After our little adventure getting very close to nature, we had no time to catch our breath. Next stop was the elephant breeding centre to play with some baby elephants. If you know me well, then you know that I’m a bit animal mad. Particularly when it comes to baby animals, especially large baby animals such as elephants. I’ve only seen them a couple of times in my life but every time is as good as the next. There’s something so adorable about a clumsy, leathery goofball who just looks like a naughty child. I may be a little obsessed but baby elephants just make my heart melt.
We arrived at the breeding centre at about 10am. The elephants get let out in the jungle from 10:30-4:30pm so we’d arrived just in time. Unfortunately the elephants were all chained up minus one of the babies, but our guide said it was for our protection mainly, as well as monitoring the elephants. Because there was only a waist high fence between up and the elephants, if they were running loose and got mad at too many people milling around, it could become a bit chaotic. It was sad to see them chained up but the Chitwan National Park is one of the only places in the world that has successfully rehabilitated these beautiful giants to a substantial population number, so I guess they are doing the right thing. The majority of funding for the breeding centre comes from tourism, so without visitors, this centre would cease to exist and the elephant population would probably decrease. So while some people see the captivity of elephants cruel, it’s actually beneficial for both Nepal and the elephants. Of the 20+ elephants here, none of them are used for work purposes. They are solely here just to breed and look after their little ones.
The one baby elephant who was loose was the biggest ratbag ever. He marched over to the four of us and tried to grab out water bottles out of our hands with his trunk and sniffed us all over. He was just five months old but had the attitude of a teenager, for an elephant he raced around quite quickly and was a bit rough when he played. It was beautiful to watch the interaction between the mother and babies and I could have happily stayed there all day!
We had to move on though, it was time for an ‘elephant shower’ and lunch. I quickly dropped my things off at the Safari Club and headed down to the river where some of the elephants were having a bath. This was a bit of a touristy gimmick, but one I was quite happy to oblige in. While people get quite worked up about riding elephants, I wasn’t so worried after seeing the treatment of these beautiful creatures. I don’t know whether it’s because I’ve ridden horses my entire life and have lived on a farm but I don’t see the treatment of these animals that cruel. Yes, I realise in some countries, elephants are treated cruelly and that’s unacceptable but from what I saw here in Nepal, these elephants actually looked happy. Elephant training isn’t that different from breaking in a horse. Of course, the size and strength brings on some differences but it’s not always that pleasant to break a horse in. I mean, we’ve tied up horses for hours to get them to behave, which from an outsider who has never witnessed this before might consider this cruel. But our horses are given so much love that this discipline is usually overshadowed. In a way, it’s the same for elephant trainers. They will usually only have one elephant for life and its their main source of income so while there is strong discipline used by the trainer, there would be a huge amount of care put into the animal. The trainer needs the elephant as much as the elephant needs the trainer so it is all relevant. I guess what I’m trying to say is that, the people that get really worked up about elephant training are people who haven’t been exposed to other forms of animal treatment. Anyway that’s enough of an essay. I love animals and it’s my personal choice to interact with the elephants this way. I’m still not entirely sold on elephant safaris, but this was a natural experience that I was going to be a part of. Elephants love the water, they spend quite a bit of time bathing themselves in the river and I was merely there to be a proverbial fly on the elephants back.
I walked up the wooden platform to get onto the elephants back and we waded into the river. This was the very river we had canoed down this morning so I was very aware that there were crocodiles swimming around me. I just hoped I wasnt going to become a snack! The elephant was about belly-deep in the water and proceeded to start splashing me with river water using his trunk. It was quite funny and a great way to cool down. I think the elephant and the trainer got more enjoyment out of it than me! This went on for about five minutes and then the elephant kneeled down and started to roll over! I was thrown into the river, where I hastily exited because of the aforementioned crocodiles!
It was a quick experience but a lovely one. I got one more cuddle from the elephant (well actually it was mainly me cuddling him!) before I had to head back for lunch. A quick lunch break and then we were back out in the jungle for a jeep safari. It was here that we might get the chance of seeing the elusive tiger or leopard. I didn’t have high hopes but with the amount of rhinos we’d seen in the wild, it may just happen!
We canoed across the river to where the jeeps were and got comfy. It was going to be about five hours of driving around the jungle so I was glad I had a good seat. The safari was quite good, we saw more rhinos – even another baby one! There were plenty of monkeys and deer, who actually coincide together and look out for each other. We also saw a few monitor lizards, crocodiles and different kinds of birds. Unfortunately no tigers or leopards but I’ seen that many wild rhinos, I wasnt disappointed!
After the safari we had a drink on the riverbank to watch the sunset before heading back to the Safari Club for dinner. I was heading back to Kathmandu tomorrow at 6am, so I went to bed early knackered from my massive day!
The following morning it was raining when I woke up, must be time to go! The bus ride back to Kathmandu was bloody awful. It took 14 hours this time, with only two spots. I definitely have had enough of buses in Nepal! We got into Kathmandu around 10:30pm and I headed straight to my hostel to pass out! Tomorrow I fly to Chiang Mai to see the north of Thailand. Nepal has been a fabulous experience and I’m definitely keen to return to do more hiking, but no more buses!!