Saturday, March 31, 2007

Chitwan National Park

After experiencing the thrill of rushing down gushing class 3 & 4 rapids of the mighty Bhote Kosi River, it was time for me to experience a thrill of a different nature-- that of the fantastic wildlife of Chitwan National Park, the oldest national park in Nepal. Chitwan National Park lies about 100km south of Kathmandu and borders India.

When visiting Chitwan, one has the choice to either stay at a lodge outside the park or inside the park, with both having their advantages and disadvantages, naturally.

Outside the park, one takes part in a greater variety of programs, while also having the luxury of staying in nicer facilities. However, the hotels outside the park generally lease their elephants from the government and, thus, all share the same resources, which limits your time with them. Also, being outside the park, one, of course, doesn't have the same ambiance of being surrounded by the jungle. Staying outside the park is, of course, the cheaper option.

Inside the park, the resorts have their own elephants, but the facilities tend not to be as luxurious. Power cuts normally start at 9pm and last until sunset the following day, for instance.

I wanted to stay inside the park to enjoy the atmosphere of the jungle and also have the ability to be closer to the elephants. However, I also wanted to see baby elephants and found out that the resort I would be staying at did not have any babies (the elephant breeding center outside the park had many baby elephant). So, in the end, I chose to stay one night outside the park at Hotel Parkside and two nights inside the park at the Jungle Island Resort-- both of which I highly recommend!

My choice, in my opinion, was the absolute best option for me. I was able to enjoy the best of both worlds and, in the end, had one of the best experiences of my life.

Below are the photos from my trip to Chitwan. I hope to include more details in the near future...

Day One: Hotel Parkside

My luxurious room at Hotel Parkside. By far the best lodging (and food) I will have during my entire trip. The service was absolutely outstanding at Parkside!

The entrance to Hotel Parkside.

The owner of Hotel Parkside, Sher Bahadur, asked me to take a few photos for their soon to be released advertisement for a travel agent calendar-- this was one of the photos I took for Sher.

Incidentally, I found out upon my return to Kathmandu after a month of trekking in the Annapurna Range that Sher used a few of my photos for the calendar-- naturally, I was thrilled!

A side view of Hotel Parkside.

Sher had local artists paint a mural of daily Tharu life on the side of his hotel. Just one of the attractions the hotel has to offer.

Sher, who is from Chitwan, uses most of his profits from the hotel to sponsor local children and their education.

He and everyone working for Hotel Parkside and their subsidiary company, Lost Paddle, are top-notch people, who I feel honored to have met and later befriended. I look forward to seeing everyone again soon!

A close-up of one of the murals-- women gathering water.

Men hunting.

The rear view of the hotel.

One of the many beautiful varietals of flowers the hotel has in its garden.

Another varietal of flower.

Local men preparing an Asian (or Indian) elephant for a ride.

An elephant enjoying itself while getting prepped for a ride.

One of my favorite photos. )

The elephant drivers speeding away.

Waiting for sunset near the local watering hole opposite the park.

A dog (I nicknamed "Yoda") resting behind a beach chair also waiting for the sun to set...

Sunset on the river.

A traditional stick dance of the Tharu people.

The MC of the local culture show we attended. It's very difficult to forget someone who sounded and talked exactly like the priest in The Princess Bride. The Tharu version, of course.

A peacock dance. A man actually stands in the costume and mimics exactly as a peacock would. Here he is drinking water, which he later emptied into the audience. An amazing site.

Day Two: Hotel Parkside

Day Two at 5:45am (before sunrise) on the plains of Chitwan National Park for bird watching.

The sun rises above the trees of the jungle.

Sunrise in Chitwan. An awe-inspiring sight.

The sun rises on the plain.

A great hornbill.

A blue kingfisher. A beautiful site-- especially when one sees it hover above the water while fishing for a meal.

Another blue kingfisher.

My guide, Gopal, taking a break from his duties and enjoying the scenery.

To be honest, I wasn't exactly excited when I discovered I was going birdwatching, but I had a fabulous time with Gopal. He was so knowledgeable about every bird and animal we saw and could name birds by call and without help from his binoculars.

I felt so fortunate to have Gopal as my guide. He made my stay at Hotel Parkside a memorable one.

A flock of parakeets.

A parrot in flight.

A heron in flight.

A woodpecker.

A kingfisher.

An asian elephant taking its morning walk.

A happy elephant near the entrance to the park.

(It was bobbing its head up and down in delight when I took this photo.)

Me feeding a baby elephant at the Elephant Breeding Center outside the park.

Gopal getting in on the action.

(Careful-- the babies are stronger than you think!)

The inmates are taking over the asylum.

(A baby elephant wiggles its way underneath the fence-- hard to believe based on its size versus the fences height, but true!)

Me and the baby.

Gopal snapped this fantastic photo. He loved looking into the eyes of the elephants... It's easy to see why.

The baby on a tear.

On its way to cause trouble.

A nursing baby.



