Nepal – Chitwan National Park

This region of approximately 580 sq miles, has been a national park since 1973 and since 1984, a Unesco World Heritage site.  Prior to 1973, it was protected as a hunting reserve by King Mahendra.  According to Lonely Planet, this hunting reserve status protected more animals than were actually killed.  In the holy Hindu dialect of Sanskrit, “Chita” means heart and “wan” is jungle so Chitwan is translated as “heart of the jungle.”

The Tharu people are the indigenous group to this region and until the 1950s they were the only inhabitants in small villages.  They were able to survive in this region because of a resistance to malaria.  It was about 1954 when malaria education was introduced that peasants from surrounding areas, looking for land to farm, came into the Chitwan Valley.

Again, it was man’s actions that caused the severe decline of the tiger and rhino population.  By 1960, there were as few as 100 rhinos and 20 tigers! Fortunately, King Mahendra upon hearing this news, took action.  22,000 peasants were removed from the newly established park boundaries and army patrols were introduced to stop the poaching of the animals.  Slowly, the animal population started to increase.

During the Nepali civil war (1996-2006) there was another drop in the population due to poachers selling rhino and tiger parts to people in China and Tibet.  This has since been brought under control thanks to the consistent army patrols and significant arrest of the poachers.  As of 2015, the rhinoceros count was at 645 and according to the World Wildlife Federation count in 2009, there were 120 tigers.   Kudos to the Nepali government for their diligence in protecting their valuable animals!

As I stated in my previous post, we had spent 6 1/2 hard hours of riding to get to this jungle park.  Our lodging was at the Hotel Parkland near the village of Sauraha, which our guide said was more for the tourist than for the locals.  Sauraha was most definitely a tourist stop with souvenir shops, cafes, restaurants and hotels.  The grounds of Hotel Parkland were very welcoming after such an arduous journey.

Hotel Parkland, Chitwan

Hotel Parkland from our balcony.

The dahlias were beautiful.

We were not as enthusiastic about our rooms, though.  We are not “5 star” kind of people but we do appreciate rooms that are maintained well.  Fortunately, our room was clean but the towels and bedding just needed updating.  They were well-worn, frayed and discolored.  It was time to buy new ones.  The room needed some general maintenance -broken light fixtures should be replaced as well as broken hooks.

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Like I mentioned, the room was very clean but just needed to be updated and we would have been extremely happy with it.

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Had to share this huge lock with you!  We didn’t have to worry about anyone entering our room with that lock on it!!!!

After a couple of hours of resting, we were introduced to our jungle guide, Hari who would be our guide for our stay at Hotel Parkland.  Our first tour was an easy walk down to the river where we enjoyed the sunset.

Native Tharu House

Not far from our hotel is this traditional home of a Tharu, a person who is native to this region.  The house is made out of grass, mud, dung and clay.  They grow rice, corn and lentils, hunt wild boar, rabbits and deer and go fishing in the nearby river.

Rice stalks to feel elephants

Almost all the houses in this area had a stack of rice straw.  It is used to feed the domesticated elephants, cows and water buffalos.

Next, Hari took us to the elephant stables.  For David and me, this was very disturbing to see the elephants chained like this.  This elephant below is a male elephant and the whole time we were there, he kept rattling his chains with his trunk.

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Male Asian elephant

Female Asian with trainer

This is a female Asian elephant and her mahout – trainer.  The mahouts seemed to stay with their elephants continuously.  Whenever we passed an elephant, most likely, the trainer was sitting with it.

Resting her back leg

Resting her back leg!

In the stable area, there were about 8 or 10 elephants.  Hari explained that these elephants were kept at the stables because the males were especially aggressive and had been known to kill villagers and other animals/elephants.

I guess Hari could sense our discomfort/dislike of this situation because he explained that elephants are used for work in the jungle, like we use our domesticated horses and cattle.  True, but we don’t have to keep our domesticated animals chained.

