Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Elephant Bathing and Jeep Safari in Chitwan National Park

This is Day 6 of Nepal Travelogue (May 18, 2013)
An Indian Elephant Roaming Around Chitwan's Sauhara Town
Yesterday we had a long day on the road so we slept really tight last night and only woke up when the room attendant warned us that the laziness would cost us the free live show; i.e. Elephant Bathing. So after having brief breakfast we walked to the adjacent river where a herd of tuskers was having open-air wash. It was still very humid out there but the cloud cover and sporadic drizzling kept us safe from melting out.

Elephants are a part of routine life around Chitwan, however, they are not indigenous and instead brought there from India and domesticized. They mainly transport national park rangers in the deep inaccessible jungle maybe because these big creatures move noiselessly, producing less sound than what even barefooted humans would make, and without alarming other animals, or their poachers. Due to their tiptoeing skills these giants are also used commercially for Jungle Safari.

That bathing also appeared rather commercial as mahouts were pursuing spectators for a unique experience; you sit high on the elephant’s back while it fills its trunk with water and then sprinkles that on you. Even watching that was amazing especially for kids. At the same time I felt pity of those animals and their caretakers both of whom did not look in great shape.

Meeting a Nepali Chaudhry and the Solar Technology
For the afternoon, I had already set Jeep Safari, which was part of the excursion package I negotiated with the hotel manager; Chaudhry!

Chaudhry was a soft spoken, rather a lazy character; who was raising his young family on one hand and on the other keeping his business updated through investing in the solar technology. Similar to Pakistan, Nepal has also been facing acute power shortage, which is forcing people to experiment alternative energy sources.

Jeep Safari in Chitwan National Park
As per the plan, we embarked on the much anticipated Jeep Safari around afternoon. It was a group including a licensed jungle guide, a tourist each from Norway and the US and their respective Nepali trek guides. There might be around 10-20 groups in all but not more than 2-3 in one cluster. First we rode the traditional canoe to crossover the same river where elephants were having a bath in the morning. On the other side of the river, a jeep was ready to take us inside the deep jungle.

During this 20km or so ride we could spot one-horn rhinoceros, deer of different kinds, gray langurs, a variety of colorful birds, wild flora and fauna, and the typical jungle silence! The feeling that wild bears and Bengal tigers would be roaming around the same vicinity was spine-chilling, however, we were not lucky enough to meet them! The whole safari lasted for 4 hours barely enough to get an orientation of the wild life and kind of an appetizer for tomorrow’s Elephant Safari.

Cultural Show
In the evening, we attended the Cultural Show showcasing traditional dances with the overwhelming use of sticks and fire.

Mahouts Find Elephant Washing a Good Way to Make Mone
This is How You Have Bath in Nepal!
Elephant Fills its Trunk with Water
It Can Hold Around 4 Gallons in it!
Have a Good Time Dude
Mikael Also Wants a Shower
One of the Mahouts, Who Usually Belong to Impoverished Backgrounds
Elephants are Literally Treated with Iron Hands
One of the Elephants Even Fell in the Water
 Jungle Safari
Embarking on Jungle Jeep Safari
First We Crossed the River in this Canoe
Our Jeep was Ready Across the River
Soon We Were in the Deep Jungle
Where It Stuck in the Middle of Nowhere
After Half an Hour We Spotted a Pair of Rhino
Wish I Had a DSLR There!
A Camouflaged Deer Herd
Crossing a Wooden Bridge
Then Passing Through a Water Stream
Yesterday, a Tiger was Seen Here
We Returned from the Crocodile Breeding Center
One of the Ranger Camps Inside the Jungle
All Alone!
Out of Place
Chitwan's Red Ant
Jeep Driver Picked Rare Wild Vegetable
Under Construction Dam
In the Evening We Watched the Cultural Show
Traditional Tharu Dance
Today’s Bills – in Nepali Rupees

100 Food Bread, etc
100 Food Water
200 Sight Seeing Entrance Ticket - Cultural Show
5000 Sight Seeing Jungle Activities - Advance
5400 Total for May 18, 2013
16880 Total as of Today
Traveler’s Tip # 10: Accommodation in Chitwan National Park
Till the recent past, visitors could stay right inside the National Park periphery in one of the jungle camps; however, all such facilities have been closed lately. Presumably part of the aggressive conservation strategy Nepali government has been pursuing to protect the endangered wildlife.

