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Published: June 26th 2013
There’s two ways to get to Chitwan National Park in Nepal, one of which involves a long and uncomfortable bus ride. The other, and much more exhilarating, method is to go white-water rafting down the Trisuli River during the afternoon, then take a minivan the rest of the way. Although the classes of rapids did not normally exceed 2, except for one at 3, our guide worked hard to make it fun by sending us straight through them. He even asked once if we wanted to tip, but we had an older couple in the raft who were not too keen on that idea. Unfortunately, our water proof camera turned out to be not so water proof in Goa when we took it with us into the water, so we couldn’t take any pictures except before we got inside the raft.
We arrived at Chitwan just before evening. The next morning we started with a canoe trip down the Narayani River, which was reminiscent of the backwaters tour in Kochi with me hoping it would end soon – for bird watchers, however, I’m sure it would be a delight. We then went on a jungle “hike” (more like
a stroll through a meadow in a forest reserve), during which we saw some crocodiles and a rhinoceros, which are fascinating animals, like giant armadillos with a horn, full of crushing power ready to run amok; yet they seem happily passive when they’re hungrily chomping on grass.
The jungle walk ended at an Elephant Breeding Center. Since the name of the center including the term “breeding” in it, I had an uneasy expectation as to what occurred there; Klaudia, on the other hand, believed the place to be more of a rescue for elephants that are no longer used for work. Well, the place turned out to be a farm to breed working elephants, mostly for tourism, farming and construction. The state of the poor animals seemed dismal: they were chained to logs struck deep into the ground with probably less than a couple meters of circumference in which to walk around, basically allowing them one step forward and one step backwards, sometimes in their own feces; they disquietly rocked back and forth as if they had anaclitic depression; there was no water available to them as they were on a strict dietary regiment, probably more due
what kind of bird?
Can't remember the name of these birds...
to cost than to health; and all of them were scarred on the head from beatings, not to mention the bleeding scabs from the shackles around their enormous ankles. The little ones though created the most distress in me as I watched them trying to reach their mothers in spite of a chain too short. One step forward, one step back…
They seemed to be in abject misery, but I tend to look that these circumstances from the vantage point of sustainability: if it keeps people employed, and the elephants can be put to good use – really, that is, exploited – then perhaps that keeps the locals from exploiting a resource until it doesn’t exist. And the elephants were fed and taken on daily walks to the river to bathe. Does it make up for the conditions we found them in? At the heartbreaking moment we saw them, we did not think so. We were relieved to leave the center and had lunch at our hotel, but not before going to the tourist trap that is elephant bathing, wherein a tourist sits on the back of an elephant while the elephant sprays water on its back
after receiving some more beatings.
Next on the itinerary was an elephant safari, but after having witnessed these travesties, we tried to switch that activity to a jeep safari. What a catch 22 though: the jeep spits exhaust out into a national park and disrupts the natural behavior of animals with its noise; conversely, a poor animal is tortured.
In any case, there were no jeeps available for us since we hadn’t booked ahead, so we were stuck with sacrificing an elephant for low-impact environmental disruption. It’ll be our last elephant safari. Firstly, comfort is not a consideration when riding atop an elephant; it just may be one of the most uncomfortable things I’ve done in my life. Of course, the wooden cubic-shaped carriage clumsily attached to the elephant’s back did nothing to aid the aim of comfort: it sat four individuals at each corner, with the post that connected the top and bottom squares of the carriage found between each rider’s legs, which dangled beyond the carriage, the feet hitting the elephants back with every bounce. But that is nothing compared to the beating the elephant’s head received from the driver sitting with his
legs around the elephant’s neck: our driver utilized a stabbing motion with a large pointy stick to direct the elephant to move faster, which led to more bounce in a carriage that already shook uncontrollably, forcing all the riders to grunt in pain as the carriage’s posts rhythmically thumped against the groin and abdomen area, while the top of the elephant’s head bled.