The elephants are allowed to graze, off their chains, for several hours twice a day.  That was helpful to know.  Also, I read that a couple of international wildlife organizations are working closely with the trainers to help them understand the psychology of elephants and to teach them a more gentler way of training them.

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This was the female Asian elephant, we had seen earlier, out for an afternoon stroll.  She was trained well enough that she could be released and she would return on her own.

There was a sign at the Elephant Breeding Area, which we visited the next day, that explained the various jobs the elephants were used for.  Here are a few of the chores that were on the list:

  • Patrolling the National Park
  • Counting and monitoring the wild animals
  • Helping to search and treat injured wild animals
  • Relocating animals
  • Transporting park staff through the jungle
  • Promoting eco-tourism and wildlife viewing…..I have issues with this one that I will comment on later in this posting
  • Participating in religious ceremonies
  • Research
  • Chasing wild elephants from villages
  • Chasing displaced rhinos from croplands
  • Transporting various goods to inaccessible areas

I guess it justifies the use of the elephants as domestic animals.  I just wish they didn’t have to chain them.  Actually, there was a tourist who visited the stables and felt so strongly about it that she donated $100,000 for an electric fence to be installed around the stable area so the elephants could walk freely.  It turned out to be a waste of money as the elephants destroyed the fence and had to be put back on the chains.

From the elephant stable, we walked down to the Bhude Rapti river. Buddhi Rapati River

Wild boar routing for food

The dead grass area is where wild boar were digging for food.

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I have never seen a peacock in the wild!  Here is my first one!

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A colony of monkeys…they were quite a distance away.  I had to really zoom to get this picture of them.

There are two species of crocodiles in the region.

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This big guy is a mugger crocodile.

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The other crocodile species is the gharial.  I believe these two crocodiles might be gharial.  They have a long, narrow snout and a more narrow body than the mugger.  These were really the only two crocodiles that I saw that could be gharials.  All the other ones we saw were definitely muggers.

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Dugout canoes used as transportation on the river.

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A peaceful ending to a long but lovely day!

Morning Canoe Ride down the Bhude Rapti RiverIMG_5088

Our first activity for the day was a morning canoe ride in a dugout boat down the Rapti River.  Each boat was made from a Kapok or Chap tree that had been hollowed out.  They were tippy so you had to be careful getting in and out of them.  The navigator of the boat was standing in the back and used a long pole to steer with.

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A Kapok Tree

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We got in one at a time and turned the little seat to sit in.  When we got out, the first person got up, turned his seat to one side and stepped out.  The next person would do the same and so on until everyone was out of the boat.

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It was really peaceful on the river that early in the morning.  Nature was all around…birds were singing and fish were jumping in the water.  In a distance, you could hear the cawing of the peacock.

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Swallow nest on the river bank.

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Crested Serpent Eagle

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This is a hole that a crocodile will go into to escape the heat of the day.

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A mugger crocodile.  There were many crocs on the shoreline, possibly laying eggs as Hari said that springtime is the time of year they lay eggs.

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Asian Openbill Stork

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A white-throated kingfisher – my new favorite bird!!!  His colors are beautiful!

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Returning from their trip downstream.

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After the boat ride, we went on another jungle walk.  I was hoping we might see a wild animal…a rhino or wild boar would have been exciting.  That said, all our guides had were sticks to protect us should one of the animals decide to charge!  We didn’t see anything, though.

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This tree had orchid plants attached to it.  I can only imagine how pretty it is when they are blooming.

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A close-up of the orchid plant.

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Our guide, Hari, next to a termite nest.  The nest is made from the water that the termites move with their mouths and mix it with dirt to make mud.  Termites are food for sloth bears that live in the jungle.  What fun it would have been to see a sloth bear!

 I am sharing these photos to give you an idea of the jungle vegetation.

We may not have seen the actual live animal but we did see proof that they had been in the area.

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Rhino scat

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Elephant scat

I was excited to see proof of animals and I clicked the pictures of the different scat….the next scat we came across was rather flat and round.  I asked Hari what it was…it was cow scat!!!  I should have taken a picture of it anyway….we all had a good laugh over that one!

