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.