A welcome dose of nature after a full on 9 days in Kathmandu. We stayed at the beautiful Kasara Resort. It was stunning and included heaps of activities. One of which being an elephant-back safari. Going into this, I knew I was going to be torn whether or not to partake. Elephant tourism obviously involves some strong opinions thanks to countries like Thailand and Bali. It's not something that I want to get into too deeply but would like to quickly explain why I decided not to ride one here.
Chitwan is one of the only National Parks in the world where elephant, rhino and tiger populations are increasing. While elephant tourism plays a very different role in Nepal, I couldn’t imagine any situation where I would feel good getting on or off one. It is true that elephant tourism actually has a positive effect on the conservation of many animals in Nepal, but I think the main point I learnt is not to confuse government-owned elephants with privately-owned resort elephants.
The government use the elephants to patrol the park for poachers and recording important data, and a small amount of tourism. The park rangers ride them through the park to blend in and be safe from predators. No rhinos have been poached in Chitwan National Park in over 3 years. These elephants are kept mostly unchained in large open fields and make a real positive difference to the increasing populations of endangered animals. I believe there are options to go on government-owned elephants safaris where the profit goes directly back into the park.
Privately owned elephants: These are mainly for tourism purposes. There are resorts that are truly dedicated to giving these elephants the most natural possible life in captivity they can, so just do your research. While I am aware that although the particular elephants I interacted with were rescued from India and were treated with love and care by their Mahouts, I wasn’t satisfied enough to justify climbing onto one. The resort keeps most of the profits from these privately owned elephants. The only amount that went to the park is a small entrance fee. So in my eyes, it was pretty heavily weighted toward financial gain. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, but this is based on my discussions with the resort manager and a lot of my own research, including this article on Responsible Travel. I also went to see where the elephants lived when they weren't interacting with guests to make up my own mind.
It’s a bit of a grey area really. It helps but it doesn’t. The elephants are cared for and have a better life than they did before and better than they would elsewhere - noting here you can't just introduce an elephant into the wild when it was raised in captivity. It isn’t like most of the abuse you see in Bali or Thailand, but privately owned elephants are still chained up on small concrete pads for long periods when they aren’t being used (otherwise they will literally go on a rampage and mow down the whole village). Moral of it all is to just make your own informed and ethical decision. Not one just for a photo to share with your friends on social media. There are other ways your money can help in the protection of the park and its animals. At the end of the day, it’s every traveller's right to avoid activities that they disagree with, but Chitwan should also be given the credit they deserve for helping with the conservation of several beautiful endangered animals.
(Nowwww I'm scared because I know what it's like to share opinions on the internet these days. I'm keen to hear your views if you have any, but take it easy!)
That aside, I completely loved the village, the river cruise, the jeep safari and the bush walk. Except for the part where the guide said if we see a tiger we were pretty much doomed. Keep an eye out for the snap of a tiger print in the dirt and a monkey print going in the opposite direction.
Next up was a safari which was my absolute favourite part of Chitwan. We saw 7 One-Horned Rhinos (critically endangered), too many Alligators & Crocodiles to count, a Sloth bear and some golden sunset goodness.
For the remainder of our time in Chitwan, I went exploring some of the village. It was amazing interacting with the locals and seeing how they live. Nepalese are such kind, welcoming people and loved having their photo taken!
Last stop of the trip was Pokhara. This lakeside town was accurately described as 'the Queenstown of Nepal" and is the gateway to many incredible hikes. We were only lucky to see the Himalayas for a very brief 15 minutes and it legitimately scared me because of their sheer size! Pokhara was the most incredible place to shop for sterling silver jewellery, precious stones and cashmere. I highly recommend buying your cashmere products from Helping Hand - an organisation that hires deaf and blind staff. We went to visit some huge caves that homed thousands of bats. I thought they were super cute. Why must I always love things with rabies.
And with that, I surgically removed my camera from my hand and couldn't bring myself to pick it up again for the rest of the trip. Instead, I replaced photo-taking with massages, shopping and eating.