From Kathmandu we go on a three day trip to Chitwan National Park, in the south of Nepal, close to the border with India. Chitwan National Park is home to elephants, rhino’s and beautiful flora and fauna. In the park you can also make a nice Jeep safari or go on a canoe ride over the river, to spot them.
Chitwan National Park is, sadly enough, for most tourists their once in a lifetime opportunity to ride on or bath an elephant. So when visiting this wonderful place, you might be confronted with this form of animal cruelty. Almost every hotel has their own elephants, chained in an open shed next to the hotel. They offer trips to the elephant breeding centre, riding an elephant or the opportunity to bathe an elephant. Most of the time all these activities are combined in one package including the accommodation, so a lot of people end up doing them because they have already paid for it anyway.
What a lot of people don’t know is that the accommodations also offer jeep safari’s through the national park in stead of riding on elephants. The jeep safari is a lot less popular though and takes some effort from the hotel as well. So some of them might not even inform you about it. Make sure to ask about it! You can then go on a jeep safari to spot tigers while other people, who are ignorant to the animal cruelty, will go ride an elephant, so there will be no changes in your time table.
We also booked a full package tour at a beautiful resort, Hotel Parkland. Which is, especially to Nepalese standards, a very luxurious resort with a well maintained garden, friendly staff and a swimming pool. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are included, but for us it was a little bit overrated. Don’t get me wrong, this was absolutely a beautiful place, but being backpackers we would have been just as happy in a hostel, deciding what to do and what to eat for ourselves. It’s nothing like an all inclusive resort in for example Turkey, which is what we expected though. Of course there’s no western food or desserts, but the buffet style meals are good enough. Maybe we are just a little bit spoiled by our host in Kathmandu who cooks delicious food every day.
I really didn’t like to see all the imprisoned elephants. Some of them look terribly hurt, sad and unhappy. Maybe it’s just me, but I always think I can feel animal emotions. It made me feel horrible to see these magnificent creatures suffering like that. All elephants we saw were either stuck on a chain on their feet or walking around with a bunch of stupid tourists on their back, accompanied by their trainer. I even saw trainers stand on their trunk! Trainers always carry around a stick with sharp hooks “for the safety of the tourists”, which of course they hardly use in the presence of tourists but I know better. These hooks are very well known by all trained elephants, because the “training” of an elephant is basically nothing more then teaching an elephant that it will hurt if they don’t listen. These poor animals live in fear their whole lives, which I think is horrible.
The complete tour package for me didn’t feel right at all, because I knew a part of my money would sustain the abuse of these animals, even through I didn’t participate myself. So if you care about animals you’re only option to go here is by yourself. Don’t book a package or a fancy all inclusive hotel. Get the bus here, walk around and pick a hostel that at least doesn’t have their own elephants.
Hoping to see something good, we went to the elephant breeding centre. Unfortunately this place is more depressing than what we’ve seen so far. Information signs teach you about the breaking of a baby elephant before they can start their training. Just like that! It’s right there, out in the open, on the wall for everyone to read. These people have no shame of guilt by what they are doing. Elephants we see here all have strange tics like shaking their head all the time, they are obviously stressed out and they look more sad than any other elephant we’ve seen so far. My eyes kept tearing up when I was walking around here. Of course it’s a good thing that they help the elephants breed, but not a single elephant that’s being born here gets a fair chance on a bright future. They are all raised in captivity to serve humans. They are a product of the tourist industry, like a bracelet you buy in Thamel. It’s just not right.
The bathing of the elephants was also something I wish I hadn’t seen. It was so sad to see how the elephants had to obey their trainers all the time, while they were rather enjoying themselves in the water. There was really no time to enjoy the bathing, because the trainers’ main concern was entertaining the tourist on the elephants back, so the tourists that were watching would also pay to bath them. They have to get down and get up on command, spray water on command and if they throw the tourists off their back they get hit pretty bad. No wonder all elephants here are covered in pink scar tissue on their head. To me, the fact that the elephants throw the people off their backs, is a huge sign of resistance. They don’t want these people on their back! I’m amazed to see how many people are actually too selfish to see this and do it anyway. Maybe they really don’t know how elephants are trained or they just ignore what they know. Either way, it’s horrible to see how, in this world of internet, Facebook, Youtube, etc., people still pretend not to know anything for their own pleasure. It makes me sick.
But, luckily we also do some nice things here, haha! Sorry for all the heavy talk. I don’t really know how to cope with things like animal abuse. Chitwan is not at all a total waste of time or money. The first evening we went on a walk to spot some wild rhino’s (at least they are still living in the wild where they belong). It was a fun tour with a knowledgable guide who knew a lot about the animals and the national park. It’s good to see that there are also people here with a big heart for animals. We were lucky enough to spot 3 white rhinos! So cool! We weren’t allowed to come too close and we had to be quiet all the time because these animals still fear humans (and they should), so they will run if they hear us coming too close. It was a really nice experience.
Also the canoe ride in the morning is a lot of fun. In traditional Nepalese wooden boats, cut out of one tree, we float calmly on the river. It’s so nice and quiet and we see many beautiful birds and even some alligators that the guide points out. It’s important to sit very still, because the boats are not too steady and can easily tip over. Everyone quietly tries to ignore the elephant crossing the river with 4 (!) tourists on it’s back, which is especially hard when we all see the trainer hit him with the hooks if he lingers too long in the river on this bloody hot day. I can sense that even our guide disagrees with the way things go here, but he would be an idiot of course to complain about his main source of income.
The jeep safari was pretty amazing. It took at least 3 hours and we saw a lot of deer, wild boars, piglets and other cool creatures. I can’t imagine an elephant ride would be better than this, but of course there will always be people who believe so. I’m not sure if I would recommend going to Chitwan yourself. If you’re a great animal lover like I am, it’s going to be hard to watch. I felt very sad most of the time and I’ve seen things that will haunt me for a while. On the other hand you can still see lots of beautiful flora and fauna without participating in the cruelty.
Anyway, the choice is up to you. Just remember that the bus ride up here (and back) takes a full day and is very uncomfortable due to the very bad road. And please, please don’t ever climb on or wash the back of an elephant. Please! Just in case you have no idea why not, here’s a video. And yes, this is something EVERY trained elephant has gone through. Watch at your own risk.