Chitwan National Park is one of Nepal’s treasures. We had heard about the jungle walks, native dance shows and elephant rides from the moment we entered the country. After our Annapurna hike and yoga ashram, it was our turn to see this jungle reserve for ourselves.
The day before we boarded our bus from the lakeside town of Pokhara, we had dinner with a couple from Bath, England who told us of their recent encounters in Chitwan. Walking on a narrow dirt path through tall, jungle grasses, their four-person group was surprised by a sloth bear. This animal, known for its long claws, was just as shocked by the tourists, who were hidden by the greenery, and lashed out at the guide with a growl. The entire group turned and sprinted as quickly as possible, but then realized that the guide was not with them. They heard his screams for help and returned to find his leg badly gashed, so the English couple wrapped him in their shirts and lifted him out of the jungle track and into a vehicle, rushing him to the hospital. After skin grafting and a few surgeries, the guide will be back to work in three months. On our arrival we heard the story from this guide’s brother, confirming the tale. This whole episode was followed by other crazy stories and we learned that the guides in Chitwan earn “bragging rights” when they survive wild beasts, and love to mention that they “saved tourists from the animals!”
Although Chitwan seems like a tourist destination, it is still a wild place. Not desiring bragging rights of our own, Jason and I decided that we’d stick to the activities where we could see the animals clearly, and most importantly, where they could see us in advance!
We enjoyed a local tribe’s cultural show, rode atop elephants through the jungle, and boated down the river to spot crocodiles and rhinos, but our favorite part of the experience was washing the elephants.
As we waited on the banks of the river, the elephant, who is used by the park to take riders through the jungle, approached us and lay down on the sand. This motion in itself is impressive, because we felt the gentle demeanor of the beast lowering her body for us to climb upon it. Once securely seated on the prickly, tough back, the elephant rose and walked to the river for her bath. What we didn’t realize is that we’d be bathed by the elephant, too! This is where the uproarious laughter began. The elephant sucked up water into its trunk and blasted us with a spray of river water, when least expected. Then she carefully lowered herself onto her back, preparing to be washed. We really could sense this animal’s intelligence and jolly personality as we washed it and played together in the jungle water. To bond with such a humble, massive creature was a truly unique experience.
Many thanks to those who gave us this “Caring for Elephants” gift for our wedding, namely Laurel and Doug Kennedy, Liam and Amanda O’Byrne and Dennis Shifrin and Alexandra Pendrak.