During the weeks I have been away I’ve had some pretty amazing experiences but nothing compares to the day I now call ‘elephant day’. It was so called because all of our activities focused around elephants. Starting with elephant bath time!
Every day, at about 11, the working elephants trundle down to the Rapti River for bathtime with their keepers. Its here that tourists can jump in the river and ‘assist’ with bath time – for a few rupees of course. Basically there is no bathing done but just lots of splashing an squealing. In two’s you can jump up on an elephants back and sit on her while she showers you with water from her trunk. Ours was called Shama and was about eight years old. Jumping up on her was a bit of a mission and once we were there it was kind of scary but also kind of fun. It was a hot day so it was refreshing to be in the river splashing around but it was also a little disconcerting. The elephants are prodded with sticks and yelled instructions to get up, sit down and spray water. A bit like the breeding centre I was a little disappointed that they don’t just do it for fun. As James pointed out though – we might not want to go near and untrained and uncontrolled elephant. It was still so much fun and it was great to finally see an elephant up close, feel their leathery skin and play in the water.
Once the are done splashing for the tourists the keepers get them to lay down in the sand where they grab a rock from the river bed and scrub their skin down. A few of the tourist were allowed to jump in and help with the scrub but when Mish tried to help she got told to go back to her own elephant! We watched them play for a little longer and I was still a bit amazed at these giant animals all standing happily a few metres from me.
The next elephant day adventure was a jungle trek through the national park and nearby community forest. I was glad I wouldn’t be doing the walking myself but as I climbed the platform to get on our elephants back and sat in a tiny platform made of wood I was starting to wish my feet were on the ground. We set off into the jungle and our elephant (whose name I can’t remember or pronounce if I could) seemed to be the lead elephant of about 10 others, atop with other tourists. I soon realised that elephant back isn’t smooth travelling as they plod along but it was really fun to be up high and look down as we wandered along. There were a few hairy moments when we were going up or down hills, into the river and precariously close to trees but mostly our elephant ride was as smooth as it could be. The elephants in our group were so funny, often just dropping to munch on some grass, pull down a tree branch and we cracked up when ours just walked straight over a tree that was in her way just to have it fling back up behind us.
I wasn’t really expecting to see any wildlife because we were such a big bunch of people all together but I soon ate my words when we came across a mother and baby rhino in a field. They just came out of nowhere and were such a surprise that Hamish even commented that they must have been planted there. Our elephant stood still long enough for us to snap a few photos before carrying on around a corner to find a second baby rhino asleep in the tall grass. I expected it to wake up and wander away upon discovering a bunch of elephants and excited people chattering away but it barely battered an eyelid before returning to its snooze. After only seeing the behind of a rhino the day before we were all pretty excited to see not only a whole rhino but three of them! The ride was over way too soon and we had to say goodbye and jump off. Before the next bunch jumped on we had a chance to play with her trunk and give her a pat thank you. I only wish I had bought her a treat! Its pretty hard to top two elephant rides in one day but Chitwan still had a lot in store for us. That afternoon James, Mish and I headed down to the banks of the river and chatted over some beer while watching the sun set. It was another great way to top off the day.
Our final day in Chitwan was a fairly relaxed day. We hired bikes and rode out into the smaller surrounding villages. It was great to get away from the tourist strip and all that comes with it and cycle past corn drying on the street, buying drinks from people who barely speak your language and just saying ‘namaste’ to passing locals without them trying to sell you something. The afternoon was spent shopping and relaxing before another twilight adventure to the river. This time we were joined by an English couple, Derren and Liz, who were volunteers and heard from a local that rhinos often come down to the river for a drink at dusk. We wandered a bit further then the river bank and back in the jungle hoping to get a glimpse. Unfortunately there were no rhinos but there was another spectacular sunset and some nice cold beers. On the ride home we had to swerve an elephant waking in the street and I had one of those moments when you stop and think ‘Wow, is this really my life? Cycling past elephants after a sunset by a river?’.
Sadly, it wasn’t my life for long as our stay had come to an end. Chitwan had been amazing and we were sad to have to leave, not only an unforgettable place but also to Mish and Hamish who were onto their next adventure. Our next stop was back to Pokhara for other exciting experiences.