A Bucket List Check-Mark Filled Weekend: Chitwan with the Elephants

The air-conditioned rooms could have been near enough to sell me.  Boarding the bus at 6:30 AM, I tried to imagine what the weekend would be like, but honestly who can imagine anything when you’re on a bus that feels oh so similar to the Test Track ride in Disney World.  It is an unnerving ride to say the least.  With about 6 hours rickety motion under our belts, we were starting to see a distinctively new place right before our eyes.  Chitwan was not as dirty as the city.  At first it seemed quite nice–the rolling hills and greater absence of noise, but it soon became apparent that the living conditions were far worse.  The hotel was a very nice little complex of rooms which all had air conditioning incase I forgot to mention.  We were given a schedule for the weekend, which ended up being a great one.  We did one activity and then had anywhere from a one to three hour break, during which we usually layed under our fans loving life.

Early on Sunday morning we went to ride the elephants.  We sat atop an elephant we named Coco, as in Chanel, only to later find out that her name was Latimikali, not as in Chanel.  Coco often enjoyed ripping and yanking up branches as if to say “Hey, get out of my way trees and branches, I have people to usher through the jungle.”  While holding onto the pole, so as to not fall over into the jungle was quite uncomfortable for my arms and legs.  While galavanting through Nepali vegetation, we saw a few rhinos.  One even peeked his head out of the water and stuck his tongue out.  Silly rhino.  There were many times where we were knocked with branches and such but that was the beauty of the elephant ride.  I was all like, “Coco, I don’t think we’re in the Philadelphia Zoo anymore.”

Then, customary to the weekend’s routine, we took a slight nap.  I NOW PRESENT YOU WITH THE HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEKEND.  Elephant bathing is, at first, mostly exciting but not all exciting.  The idea of just chillin in some water that I saw some nice crocs in earlier wasn’t all good to me.  My girl, Sarah, and I bikini-ed up and hopped onto our same friend from earlier Latimikali, better known as Coco.  We’ll refer to her as Coco for now.  She was one sassy elephant, throwing us into the water, spraying us with that mighty trunk of hers.  In all seriousness, it was one of the most wonderful events of my entire life–one of the more pinch-me moments I’ve ever had.  I was very nervous to do alot of things, particularly things involving being thrown into the water, but after a bit, none of it really mattered to me.  Perhaps one of the best moments, although I accomplished it with the grace of a slow loris on acid, was when I balanced onto the elephant’s trunk, then climbed onto its head and stood on its back.  An elephant is a wonderful thing.  It’s is far from emotionless, strangely expressive, and extraordinarily majestic.  Twice I found myself collapse my body forward while sitting on its back only to rest my head right on the elephants head between its ears.  Very few feelings in the world are as amazing as this feeling.  I didn’t seem to care that my eyes were beat red, that I was covered in sand, nor that I felt like a wet dog in some ways.  The moment that the elephant lowered and we disembarked, I knew that this was more than just a high, this was an experience, just another length in that road I mentioned earlier.

You guessed it, rest time.

Okay, so then we left to go canoeing, which was wonderfully peaceful, except our guide got a kick out of making us think we were on the verge of death by the Mass-Murderer breed of crocodile (I kid you not).  Everytime we saw a crocodile near the canoe we were told to be quiet, luckily for us though the Chinese people in back of us decided to talk much louder.  I think because in China crocodile attacks are a sign of good fortune?  I think this is true, indeed.  We eventually docked onto some nice land, where our guide explained to us various animals we may have encountered were explained to us.  First the deer, which is nice and familiar, then the rhino, which would have been pretty cool, then tiger, which I would have rather avoided, then sloth bear which was explained very little as the sloth bear would have, well, wreaked horrible misfortune upon us all.  We hiked about an hour through our version of the Amazon.  Closed-toe shoes would have been a nice idea for me.  It was very peaceful, aside from the reoccurring thought that my life could have ended at any moment from sloth bears.  The idea of wild animal attacks was frightening yet thrilling, but hey, it’s Nepal.  There was, most definitely, a light at the end of this tunnel.

The elephant sanctuary was absolutely spectacular.  Every elephant was perfect and beautiful in its own way.  I, being one of those people who feels guilt for almost everything, even not wearing a certain shirt as much as I wear others, needed to get some camera action withe very single elephant, so I took about 90 million pictures of elephants doin’ their elephant thang.  I particularly enjoyed the one elephant who pulled on another elephants trunk with his tail.  These are forms of play which we human beings cannot have the luxury of enjoying as we have no tails.  I loved every one of them though.  I also decided on that same day that I would one day adopt both a Nepali child and an elephant.  Both processes will be difficult, but I intend to make moves with them throughout the next ten years.

Chitwan was like a haven in many ways as I have explained, but it was also a wake-up call, a cultural experience to say the least.  We were given the opportunity to tour a village of the native people of the region, who were remarkably of the second largest ethnic group of all Nepal.  They were darker skinned, mostly very skinny, and lived in small, meager homes made of cow dung.  The homes usually had one window, which is not even close to what we consider a window in the US.  It is extremely small, and it is simply a hole, barred by a few sticks.  The people rely heavily on farming for means of sustainability.  My reaction to touring the village of the Tharu people was one of mixed feelings at first.  My friends and I questioned: was this poverty tourism?  I eventually began to notice, though, that many of them, particularly the children, began to smile and wave at us.  They even posed for pictures and laughed as us when we tried a bite or two of one of their extremely hot red chili peppers.  One little baby boy giggled as we passed by repeating, “Hi! Hi! Hi!”  We also experienced the culture by attending a performance of the ceremonial Tharu dances.  Some of them were warrior dances, some harvesting, and some mating dances.  There was even a fire juggler for one portion.  Again, the “When in Nepal…” bug kicked in and I, along with some of my cohorts, decided to get up on stage when they invited the audience up at the end.  When will I be able to dance ancient customary Nepali dances with Tharu tribe members again.  I hope soon, but one can never gauge these things.

To my loved ones and friends, I suggest you see Facebook for many wonderful pictures from the weekend, and to everyone else thank you for following along with me.

Chitwan was a weekend of no regrets, and like I have entitled this radical little recap, many many check marks.

Peace, Love, Namaste, and all the Dharma your pretty little heart desires,

Leah

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