During our safari, we spotted some more crocodiles and more rhinos, which are incredibly unaffected by the presence of elephants, although I did hear one story of a rhino once charging an elephant at Chitwan, making the elephant flee in fright, thus tipping the carriage off its back. Sitting the way I was sitting - my back propped against the backs of three other people, with my crotch and abdomen pressed against a wooden post – I wasn’t sure I’d survive a fall: there was certainly no quick and easy way to extricate oneself from the carriage.
Glimpsing animals as powerful as rhinos in the wild was fun, but I was extremely glad when the safari concluded. I escaped my prison on an animal’s back and vowed to never again take
part in the exploitation of elephants, rescue or not, bathing or not, or whatever. They have such melancholy eyes as it is.
Our group was supposed to attend a bird watching tour at sunrise the next morning, but everyone overslept after watching a traditional dance performance during the evening (well, honestly, I missed that too as I hadn’t awakened from a nap). We ate breakfast and headed back to Kathmandu.
A couple days later, Klaudia and I signed up for a 2-day white water rafting trip on the Bhote Khosi River. Day one was great and exciting, especially when our raft flipped on the last rapid of the day: our guide, who was Nepali, accidentally screamed “jump” when he meant “down”, which is the instruction for everyone to duck into the raft when about to crash into a boulder. Everyone in the group – Klaudia and I, plus a Malaysian, two Israelis, and a Dutch couple - glared at each other in confusion when we hit the boulder, sending the front of the raft straight up into the air; it then flipped on top of everyone. The current I found myself in steered me
outside the raft in short time, but I couldn’t find Klaudia as I scanned the river once my head was above water. Relieved, I finally saw her head show itself from under the raft; she then swam towards the shore while the rest of us drifted downstream back to the raft. Klaudia then found herself a fair distance away from the rest of us and had to be rescued by another guide in a kayak – she had a nice dip hanging on to the front of the kayak.
We made it to our campsite, where we had a great dinner and spent the night in very basic tents, but with cots inside that were, to this day, the most comfortable mattresses we’ve slept on in Asia. It was an excellent night’s sleep.
The next day saw even more excitement than that of the first day as we hit class 4 and 5 rapids. Klaudia and I had been white water rafting in California and Colorado, which was fun, but the Bhote Khosi was non-stop adrenaline action. It was rapid, after rapid, after rapid, with no respite in between as our guide screamed out
instructions: “forward!”; “back!”; “left forward, right back!”; “down!” And the views of the surrounding hills were amazing as we spun round and round.
There was one particular class 5+ rapid that we skipped as a group, but which the guides went through while we stood around on the shore of the river intently observing. One of the guides in a kayak lost control when the rushing river water sent him towards an area of no return towards a wall of rocks – we learned later that if a rafter finds himself under that wall, there is no way out and the torrent of water that enters it will surely drown him (which is the part of the rapid that makes it a class 5+). After about twenty minutes of a traumatic near death struggle, the guide was finally able to flip his kayak several times, which somehow helped him escape the rapid. It was a frightening to watch. More frightening, however, was the glimpses of the road we could see from the river: we witnessed several vehicle accidents during our trip down river, two of which included motorcyclists falling to their deaths from the road down the
hillside. Nepali roads are in a dilapidated state and, consequently, astoundingly dangerous in the mountain terrain. We saw accidents constantly during our travels: tipped over buses and trucks, people lying in the streets, especially motorcycle and scooter riders, and traffic many times in disarray. Also unfortunate was the amount of trash being dumped in the river – there were plastic bottles everywhere, and who knows when, if ever, conservation efforts will truly take hold in a developing country.
The above two minuses are undoubtedly “downers”; but, apart from that, it was decisively our best rafting trip ever.
Tot: 3.467s; Tpl: 0.064s; cc: 9; qc: 54; dbt: 0.0433s; 3; m:saturn w:www (22.214.171.124); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.4mb