The Elephant Breeding Center

This center was established in 1985 to protect the endangered elephants.  Many of the elephants born at the center are used for the elephant safaris offered to the tourist as well as helping with research of other jungle animals.

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This is where the elephants are stabled at the breeding center.  The babies run loose, while the mothers are chained.  According to my guide book, this is for the tourist safety as well as the elephant’s safety.  Again, it bothered me to see these animals tethered but was grateful to learn that they get to spend most of the day – from about 10:30 to 3:30 grazing in the jungle.

The babies are so darn cute!!!IMG_5141IMG_5144

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This is where the mahouts, trainers for the elephants, live.  The wooden structure to the left is the kitchen.

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This is “kruchiis” that are prepared by the mahouts for the elephants to eat.  It is a mixture of rice, molasses and salt wrapped in grass or rice straw.

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I think it would be a full-time job making enough kuchiis to keep the elephants fed!

Shortly after we arrived, they started preparing the elephants for their graze in the jungle.

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First, they get the elephant to lay down so they can clean the dust off of them.  Elephants spray themselves with dust to keep mosquitos at bay.

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Who is going to get the kuchiis – mom or baby?

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Once the elephant has been cleaned off, the bridle is put on and the chain is removed.

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And….they are off!

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Modern day technology even while riding an elephant…notice the mahout talking on a cell phone.

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This elephant and trainer were close to the trainer on the cell phone.  I believe the youngster, to the right, was the offspring in the previous photo who had come back to play.

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Getting their “wild oats” out of them!

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As we were leaving the breeding center, we saw this herd of water buffalos.

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More water buffalos crossing the river.

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The bridge for us to cross the river.

Elephant Bath Time

From the Elephant Breeding Center, we rode a truck back to Sauraha where we went to the river to see the elephants get their baths.  It was rather commercialized as tourist could pay money to sit on the elephant and get sprayed with a trunkful of water.  That said, they did seem to enjoy getting cooled off in the river.

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“Can you get a little more to the left?”

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One…two…and….

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Three!!!!

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Just a side note…this enormous marijuana plant was just growing near the path we walked to the river to see the elephants bathing.  There were a couple of others that we had seen as well as this one just growing wild.

Various modes of transportation in the town of Sauraha

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Motorcycles, cars and elephants, oh my!!!

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Horse and buggy…..

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This tricycle looks very practical.

Elephant Safari

I had my reservations about going on an elephant safari and discussed it in length with our guide, Hari.  He said that it was completely up to David and me and he offered us an alternative tour of a jeep safari.  The jeep safari would be an all-day event, though.  The elephant safari was only a couple of hours.  In South Africa, I have been on jeep safaris and felt that two hours of that was enough…..a full day, would just be too much.

Again, Hari stressed that using elephants was no different than using a horse….and we ride horses don’t we?  I haven’t ridden a horse for many, many years and refuse to ride a horse-drawn carriage.  I will be the first to admit that it is my warped thinking about animals. Also, Hari said that by going on the safari, we would be helping to support a local family as well.  David and I were hesitant but we decided to go on the elephant safari.

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If I had reservations before, I definitely had more reservations upon arriving and seeing all of the elephants waiting for us.

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Four people ride on a wooden platform, a howdah and the trainer rides up front.

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We walked through a trail in the jungle.  Chances of seeing wildlife is better on an elephant than in a jeep or walking because there is less noise and the elephant mask the scent of the humans.

We saw animals…….

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This is a Chital Deer

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This herd of deer was unfazed by the many elephants walking past them.

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I believe that this is a rhesus macaque monkey.

Kingfisher

I got another great photo of a white-throated kingfisher.

Although there were several elephants at the loading area, when we started walking through the jungle, we were with only one other group.

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The other group on their elephant.

