Chitwan National Park, Nepal

 

After the long anticipated journey, I finally was able to board the plane.  Everything seemed finalized, however haphazardly I had to get things together last minute. Since this journey would be a research trip, then I had to carry a lot of equipment with me. The day of the flight, we had packed a total of 7 suitcases, plus my carry on luggage. All I remember is a ton of bubble wrap and boxes flying everywhere. Since I had been in Vegas visiting my father, then I had planned on flying out to Nepal after only one day in San Diego. That day was somewhat filled with chaos as I bought last minute supplies and packed the suitcases. Finally, everything worked out with no major issues, except having to go to the Nepali cargo office the next day to fill out customs paperwork. I remember making that plan because it was Dec 10th, and the pandemic for omicron was picking up so I wanted to leave as soon as possible. A few days later the Nepali government issued another mandatory quarantine, but it was just to psyche everyone out because they suspended the decision again a few days later. Anyway, I was trying to avoid any kind of travel issues, which worked because a week or two later then a cascade of flights have been cancelled due to the covid outbreak. I managed to avoid it although it was a chaotic scene on my day of departure. 

The offices in Nepal are how I remember them being in India. I'll never forget the first time I tried to mail something at the post office on my first trip to India, and how chaotic the whole thing seemed... even down to the wrapping of the packages with scraps of cardboard. The cargo office in Nepal seemed similarly chaotic, although everyone was very polite and well dressed. The system of order seemed as though a lot of things happen all at once. I found it to be professional despite the language barriers and the necessity of needing a translator. Luckily, one of my colleagues, Shiva, was available to assist which took around 3-4 hours to process the equipment through their office. Mainly because it was research equipment and not being used to make fancy movies, so we actually were able to import the equipment without paying many fees. It took us a while to figure out how to process it and with which codes, although everything eventually worked out. 

Eventually, after the accompanying 5 hour drive from Kathmandu to Chitwan, was also somewhat tenuous. Since the highway has a cliffhanger to the river valley below then sitting on the side of the bus is a bit nerve wracking. I like to look down to the seemingly perilous drop off, where one wrong turn or accident would send any vehicle over the edge. The view of the river is beautiful the whole time. There are numerous very small squatter style businesses setup on the side of the road, apparently in the case someone stops for some snacks, plastic flower garlands, tea, or even lunch. It seems many bridges have been built alongside the road so people from across the river can also come to the highway. When I gaze out of the window, I'm amazed at the resilience of these people working on the edge of a dusty highway. 

After arriving in Chitwan, then I'm warmly welcomed by the staff at the nice hotel there. Since I had been sitting for what seems like days, then I take a long three mile walk to the elephant breeding center through some local village. The village life is so sweet, with many farm style houses. From what I've come to learn, the situation of elephant breeding and rearing is taken very seriously in the village. The breeding center is used for the breeding of military/police use elephants for various purposes for riding in certain areas.  There were several calves there when I walked around the loop. Since I got there so late, around 4:30pm, then they were already chained up for the night. Apparently, they graze all day and then are chained in the evening time. Wandering the loop made me slightly uncomfortable, although I do really care for elephants. I had a slight feeling of unease around the elephant industry in Chitwan overall. The next day, while having lunch then I saw one elephant walk past with a mahout riding it. I actually had never been so close to an elephant before and found it to be magnificent. Someone asked me if I wanted to ride one and I never have... from what I understand the elephant tourist industry is quite lucrative. The elephants themselves can be purchased for around 90k USD by a hotel owner or private individual. They can then charge around 45 USD for an hour of elephant riding. Currently, elephants can be ridden up to 8 hours per day. Since this is not easy for an elephant, then the owners will often beat them into submission so they perform their various tasks, which ends of abusing the elephants where during high use times you might have noticed bruises or even gashes in the elephants bodies. Since Covid has shutdown most of the tourist industry then this is much less, so the elephants I have seen are all healthy. I think the exploitation of the elephants has become more regulated in previous years, with increasing levels of private registration and regulations. Now, it seems at least one lodge is offering the experience of simply walking with the elephants, which I would like to try. That way the elephants are managed in Chitwan with the private and military ownership, and then wild elephant populations seem like two opposite ends of the spectrum. The Asian elephants are highly protected, since there are only around 150 of them in the park currently, and likely less than 300 wild elephants in the entire country of Nepal. However, there are then the industry elephants which are used for riding and various purposes. For example, I will probably ride the elephants during my fieldwork because of safety reason then there is no other way for me to perform the field tasks in certain areas without an elephant otherwise it's simply too dangerous. In any case, the perceptions of wild elephants and their treatment vs. industry elephants and their treatment are vastly different. 

The next day I manage to make it to a work meeting with some of my new teammates. They introduce me to two baby rhinos there at the NGO complex that were apparently rescued when they were discovered with a dead mother. They also have several elephants that are similarly cared for. We start to make some plans for working in the area. 

 

Mainly, Chitwan is a sleepy little tourist town, which has grown increasingly sleepier with the lack of tourism due to the pandemic. I did not see any hoards of Chinese or European tourists, and it seems Nepali and Indian families are making up the majority of tourist families in the safari jeeps. I can imagine what it would be like if the hotels in the area were full, however it seems I'm one of only a few people staying at the hotel I'm in. They make really good snacks, like paneer chili and paneer curry and roti while I sit alone in the dining area. I often simply look at my phone while the hotel staff takes care of me. They are so kind and can speak very good English. I heard Nepali's often speak English and so far everyone does, even the taxi drivers. 

Last modified onTuesday, 28 December 2021 07:42
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