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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
- 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.
There are two species of crocodiles in the region.
Morning Canoe Ride down the Bhude Rapti River
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.
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.
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.
The babies are so darn cute!!!
Shortly after we arrived, they started preparing the elephants for their graze in the jungle.
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.
Various modes of transportation in the town of Sauraha
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.
We saw animals…….
Although there were several elephants at the loading area, when we started walking through the jungle, we were with only one other group.
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.
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.
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!!!
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….