Oh my! It’s Nepal’s Chitwan National Park
03.12.2008 - 05.12.2008 32 °C
Following a brief stop back in Delhi after visiting the Taj Mahal in Agra, we flew to Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal: the twelfth and final country in our Asian odyssey. From the beginning of our research for this trip, we had a sense that Nepal might be more than just logistically the final destination, that it may just be saving the best for last. And that has proven true. This small strip of a country nestled between the dusty northern plains of India and Tibet’s Himalaya mountains is an amazingly diverse place with incredible scenery and dozens of people groups united by their good-natured love of visitors. It’s really easy to fall in love with Nepal.
We were meeting an old friend, Kim, at the airport when we arrived. Unfortunately, Kim’s route from the USA took her through Bangkok -- during the week that pro-democracy demonstrators occupied the airport, forcing the cancellation of all flights into and out of the country. She was routed through Singapore instead but got to Kathmandu two days late, so we spent a couple of days just relaxing at our guesthouse. When she did arrive, after a day of recovery time we immediately took off for Nepal’s Terai region, the fertile lowlands along the India border. This semi-tropical plain is home to half the Nepali population, the birthplace of the Buddha, and our destination: Chitwan National Park, Nepal’s most-visited patch of forest.
Lynn and Kim, proving that it IS in fact a jungle out there
Called “Royal Chitwan National Park” until King Gyanendra was deposed a couple of years ago and the country went on the biggest demonarchialization drive since the Reign of Terror, Chitwan is a former hunting preserve for the kings of Nepal and is a great place to see a variety of wildlife. We took an early-morning canoe trip down the River Rapti...
Nothing but the sound of birds and the lap of water against the boat
...and headed into the forest with our guide, Lalu...
The finest in Nepali jungle engineering -- don't fall in, there's crocs down there!
...in search of “big game.”
Rhino poo, and it’s fresh...
Among the creatures we encountered were:
Curious langur monkeys in the trees
”Marsh Mugger” crocodiles sunning themselves on the riverbank
No, this bad boy wasn’t in the wild; he was in a pen, captured after having tasted human blood. Still beautiful, though...
One-horned Indian rhinos grazing in the forest -- this was a treat, these guys are really rare outside the park
And, of course, we saw (and rode on) elephants. We visited the Elephant Breeding Center near the town where we stayed. It’s quite a sight, with mothers and babies.
Elephants in the mist (well, smoke actually -- they produce a lot of poo that needs to be disposed of!)
Who could resist that face?
The unexpected highlight of the trip to Chitwan, though, was going to watch the U.S. team compete in the World Elephant Polo Association tournament!
The finest in pachyderm polo action
Yes, there is such a thing as polo played on elephants (they use a standard ball and mallets with really long handles), and yes, the United States does have a team -- the New York Blue.
How can you not want to hang with a team whose uniform features blue Chuck Taylors?
We happened to be on the same flight from Delhi with these guys, and we decided it was our patriotic duty to come see them play. Basically, they’re a bunch of drinking buddies who decided it was a shame that we didn’t have a team, so they formed one, practicing on top of SUVs to prepare for the tournament.
And the truth is, elephant polo is a blast to watch! We cheered and chanted “USA! USA!” like nationalistic hooligans, and were rewarded for our efforts with a resounding victory over the Indian Tigers.
Mounting up behind their mahout (elephant driver)
The referee tossing the ball to start the first “chukker” (period)
Racing after the ball with India in hot pursuit
It’s anyone’s ball!
If you’ve been following our blog since the beginning, you know that I like to find a larger lesson in what we’ve seen and experienced, and finish each entry with some sort of pithy observation. Well, apart from noting that the polo players wore something like pith helmets, I really can’t come up with a witty closing for this post. So I’ll leave it at this:
It doesn’t get much better than good friends, the beauty of God’s creation, and eight elephant-borne dudes with sticks trying to whack a little white ball between two posts.