Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Throwback Thursday: Chitwan National Park Dec-2014

By: Hamza Shafique

An Elephant sand bathing - Elephant Breeding Center Chitwan National Park Nepal
I have so much to share from my past experiences (mostly travel) that I think it’s good to start a throwback segment. As Thursday is usually considered a day for Throwback, hence the name Throwback Thursday. For the very first post in this segment I have selected Chitwan National Park.

Me and My Wife after
 Elephant Safari
Me and my wife went to a 7 days trip to Nepal in Dec 2014. It was our first ever trip together after getting married in August 2014. The whole trip to Nepal was memorable where we went through many cities. During the trip we stayed for a night in Chitwan National Park, which is a huge forest zone on the border of Nepal and India. It is famous for the wildlife especially endangered Indian Rhino and Gharials, a fish-eating crocodile with peculiar long thin jaws.When I booked the holiday, my initial understanding was that I am booking a lodge sort of accommodation inside the national park but later found that Nepal government does not allow anyone to stay inside the park and all the lodges/hotels that were inside are closed now. Instead tour operators book from hundreds of hotels available in the nearby town and operate from there. The Hotel where I stayed was not the 4-star accommodation I requested but still was comfortable and staff really worked hard to ensure we have a pleasant stay. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the name of the hotel but overall no major complains.

Chitwan National Park- Pic taken during Elephant Safari through Jungle

Activities we did there included a canoe ride through Rapti river, an elephant safari through Jungle, Visit to Elephant breeding center, Walk through Tharu village with Tea at sunset point and an evening presentation of Tharu folk dance.

Crocodile spotted while canoeing through Rapti River

Traditional Canoe for rides available at Chitwan National Park

Right after hotel check in, we left the luggage in our room and went for a Canoe ride through the river. The Canoe ride was not included in our package but due to good reviews on Trip Advisor, I booked it through the hotel. The overall experience was pleasant but I think it wasn't very safe the way they managed it. First we had these 6 to 8 feet giant crocodiles in close proximity and second Canoe was going off balance whenever the lady at the back pointed at one in excitement. Throughout the ride I sat still, praying for canoe to not trip over. Nevertheless enjoyed it as some sort of thrill ride. I couldn't do much photography as I was scared for most of it and now regret not been able to take the pictures of majestic Gharial in wild. Canoe ride ended at the elephant breeding center.
A chained Elephant at the breeding center
Here we had a small informative room with an actual Elephant skull and then an open area with many elephants in their sheds. All the elephants except the baby ones were tied by chain. One of the of Baby elephant was very playful and fun to watch. One of the most memorable moment of Nepal trip was here, when this baby elephant came running toward us randomly and curled its trunk around my wife's arm. From here we had our hotel pick up which took us to the sunset point going through the Tharu village. Sun Set point is basically a group of cafes set up on the bank of river Rapti separating it from the jungle and we were told if you are lucky you can see animal drinking water from the river. Any way Sunset was ok and we were not very lucky with the animals.

Sunset Point

On our way back, we thought hotel is just walking distance so decided to walk instead of taking the hotel pickup but soon realized, that we made a mistake. It got very dark without any street lights and hotel was also not at the walking distance. So, we started to look for ride back. At first we couldn’t find anything but after 15 minutes, found a tanga (traditional horse driven carriage) and convinced him to take us to the hotel. The tanga ride back to the hotel included passing through empty Mustard fields in moonlight, which was very romantic but not advisable when you are in stranger surroundings. After dinner, there was Tharu folk dance in the courtyard of the hotel and it was the most fun and entertaining way to end such an eventful day.

Tharu Village folk dance performance
Next day after breakfast we arrived at the elephant safari starting point. There were high plat forms to get on the elephants. We shared the elephant with a Chinese a couple so on each elephant only 5 people including the driver were allowed. Riding an elephant through dense forest while it drizzled felt surreal. It was good 20 to 30 min ride as far as I can remember now.

Getting ready to ride for Elephant Safari
Crossing the river on Elephants - Elephant Safari Chitwan National Park
The most magical moment was to see a group of elephants emerge suddenly from Fog, while crossing the river. We didn’t see much of wildlife, just few large Webs and some kingfishers but other people in our group claimed to have spotted a rhino. There was no fixed path, as we started as a group of 6 elephants and soon everyone went their own way. I believe our driver or elephant handler finished our safari a bit earlier as we were the last one in the group and first one to arrive. In fact, we arrive almost 15 minutes earlier than the rest.

Early Morning Fog at Chitwan National Park
No complains again as just riding an elephant through the jungle surreal enough and finding exotic animals in wild can be considered something of luck or bonus. One suggestion for the tour management, that they should assign pre-defined routes with fixed timelines for the safari so that everyone can make most of their trip. I wanted to do 5 hours’ jeep safari as well but there wasn’t enough time and we had to head to our next destination in Nepal. For next time, I will book Jeep safari instead of the elephant one.

Is it right to use elephants for tourism?
Here I would like to take the opportunity to discuss a serious topic related to use of elephants in tourism. I know many people, who don’t like and support the use of elephants for tourism as the process to tame an elephant is very cruel, which I sort of agree now as I could see our elephant driver having a huge spear sort of steel thing that he kept poking under Elephant’s ear to steer it and make it do things like sit or stand still etc. I am personally bit divided on this, as with the growing human population, the natural habitat for big animals like elephants to thrive on, is decreasing and their survival I believe relies heavily on how well they integrate within human societies. I don’t support use of animals in Circus, animal product testing etc. but for tourism and breeding centers like these I believe its ok. As breeding centers ensures that their survival and tourism provide funds to run such centers. What do you think?
All pictures used are taken by Hamza Shafique during his trip to Chitwan National Park.

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