11th November 2011
Today is 11-11-11, if I was in Korea this would be the ultimate Pepero day. 11-11 is traditionally a day of giving each other chocolate dipped cookie sticks called pepero, absolutely loved this day as a teacher there. I can only imagine the size made for 11-11-11.
Waking up at dawn we shuffled to the truck and bounced our way through the town to the loading grounds. As we pulled in it looked more like an elephant airport than a safari staging grounds. Out of nowhere all 300+ tourists had shown up for the safari. Elephants were loaded up one after the other and moved on to the ticket stall.
As my fellow hotel mates and I took in the scene, we were tempted to say Sod it and head back to the hotel. But at the last minute we decided what the heck, we had already paid. So we waited our turn at the loading dock and met the 4th member of our group, Jens from Germany.
Now for those of you who never been on an elephant safari, you would be amazed at just how difficult it is to get into the little square box that serves as our seat. First the front people climb in, balancing on the top of the elephant and then lowering themselves down to a somewhat seated position. Your legs slipping either side of the corner post. Then come the two behind you slipping into their seats and facing backwards. All in all a pretty tight fit. As our mount heads off in the direction of the forest, I am amazed at how the gait of an elephant is just the right amount of movement as to make photos nigh impossible. You have to sit there with your finger on the buzzer in the hope that one rolling gait might be long enough to snap a shot. In the end you just wait till the “bus” stops, usually in a river to get itself a drink.
As you cross the river you enter a new realm, and the trees completely surround you. It is at this point that you assume the elephant train will scare any living creature away, but soon find your mahut leading your elephant in a completely different direction and pretty soon the forest envelopes you, and so do the spider webs.
The one important rule we had been given was not to drop anything, as it is nearly impossible to hop on down from an elephant (unless you are a mahut of course). Barely 10min into the safari we hear a thud… followed shortly after by an “ah oh”. Jens’ bag had come lose and fallen to the floor. We all looked sheepishly at the mahut, for some reason it made us all guilty, but with a word our fabulous elephant simply turned her head leaned over and picked it up with her trunk. The bag was triple tied at that point.
Our mahut spoke some English and told us a little about our Elephant. Her name is Galipoli and she is 30yrs old. He had been her mahut for 5yrs and 2mths. She had had 1 baby so far. Such a beautiful eley!
As we veered right away from the other elephants we immediately saw some spotted deer, monkeys and some birds. The jungle noises surrounded us completely and you were just amazed by everything you saw, smelt, heard. Jens and I chatted a bit as we rode and looked for tigers (there is always hope right?) or rhinos (a much more likely but still slim possibility). Jens had been in marketing in Germany and had recently quit his job to travel for a year, so we hit it off immediately as that was pretty much what I had done.
After almost an hour of avoiding branches and spider webs, on the most part unsuccessfully, our mahut pointed something out to us in the mud. We all ooh’d and ahh’d, I am fairly certain we were all too high to really see what he was pointing at. But there was a definate indentation and he said Rhino!!!, and off we went on the hunt.
As we neared a clearing the younger elephant that had been with us started rumbling and trumpeting softly. Galipoli for her part, also started rumbling and acting a little uneasy. And then there he was… just behind a small bush and out in the open. He was a prime specimen and even from that distance we could tell he was huge. Of course he got bigger the closer we got. The poor elephant to our right started trumpeting earnestly, apparently in fear as it is not uncommon for rhinos to charge them. Her mahut had to encourage her somewhat firmly, shall we say, to go closer.
This was an Indian Rhino, also known as a Greater One-Horned Rhino or Asian Rhino. They are considered a vulnerable species with around 3000 left in the wild.
Now I have to mention this, in Africa our rhinos are pretty damn big, but they usually have small birds called oxpeckers merrily cleaning them of parasites. This bugger had, what appeared to be a bloomin CROW!
After that little bit of excitement we headed back to the elephant airport and disembarked. Then saying fairwell to our beautiful Galipoli we boarded our truck.
Jens joined us in the truck as we were going by his hotel. Barely 5mins after leaving we hit a bump and the truck came to a halt. Jens kind of chuckled and informed us that since arriving in Nepal every mechanical form of transport had broken down on him, oh joy we have the bane of motor vehicles with us. Luckily it was nothing serious and we were soon up and running. We all decided to meet up for drinks that evening.
After breakfast it was time for a much anticipated activity, watching the elephants bathing with the chance to join. I was still feeling the trip from the day before so wasn’t sure if I would join. Boy am I glad I did, as it was one of the most amazing things I have ever done in my life.
Our bathing partner was a hefty female named Laksimi. As we headed to the water our hotel guide said, just remember to keep your mouth closed, the water is not so clean…
Entering the water we waded close to Laksimi and I climbed on first followed shortly by Caroline who sat behind me. Then the mahut got her to stand and climbed up her nose. She proceeded to douse us with water over and over again and as much as I tried to keep my mouth shut, I was just laughing to hard to care.
When preparing the dismount during bath time it is vitally important to remember to push off away from the elephant. This is because the elephant will sit and then roll to the side, not a good idea to get caught under it.
We were allowed a second bath and promptly got back on, this time Caroline was in front. The mahut climbed up via the trunk and insisted I shift backwards. Now please note Laksimi had a fairly large hump and with my short legs this meant I had no way to hold on, gives new meaning to sitting on the fence.
As i surfaced, spluttering with laughter I realised that another elephant had been walking in my direction just before I fell and was now awfully close. I guess I should have been nervous, but once again the laughter was more important. It was then time to say fairwell to Laksimi and head home for a shower.
As we left we watched as Laksimi’s mahut allowed her to go and roll around in the water for a bit. However, she was in no mood to come out and we couldn’t help but laugh as she looked defiantly at her mahut and refused to come out. Eventually his insistence paid off, and you could almost see her sigh and think oh very well then.
After a rather squelchy walk back to the hotel, with huge grins on our faces, we all went and had a shower and a nap before lunch. While we had lunch we watched as one of the maintenance guys trimmed a hedge in true Nepali fashion.
Around 3pm I manage to rouse myself enough to pop over to one of the bars and have a yoghurt lassi while I worked on my journal. Then we all gathered to walk to the sunset point with one of our hotel guides. On the way we swung by the bachelor stables to see the male elephants and what specimens they were. I never realised how big the tusks of an Asian Elephant could actually get.
Some of them were a little less endowed, but made up for it in personality.
As the tour ended we came to the spot where we had bathed the elephants and were rather unnerved to discover this guy had been hanging out barely 200m from where we had been in the water. I am guessing he was 2m+ in length.
After dinner I was taken to the “cultural evening”, the others had decided on taking a chill out evening. I got there to discover that, although we had seen barely 20 tourists, every single one plus another 280 had decided to join the evening. The room was small and we were all cramped in. I watched the first dance from the very back, but could barely see anything and finally decided it was just too much and left early. Rather have a nap and pack. Then all 3 of us went for a drink at the pub and to meet up with Jens. Jens brought his other hotel mate, Cecelia from France, and I bumped into the American couple I had met on the bus. Pretty soon we looked liked the United Nations.
All in all it was a great first half of the trip, even with the occasional misunderstandings, and I met a great group of people and got to take a bath with an elephant. What more could you want??
Tomorrow was another early rise and 6-7hr trip to Pokhara.