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An Elephant Safari anyone??

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.

mmmm pepero!

Elephant Safari

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.

waiting to load


tickets please!

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.

refilling the water tank


Heading into the forest

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.

The Rhino!

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!

Rhino and 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.

fairwell Galipoli


Namaste!

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.

Laksimi heading to the river


settled in and awaiting bath time


here it comes!


bulls eye

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.

preparing to dismount


the roll

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.

how to mount an elephant the mahut way

As laksimi took one step I overbalanced and landed head first in the river, luckily we were deep enough to cushion my fall. But not deep enough to make it a short fall.

yup that splash is me

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.

fairwells

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.

Laksimi the Elephant

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.

hedge trimming

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.

The big boss

Some of them were a little less endowed, but made up for it in personality.

can you see me now?

We learned more about the history and conservation at an information site and stopped for a photo.

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.

France, Germany, South Africa, Canada, Canada, USA, USA

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.

 
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Posted by on February 4, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Chitwan National Park…Here I come!

10th November 2011

Side note on ATM’s

I forgot to mention the heart stopping afternoon I had my second day when I attempted to find an ATM that liked my card. I tried every one I came to and even tried waiting in a bank for 30min before giving up and looking for more ATMs. At my fifth one I was on the point of panic, as Nepal is very much a cash based society. The guard looked concerned and suggested I try a Nabil bank just down the street. I had been told by other foreigners that Nabil seemed to work, but had already tried one of their ATMs. Oh well got nothing to lose. So I walked over, tentatively put my card in, said a little prayer to whichever almighty is in charge of money dispensing and waited for that special drrrrrrrrrrr sound of money being counted out. After a few heart stopping seconds I heard it, did a little happy dance and breathed a sigh of relief. The Nabil bank does like my ATM card it really does.

So to all those would be cash with drawers in Nepal, persistence pays off!

Off to Chitwan

Rolling out of bed at 6am I lugged my big bag downstairs of Hotel Silver Home to be put in storage and prepared to leave on my first bus experience in Nepal. I had been told that someone would pick me up and take me to the bus station. Unfortunately the night manager had no idea what I was talking about and it started to become painfully obvious that my ride was not showing up.

Just as I was about to say screw it and find my own taxi, the night manager said he would take. I assumed he meant take me to the taxi. Nope he meant walk me to the bus station as high speed so he could return to the desk. He didn’t offer to carry a bag (thank heavens I only had a small one) and walked ahead of me the whole time.

After a good 15min job we arrived at the Bus Station, better known as a very long line of very old decrepit looking buses. Ahhh the joys of travel. Of course my bus did not turn out to be the rather nice, clean looking one that was first in line but rather the very last one (adding another 5min jog through masses of confused tourists). I have traveled in all sorts of contraptions but I must admit I raised my eyebrows a little as I had been told I was in the safer tourist bus… mmmmmmm sure… The most exciting part (please note the word is dripping with sarcasm) was that we had seat assignments and mine was at the very back in the very right hand corner. Not a promising start to this journey. But then again that’s what adventure is all about…right? Isn’t it?????

When we finally pulled out of the station, pretty much on time, which is always a surprise in any country. Within an hour barely outside of Kathmandu we hit a monstrous traffic jam. The roads in this country are the windiest I have ever seen and at this particular spot they are so angled and so narrow that only one line of traffic can come up at any one time. We sat for close to 45min before moving again, giving all the men a chance to jump out and water the bushes… MEN! We had gone about 2 meters when yelling caused us to stop, one guy had taken a little longer to water the bushes than the rest. Kind of amusing.

It took 6 grueling hours of windy, dusty roads sometimes at top speeds other times at a crawl, all the time honking the horn/ blowing the hooter (depending on your version of English). The roads were unbelievably dusty which meant keeping the window open was more likely to cause dust induced bronchitis than make you feel better, it didn’t take long for the pounding headache and bus sickness to start making me feel miserable. But on the bright side it brought all of us squished in the back a little closer and there were many moments that only travelers in these kinds of situations can make light of.

Here are a few pics to help you relive it with me:

Squeezing past each other at a crawl


Little did I know this would be the only time I would see the himalayas for a week


A long line of buses


Look carefully you can see 2 roads on the hillside as it winds its way down

One of the most amusing sights while driving were the fabulously decorated buses and trucks. All of them also had a saying painted on the bumper, we spent a lot of time trying to find the most unique. Here are a few:

First Love


Road Star


And for the safety conscious: Slow Drive - Long Life

Arrival Chitwan

As the trip bounced closer and closer to 6hrs, the elusive end time, I realised, along with every other foreigner, that none of us knew where we were supposed to get off. We drove down a “highway” of sorts, through a town and out in to more rural areas, all the while wandering if that should have been our stop. On one particularly bumpy section my phone rang and it was the hotel guy asking if I had arrived as he couldn’t see me. The bus was lurching and bouncing so much that I could barely keep the phone against my ear let alone hear him. I was so confused. Then suddenly we turned into a dead end, apparently the last stop and end of the journey and there was my guy to pick me up. It turned out that he was expecting me on a bus that had come about 15min before and so had called Yogi at Hotel Silver Home and asked where I was. If I wasn’t so exhausted it would almost seem funny. I met my fellow hotel goers, Carolin and Daniel from Canada. We climbed into the back of the bakkie/truck and bounced along again to the hotel just round the corner.

When I had been told about the trip a poster was pointed out showing this incredible hotel right on the river in the heart of the National Park, it seemed amazing and the low price was unbelievable. Unbelievable indeed, it turns out that poster was pointed out because it showed the activities I could join, not the hotel. Oh well at least the beds were clean and there was a fan. Over lunch we discussed what we could do that afternoon and then I went and passed out as I felt like I had just done a 6hr + bus ride over a bumpy road with blasting horns and tons of dust…wait a minute I just did, well that explains things!

Elephant Breeding Center

Around 4pm we headed out to the Elephant Breeding Center. This is where all the females and youngsters are kept, the females are trained along with the babies and some eventually become trekking elephants. For the most part the females were pushing 30 and the youngsters averaged 3yrs. The animals were stunning and there was very young one that stole the show. It was sad to see that the mothers were chained at the end of their day, but if not they would wander off and cause severe damage or get injured, apparently. But then again, the elephants are almost the same as horses to these people and you have to lock horses up at night… still sad though.

At one point I was watching a female walking from the forest with her Mahut on her back and her twin babies walking in front of her. Another youngster tried to join the fun which annoyed one of the twins and a few of us clumsy tourists, including yours truly, nearly got stampled!

Here are some pics from that visit:

Domesticated Buffalo (they don't eat cows but they do eat buffalo)


The bridge to the breeding center


fuzzy youngin'


Twins are very rare

Back at the hotel I slept, ate dinner and slept again, actually taking something to help me sleep through my now full blown headache. Tomorrow is an elephant safari and so much more!

 
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Posted by on January 22, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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