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In the jungle, the mighty jungle

September 21, 2012

After a long wait in Chtiwan, first in the blazing sun, later in an alley with some shade, our van arrived to take us to the jungle. One of the things that we’ve all quickly gotten used to here is that nothing ever goes exactly according to schedule. Landslides and student uprisings aside, there are always issues that slow down activities – cows blocking the road, bad traffic, power outages, and more.
Eventually Chitra hired a van from town and they came to bring us to our lodge. Our boat crew remained waiting for the original bus, which would bring them and the bags we’d left behind in Bandipur.
Chitwan itself is a bustling city with shops and drivers that reminded us all of Kathmandu. It was crowded and loud, with bars and souvenir shops lining the streets. None of us had expected the city and we were all nervous that our diea of the jungle paradise was off.
After making our way though the city traffic, we winded into a more remote area marked by a decaying statue of a tiger. slowly we found ourselves in a village whose roads were also lined with small shops, but felt far more rural. Oncoming traffic changed from the brightly colored trucks we’d grown accustomed to, to elephants loaded down with goods.
We pulled into our jungle lodge and all sighed happily. Small bungalows lined pathways circling a main office and a bar. A big sign announced free wifi (the only reason I’m catching up on email).
We sat down for a lunch of water buffalo steak and a fantastic ginger lentil soup, we learned our schedule for the next couple days. No one really listened beyond, you need to be back here in an hour. All we could think of was a hot shower and getting our now really stinky clothes to the laundry service.
After taking care of those things, we re-grouped and headed out (in oxcarts) for a tour of Chitwan’s village.The local community has lived in the area for hundreds of years and developed immunity to malaria. They raise goats and chickens, and make elephant dung paper products to sell to tourists. We visited a tiny museum devoted to the community to learn a bit more. As we left, we were asked to sign up for their email mailing list – a bizarrely modern twist on the day. Outside, we joined a group of Nepali children playing tag. Many rounds later, we headed back to the lodge for a traditional dance performance, dinner, and another night of card and good natured teasing.
This morning we had our much anticipated elephant safari. After a very early breakfast we headed out to meet our elephants. The nine of us took three elephants, three on each. We climbed up a platform and onto the elephant from the back. Once we were all loaded on our elephant drive tapped Lady (our elephant) on the ears with his feet and we were off.
For a couple hours we sauntered through long grasses and muddy streams. We saw several deer and beautiful birds, but alas no rhinos or tigers. Our three elephants followed different paths and we were only periodically able to see our companions through the bushes. After a long period of peering into the woods we heard a sitar and Hindi singing. We all turned expectantly in the direction it came and the drive of Alyson, Gary, and Martin’s elephant answering his cell phone.
After the ride and a break to feel the elephants, we came back to the hotel for a brief break before heading out to the elephant bathing center. This was my least favorite thing so far. The elephants were in the river and tourists could sit on their back. The elephant handler would call some commands and the beast would spray water from its trunk drenching the tourist. It felt created for us, and disrespectful.
After lunch, we headed out once more for a walking tour of the jungle. Before we left the jungle guide filled us in on the safety rules should we encounter rhino, sloth bears, elephants, tigers, or leopards. “Wait!” shouted Adam, “lets go through those again – slowly.” For a rhino you run in a zigzag until you find a tree to hide behind. For a sloth bear we gather in a group and make a large noise, for an elephant just run, and for the wild cats – stare them down. And off we went.
First we took a rickety canoe ride in croc infested waters. It was short, but quite terrifying. Then we walked for more than an hour over a long, muddy path. None of us had expected the trail to be as hard or as slippery. Jamal took his flip flops off and navigated the path barefoot. I, not unsurprisingly, was the first to land on my bottom, and Fiona collected our first leech. The trail ended at an elephant breeding facility which was marked by a billboard depicting copulating elephants. We learned a bit about the face of Indian elephants and headed back for more showers and dinner.
I helped myself to a bit of Emma’s shampoo and conditioner (my all in one bar is great, but limited). All night I haven’t been able to stop touching my hair. Its clean!
Surprisingly to me, Chitwan is not a place I’d come back to, although I’m thrilled to be here now. I love the elephants in the street, but the entire place feels a bit to built for the visitors than other parts of the country. Tomorrow we are off to Pohkera, a town which caters to trekker heading out for Annapurna. Then of course, we do what I’ve been dreading all along – begin our trek!

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  1. colleen permalink

    But did you Name your elephant? πŸ™‚ Any high-heel photos with you and your Pachiderm? XOXOXO Go get that mountain!

    • she came with a name. We couldn’t remember it last night (although we do remember every round of would you rather…). It was either Lady something or Lucky something. I’m calling her Lucky Lady, which is ironic she has no tail – her mom sat on it when she was a baby!

  2. Tiffany permalink

    Loving that despite “Landslides and student uprisings aside, there are always issues that slow down activities – cows blocking the road, bad traffic, power outages” there is now WiFi available in some of these places! How small the world has become. I’m really enjoying getting these blog alerts. I really feel as though I’m there with you. But without the sun burn, broken toe or leeches πŸ˜‰ xxx

  3. esme permalink

    You probably haven’t been this dirty since (I was going to say something about hanging out in New York bars in the ’90s, but I’ll wait for that) you were at sleep-away camp! How exciting to get tips on how to handle charging wildlife before you take a walk through the jungle. Don’t they know you’re from New York? You know from charging wildlife. (By the way, too funny in an earlier posting about the New Jersey native pretending he was from the City! Love it!) Love ya!

  4. Amanda permalink

    I’m obviously following your journey a bit late, Kathleen, but I’m completely enthralled! Your mention if the elephant dung paper reminds me of when we bought bookmarks made of it at the Appleton paper museum…your adventures are far from that now! How neat to think of how they traveled

    • Hey girlie! Its true that Chitwan, Nepal is a long way from Appleton, Wisconsin, but I was totally thinking of you and that day while we were there. My favorite tour day of all time.

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