Messing around.

(The equivalent of "digging for gold"?)

A happy (and head bobbing) elephant.

(Perhaps enjoying the kids playing freely.)

The breeding center.

A tree strangling vine.

(The same used by Tarzan.)

A giant ant hill.

Water buffalo making their way to the river for a dip.

Taking an elephant bath.

Getting a mouth full of warm water.

(The elephant sure was enjoying himself!)

Getting off the elephant.

Being a cheeky fellow, he rolled over just as I was making my exit... I followed suit.

An elephant enjoying his daily scrub.

(I can hear him now-- "How heavenly is this?")

Day Two: Jungle Island Resort

My abode on the island.

A view of the facilities.

The bar.

The spot of our nightly debriefings and commentary from the day's adventures.

Looking down a gathering area.

A view from the gathering area (above) looking toward the beach.

An elephant making its way toward the beach for its daily bath.

(I took two baths with the elephants on the day that I arrived-- one near Parkside and one immediately when I arrived at Island Jungle Resort!)

A trainer takes a rest before bathing his elephant.

Trainers typically stay with an elephant during its entire life.

Getting another mouthful! Talk about a power shower!

Comin' at ya!

Resting with my new friend.

The guides anxious to start our first daily trek.

My friends Steve and his wife, Bron, on elephant safari. (photo provided by Steve Fox)

Steve is from New Zealand and Bron is from South Africa. They were traveling through Southeast Asia on their way back o New Zealand, where they plan to "settle down."

I was so fortunate to have met many wonderful people on my trip to Chitwan, and our group in Jungle Island Resort was simply one of the best I have ever traveled with!

A rhino (one-horned) spotting! (Steve Fox)

My friends Joep and Julia in action!

Joep and Julia are from Holland and had been traveling for 14 months together when I met them-- having traveled from South America to Southeast Asia.

They, along with Steve and Bron, made me realize just how special one's relationship must be in order to "make it" together. It's difficult enough to travel by one's self, let alone with someone else for such an extended period of time.

Close-up. Male and female (probably looking to mate-- if the damn tourists weren't around!-- stage fright?)

Another rhino spotting near the river. (Steve Fox)


Sunset on the island.

Day Three: Jungle Island Resort

Day three (day two on the island) started by us taking our first jungle walk.

Here we see Oliver, my friend from Switzerland, in action with his sweet camera setup. (He has all professional gear-- absolutely incredible stuff!

A crocodile (marsh mugger) spotting on our jungle walk.

Joep and Julia in action during our boat ride.

Dilli (Oliver's guide) enjoying the boat ride.

A heron (on our boat ride).

In flight. (Steve Fox)

A Rhino spotting.

Getting anxious from our disturbance.

One of many beautiful butterflies on the island.

Enjoying a cat nap on my chair-- a welcome site (and symbolic) after a long day on the prowl for wildlife.

Joep and I enjoying an elephant bath.

Scrubbing behind the ears... just like Mom always taught.

The flora of the jungle.

A rhino spotting while on a jungle walk.

Close-up. (Steve Fox)

Starting to wake up. (Steve Fox)

Taking a smell and getting a good look at us. (Steve Fox)

(Rhinos have very poor eyesight--they can only look ahead-- but have a very keen sense of smell.)

Luckily, we had the protection of the elephants, which allowed us to get within 5 meters (or 15 feet of the gigantic animal-- what a thrill!!!)

Our guide instructing us that it was OK to come closer-- to actually stand in front of the elephants at a distance of 3 meters (15 feet)! Mind you, rhinos can move in excess of 30 mph... (Steve Fox)

Me enjoying the adrenaline rush of the action. Talk about an exciting experience! Words cannot possibly describe the feeling of being so close to such an amazing creature and knowing that at any moment he might decide he's had enough and take after you. (Steve Fox)


Rubbing the mud from his beak-- waking up as well.

In action.

A tired stare... looking at himself in the reflection of the mud?

"Your hair looks perfect!"

Leaving the scene.

The hoard of tourists on elephant. Our "protection". Needless to say, I felt in good hands with such an experienced group watching over us people on the ground... (Steve Fox)

Taking a break while "protecting" us.

Beautiful flowers.

A view of the river on our way back to the resort.

Tiger prints. These are about a month old and must have been from a large beast-- the paw print is nearly the size of my foot.

An elephant stopping for a drink at sunset.


A boatman crossing the river at sunset.


Joep and Julia.

Steve and his trusty camera.

Sunset on my last day on the island. (Steve Fox)

The resort as dusk approaches.

(L-R: the beach, accommodation (behind), the bar, gathering area (on the water), and more accommodation.)

A view of the beach at dusk.

A view of the path leading to the camp ground from the beach.

Day Four: Island Jungle Resort

Our final event on the island was a nature walk during the morning which took us through the elephant and trainer boarding complex.

Here a trainer makes his elephant's morning snack.

A happy elephant-- chowing down!

The trainer's complex.