we were all silent attempting not to scare away the animals, however with 15 people tromping through the bush the animals could probably hear us coming and run away.
After the hike had finished we prepared for our next adventure, which was bathing elephants. We were late for our turn so our guide told us (myself and three other volunteers) to jump in the water and climb on a kneeling elephant. I don't think I had time to process what was about to happen but I climbed on the elephant's back and hoped for the best. It was such an amazing feeling to be on top of this huge 8 foot high creature. There were four of us on at one time and the elephant was told by his guide to shake from side to side in attempts to throw us off him. I was unaware of what was going on so I held on for dear life and screamed as I was finally thrown into the water. After I had regained my balance I was told to climb back on, as if I hadn't had enough the first time, and do it again. The elephant was so well trained and he did exactly what he was told, but if he got out of order, like some do, his trainer would yell and hit him with a large metal pole. That was an aspect of riding elephants that I didn't enjoy watching. It is really the only way that the trainers can gain full control over the elephant, even if it made the elephant bleed in some cases.
After everyone was nice and wet from the bathing we all dried off and got ready for our next elephant encounter, which was a Jungle ride on an elephant. We were grouped off into four and walked up a staircase to mount the elephant. Off we went into the Jungle along with about 15 other elephants carrying tourists. We were very lucky to come across three grazing Rhino's when we entered the park. It was amazing to see wild Rhino's, which honestly looked fake, just hanging out eating grass as about 20 elephants surrounded them while tourists took pictures. Our journey lasted about 2 hours and by the end I was sore from holding on so tightly.
The elephants were so peaceful and almost never acted out from what they are told to do. It was truly amazing to be on top of an elephant riding through the Jungle, and we were so lucky to have the opportunity to do so.
As a side note, I just realized that some people have been commenting on my posts and that I needed to 'publish' the comments to see them. I'm sorry if I didn't see them before, I know how to do it now and I will start responding. Thanks for reading :)

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