Andrew talking about our bus from Chitwan to Pokhara is definitely more entertaining than the actual bus ride itself. Because that bus ride was brutal. We made it to Pokhara just before dusk, checked into our guesthouse. Splurged on a $13.00 room. I know, what you're thinking… Big spenders we are indeed. We ate, and then crashed, like we do after difficult journeys.
I was really excited to bathe an elephant. Seriously, who wouldn't be? Especially because the elephant conservation program we were thinking of doing in Thailand was fully booked (and the other was less hands on than I was looking for, and too expensive). I envisioned getting in the water, soap and sponge in hand, and having an elephant all to myself while I scrubbed and loved on him or her. Instead, the mahouts guided their elephant to the river bank, helped tourists on the back, walked the elephant out into the river for five minutes (at most) of the elephant spraying its guest with water. It wasn't what I wanted. I didn't want to get on an elephant's back (It's quite bad for them; you can read more about it here) and I didn't want to reward the mahouts with money for pimping out their elephants.
Instead, I bought bananas (from a woman who probably used similar punishing methods to train a monkey to climb the tree to retrieve them, as Andrew pointed out) and fed one of the elephants. He was a 34 years old, and his eyes looked so tired. Every poster we saw in Chitwan was all about "freeing the Rhinos" but what about the elephants? I want to free the elephants!
After "bathing" elephants and lunch, Andrew and I attempted to bike to the lakes outside of Chitwan National Park. We thought this would be a great way to see some animals from afar, and some good scenery without having to spring for the park fee that has tripled this past year. We were wrong. We've come to the conclusion (mostly after Chitwan) that all of our decisions in Nepal have been the wrong ones. Not exactly sure where we were after two hours of biking, and having little Nepalese boys make improper gestures at us, we gave up.
We biked back to the center and then made our way to the elephant breeding center. Lonely Planet described this journey as "an easy walk or cycle along the road past Jungle Lagoon Safari Lodge." Lonely Planet can suck it. If we would have walked, we would not have made it to the breeding center before sundown. It took us twice as long to get there from our estimates. They also made it seem like it was possible to interact with the baby elephants- which was also misleading.
The Elephant Breeding Center was like a zoo. A zoo for elephants only. That made you feel terrible for the elephants chained up to a post. They get out in the park in the afternoons, but I don't understand why they can't enclose the area for them instead of putting heavy chains around one of their legs. It was fun to watch them eat treats that the mahouts made for them, but mostly because many of the elephants figured out they needed to unwrap the grass around the sugar, molases, and salt and pour that into their mouths.
After an unsettling (squeeky brakes, road on the edge of a mountain) bus ride from Kathmandu to Chitwan, we arrived to the National Park. Chitwan was not what we had expected. At. All. It's a town centered around the National Park boasting jungle safaris, public elephant bathing, bike rides around the outskirts of the park, and we thought, a more town-like atmosphere. It felt a little like Nagarkot, except with elephants.
Many tourist agencies offered two-day/three-night packages, but we thought we could do it on our own. After scoring a guesthouse room for 300 Rs (less than $4.00), we thought we made the right choice. We had lunch with two NGO workers from Kathmandu, and then set out to find the Elephant Breeding Center. Without a map. With dusk approaching, we gave up. I did a little bit of work, while Andrew booked us for the Tharu Cultural Program at night.
The Cultural Program was packed. The dancing and druming was fun to watch and listen to, but the people walking down the center aisle to stand and take pictures and videos were not so much fun to have block the performance. The announcer was adorable, and over-zealous in his intonation. At one point, he was introducing the dancers that were going to dance with "drums made of yak skin and peacock fetus!" I paused. Unsure of what I had just heard. The older Canadian women next to me errupted in giggles.
"Did he just say peacock fetus?" Andrew asked. Yep. That's what I thought I heard, and I errupted as well.
"Feathers." I tried to whisper. "I think he meant feathers."
"You caught that too?" The Canadian woman whispered after she caught.
Half of the program seemed to be geared towards a Nepalese audience, with inside jokes and skits that the foreigner crowd didn't quite know how to appreciate. I think the program is performed every night, and I have to say, it shows. Not in a good way, but in the way that you can tell some of the dancers were bored and/or didn't really want to be there. It was no Battambang Circus, that's for sure. I mean seriously, walking, instead of dancing off-stage? Being late for different numbers. Oh no. My childhood dance teachers would not have that. at all.