It wasn’t the most comfortable ride….the elephant lumbers back and forth.  It was difficult not to bump into the person next to me.  It was even more challenging to take an animal photo that wasn’t blurry.

With just the two of the elephants, it was kind of peaceful.  All that changed when we met up with the other elephants and their riders at the river.  The rest of the safari was spent with all of the elephants.  At one point, I counted 13 with all of their riders.  Chances of seeing wildlife dwindled quickly.  The other tourist weren’t interested in seeing animals.  I think they were more into just riding an elephant.  Heck, one of the ladies had a bag full of snacks and was eating chips as she rode along.  IMG_5231

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It was fun watching the elephants enjoying the water.

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This is a blurry photo – my apologies – but I wanted to share this beautiful deer with you.

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After we got back, we bought bananas to give to our elephant to thank her for taking us on the ride.

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The bananas were eaten and I said my final good-byes and thanks to her.  I asked my guardian angels to bless and watch over her as well.   I only wish I could take her and all of the elephants out of the existence that they are doomed to.

I learned long ago “never to say never”….heck, when I left Maine, after graduating from high school, I was never coming back….guess where I live now?  Maine!  Plus, I was never, ever getting married….29 years into my marriage to David, I can honestly say it was the best decision of my life and the best day of my life when I said “I do.”

So, what I am about to share with you I do not say lightly….but, I can honestly say that I will never, ever ride an elephant or a camel ever again.  I didn’t enjoy the experience but felt so sorry for our elephant as the trainer made her break large, downed trees that were on the path or having her struggle up the muddy bank of the river, after she had her drink of water, all with us on her back.

I was hoping to see a rhino or even a tiger, even though I knew it was a slim chance of seeing a tiger.  Once we connected with all of the other tourist and they were making so much noise, I knew that we wouldn’t have a chance of seeing anything.  We did see another herd of deer and a few more monkeys but I felt like I was in an animal park not the wilds of a jungle.

I hope that by sharing my experience, that you might pause and question if you really want to support this tourist activity.  The decision is yours but I certainly would not encourage you go on an elephant safari.

Tharu Cultural Center

Our full, full day of activities ended by walking from the hotel to the Tharu Cultural Center in the nearby town of Sauraha.  It is definitely very touristy but it was a fun way to spend our last evening learning more about the culture of the Tharu people.

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Several folk dances were preformed by men and women in native costumes.  A single drummer would keep a beat and in this dance, the women used sticks to enhance the beat.

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This dance required lots of practice…the men would hit their sticks with the person in front of them and those behind them, all while dancing.

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When someone dies in the Hindu religion, the family mourns for 13 days.  This dance is performed at the end of the mourning period to help the family feel joyous again.  It is performed by a man dressed as a woman in a long skirt.

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This was a cute dance in a peacock costume.  During the dance, the tail feathers are closed and at the end, the tail feathers are opened and the peacock reaches into a basket of flowers and gives a rose to someone in the audience.

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There is a fire dance.

The last dance, the audience is invited to join the performers on the stage.  Of course, I went up but only after quite a few people were on the stage.  Can you find me in the crowd?  Don’t look for David….he would never get up and dance!!!IMG_5270

It was a full day of activities to explore the Chitwan Jungle area.  Our guide Hari was very good.  I would have to say my favorite part of the day was the morning dugout canoe ride.

The next day, we were in the car traveling to the lake region of Pokhara.  I am excited about sharing that part of our trip as it was in Pokhara that I fell in love with Nepal.

In closing, I wish you blessings….

2 thoughts on “Nepal – Chitwan National Park

    • Thank you for the book recommendation, Lori. Another friend had recommended that I read it. I just ordered it and Love, Life and Elephants by Daphne Sheldrick. I ordered the books as I fear my eyes are “fried” from all the time on the electronic equipment this trip. It will be nice to hold a book instead of my Kindle for a change! It was totally heartbreaking to see them in chains and I do hope that in the near future the locals will have a better understanding of the psychology of the elephants and the training will be more gentler and with less force and chains. Thank you, again.

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