However, this is no let down for nature enthusiasts as there are lots of accommodation available in the adjacent town of Sauraha, which also serves as the hub for various jungle activities.

Rooms can be booked then and there after haggling around; however, in this case nobody will be there to pick you up from Sauhara Bus Park located a couple of inconvenient kilometers from the settlement. In the absence of a proper transport and amid all the heat and humidity it is difficult to walk around the dirt roads. For hardcore independent travelers though, it might be part of fun to hail a passing by vehicle, an animal cart or perhaps an elephant, to reach to the center of town, aptly called Rhino Chowk.

On the other hand, booking in advance, either through internet or in Kathmandu, definitely means that there will be multiple agents involved, and obviously their commissions too, and then one can also end up at a place which might not suite their preferences.

In this catch-22 situation, I instead called one of the hotels I googled only after we were in the Chitwan bus. Consequently, the gentle owner-cum-guide of Crocodile Safari Lodge was there at the Bus Park. The accommodation was situated right in front of the jungle fence and had a genuine atmosphere, polite local staff, and reasonable rates; however, the available room had trivial issues which they had little interest fixing in until we searched another accommodation around, Holy Lodge, on the riverfront.

Both these places, and many other similar ones, were basic and inexpensive and will suit to Indian and Pakistani travelers in addition to backpackers. Nonetheless, a walk around the town suggested that options for a splurge were not limited too.

Either no-frill or high-end, in Chitwan it is considered the prerogative of the hotel to book jungle activates for their clients. And before we could even settle down, they started throwing various packages towards us, which we did not mind actually because this was why we were there and then Chaudhry gave us decent rates, maybe because we could break the language barrier thanks to our beloved Urdu.

Crocodile Safari Lodge, Sauhara, Chitwan
Inside of the Crocodile Safari Lodge
Holy Lodge: Where We Finally Settled
Backup: Cottages are Powered by Rooftop Solar Panels
In the Room it was Hot and Humid
Mikael was Happier Outside
Misha Made Friends
A Biker Group Was Also Staying at the Same Place
Traveler’s Tip # 11: Water
Keeping hydrated is important to avoid traveler’s diarrhea and other illnesses but in Chitwan it cannot be overemphasized, mainly due to the extremely humid weather, Nepal is not famous for.

It is highly recommended to keep a bottle or two of water all the time and have plenty of liquids, especially while going for jungle excursions, where facilities will be more limited.
While in Chitwan, Have Plenty of Water
Traveler’s Tip # 11: Masala Tea
For tea lovers, there is a twist in Nepal. Ask for masala tea, which is the same milk tea with a pinch of spices. Initially you may find it a bit tangy but after a couple of cups I was thinking why I came to know it this late. We got so addicted to this variety, which is the favorite among locals without any tourist trap, that we could not resist buying a few packets for home. So you are most welcome at our place should you like to get introduced with something original from the mountains. Asterisk: This offer is valid until stock lasts!

Traveler’s Tip # 13 Tin Food
This tip might be more valid for Pakistani travelers, especially due to Halal constraints, but keeping one or two tins of homemade food can be a life saver also especially when one is tired after a long day of excursion.

In Karachi, food can be tinned from Burhani located near Bahadrabad. They insist on bringing oven fresh food, otherwise it could spoil, and take 4-5 hours to process that. I have also noted the readymade tins in their shelf.
Burhani Specialized in Food Tinning
It is Located in Bahadurabad

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