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The Elegance Of Elephants

Posted on Thursday, July 2, 2009 in Wanderlust & Wonder

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One of the best aspects of our visit to the Chitwam National Park was the interactions we got to have with the elephants. While there are perhaps 20 or so wild elephants that roam the park on their own, there are many other elephants that serve as ambassadors to the park or who live in the nearby elephant breeding center which we had the opportunity to visit on our second day in the park.

The highlight of the entire experience down in Chitwan was after our blistering hot jungle walk on the first day. We took a canoe back to the other side of the river where a group of mahouts were letting people ride on the backs of some of the elephants as they took their baths. We each paid 50 rupees (around six U.S. dollars) and it was the best six dollars I have ever spent.

The mahout helped Cara, Regina (another volunteer from Portugal) and me climb onto the elephant and then he called out commands to the elephant to collect water in her trunk and whip it back and spray it right at us, drenching us in one swift swing of her trunk. Regina, seated at the front, got it the worst as you can tell by this photo.

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I was lucky to have her as a shield! Then the mahout had the elephant walk a little bit deeper into the river and he would get the elephant to sit down in the water, laying down onto one side so that we slipped off and plopped down into the water in the most awkward way possible.

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I tried to hold on each time, and I was proud to say that I lasted longer than Cara and Regina some of the time by clenching in with my inner thigh muscles, but eventually, I could not help but succumb to gravity. Then the mahout would usher us back up onto the elephant, giving us a hand to help us make the awkward climb, only to command the elephant to stand up or sit back down speedily causing us to tumble into the water once more. It was a blast!

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The next day we went for a ride through the forest on top of the elephants and we saw plenty of monkeys and the family of one-horned rhinos. We also saw a crocodile but it was submerged in the water and very far away. But it was still a great experience.

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The jungle is full of an amazing variety of deciduous trees. Most of them are sal, but Laxman also pointed out the cotton trees that carried little puffballs of downy soft cotton on their slender branches.

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In the late afternoon, we hopped into the back of a pick-up/jeep hybrid and made out way over to the nearby elephant breeding center.

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It was incredible. First, we walked through the information center where we learned that elephants are normally pregnant for 22 to 24 months! Yowsers! That is forever. And giving birth to something the size of a baby elephant isn’t very pleasant to think about either…so I will move on.

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We were very fortunate to be there to witness a proud mama elephant walking into the center tailed by her precious three-month-old twins. There is just about nothing cuter than a baby elephant, and twin baby elephants were almost too much!

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We had a lot of fun watching the baby elephants play together, nurse and roll around in the dirt. Having a surviving set of twin elephants is very, very rare and this set is one of the only living set of elephant twins alive in the entire world.

Later that evening back at the guesthouse we were staying at, we were treated to a special dance exhibition of local Tharu male dancers. This was a high-energy performance that was really captivating. They marched and spun and crashed their wooden sticks up against each other’s sticks in rhythm to the beat.

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The dancing style seemed to be a combination of martial arts, elaborate ninja moves, capoeira and also some modern-looking hip-hop styles as well. It was great entertainment.

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