Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

We thank you for joining us in our trip around the world...

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Elephants


We finish quickly our breakfast, because it's time we leave for the elephants. We climb into a jeep, drive for a few minutes until we reach Chitwan National Park. To be honest, we are in the buffer zone. We get down, pass a few stands with food and juices, and two with souvenirs. We follow the dirt path to a fence with wooden ladders. On the other side is... an elephant, who wears a straw pallet with a cubic wooden frame. Four people on an elephant. Maria volunteers to go separate. We are instructed on how to sit and I choose my place: backside on the left hip. The mahout (elephant driver) nudges his animal and we go.
In the beginning... slowly, to learn the rhythm. Dang-dang forward-left, backward-right and again.
A short break. We stop because the other elephant needs to relieve herself. We start again, toward the river.



Suddenly we change slopes: we go down a steep bank! What if he wants to spray us with his trunk? Fortunately, he is a well behaved elephant. On the other side of the river the mahout realizes that the elephant doesn't move quickly enough so he starts banging him with a stick, and because he still doesn't move, changes to an ankh (a metal instrument with a hook—described better in "Jungle Book" by Kipling). The elephant decides that is better to follow the instructions, so now we are shaken quickly. We enter the so-called jungle. The fog starts to lift. We hear different calls and when we are close enough we can see the birds. We talk in whispers because we don't want to scare the few little wild animals who didn't react to the elephant's approach. We can feel under us a barely audible vibration: the elephant is talking. He is communicating with the other through low frequency sounds.
Heeeey! yells the mahout in his language and starts a conversation at a distance with the other one. Until now we walked together, but we just separated, ours saw some deer. Many grown-up Bambis looked at us from under the leaves.


Moving on. Our legs start to get tired. If we leave them hanging down, leaves and branches hit us. I find a stick on the side of the padding that I can rest my foot on. Dang-dang. The top part of the cage is around my shoulders. It makes me feel secure. But it's not ergonomic for taking pictures. If I put my arms on it, they go to sleep. If I lean on my shoulders and raise the camera on the other side, it hurts from the trepidations. I change my posture frequently and am OK.
We continue. For a while there was a third elephant behind us. Bushes, trees, bushes, trees. How interesting... Flap-flap-flap... A small eagle with a lizard in its talons flies in front of us. Disappears and then we see it again in a tree. The lizard was long dead and dry, so now the eagle is looking around for more food.
Now we are alone. Maybe we'll see something... we tip-toe (in an elephant way) into a clearing and... surprise... we stop! And stay. I start to doubt the ability of our mahout to find wild animals in this area. Maybe he is lost? Is he waiting for the other ones to help him out?
We wait patiently on our elephant and see something moving. Ioan stands up in the cage. A monkey! No, seriously, a monkey. The child is right, a monkey moves stealthily through grass, climbs half way up tree, relieves itself and goes away. A baby monkey follows it at a short distance. Hmmmm, maybe if we wait a little bit, more monkeys will come. In the meantime we reunited with Maria's elephant. For sure that's what we're doing, because, see... there is another monkey at the edge of the clearing. We're still waiting and from the forest emerge ten elephants, each one with four tourist and a mahout! We were the monkeys?
We leave in a group. Super, now for sure we are not going to see anything! All the tourists are quiet, the mahouts are chatting as a contrast. They're shouting at each other. We reenter the forest and in a different clearing... a rhinoceros with its baby! 


Woooow! Suddenly the tourists come to life: they take pictures (we were trying to pass each other the camera, depending who had the best view). The mahouts are pushing their elephants in the first row; we have time to watch without the camera: the calf was behind its mother, trying to eat grass. They are doing their own thing and at some point they turn their behinds toward us.
This is how it really looked.

We can say we saw something on this walk. The group of elephants disperses, each following its own path. In silence we walk toward a green pond. On its bank we stop. This time our mahout felt the call of nature. He just came back when two more elephants stop behind us. Our mahout stands on the head of the elephant, steps onto the next one and sits. It is his friend and colleague's turn to relieve himself! Good thing the tourists are not allowed, else we will still be there waiting in line!
OK... we're moving. We count: we see spotted dears, grey ones and a stag, an eagle, a rhinoceros with her calf... what else do we get to see? The end. We walk toward it in a rapid and spontaneous rhythm. The elephant knows that he is going to eat and after that he is going to take his bath, so he doesn't need any coercion to hurry up. He rear parks... we climb down one after another and look at our elephant: it's a she with white spots on her ears and trunk (a sign she is old enough). We caress her: she is warm and has prickle hairs. In the end we have to go, at 11:30 we have to wash two elephants.


We dress in our long bathing suits, we put our Teva sandals, especially bought for this occasion and wait in an agitated fashion. The manager of the lodge comes and tells us we don't need the sandals, so the children abandon them without regret. The river is at 300 yds distance and it's supposed we are going to get to it on the elephant's back. First they have to make the elephant sit down in that sandy spot. Then they arrange the ladder next to it and we climb: Ioan, Ileana and then me (Maria will go on her own elephant). We have to hold tight onto the mahout so we will not slide down when the elephant gets on his feet. It is not difficult to sit on it, just uncomfortable. I'm trying to remember from the horseback riding lessons how to hold my feet, a little bit bended and apply pressure, that will give me a good grip.


 We step into the river, where the current is strong, and ...splish-splash Ileana and Ioan fall into the water (they didn't anticipate the moment of lying in the water). Laughs. The mahout tells us to climb on again. I'm glad, thinking that we move in a different spot where I can stand. No such luck. He pulls its ear and shouts a command again and again until willy-nilly the elephant sprays us with its trunk. Once, twice, thrice. It would be funny if the elephant would like it too. It is a contest of wills, the elephant is not in pain and the only hurt feelings from the shouts are ours. Ioan is the first one to give up and tells the mahout that we had enough. We move and dunks us again in the water. With a rock we start rubbing its dark brown skin. On his back he has wrinkles. On his sides has more hairs, a reddish brown, than on his back.


 It doesn't take long and we have to leave. The mahout teaches us to hold onto both its ears, and push his trunk so it will help us climb onto its head. He pulls its ear again, and this time the elephant starts easily to spray us. Slowly, with the feeling that we did something extraordinary, we return to the sandy spot.



In the afternoon we have scheduled a visit to the Elephant Reproduction Center. We were taken there into a single tree canoe (silk cotton tree; in 25 years will get to the required dimensions; unfortunately a canoe, even with the best treatment, will resist only 10 years). 



 On the banks of the Bhuri Rhapti River (the Old River) we saw a gharial (a crocodile with a long and narrow snout), marsh muggers (normal crocodiles), all kinds of birds (peacock, egrets, stork, kingfisher).







The center was a small building in which you could find the ticket counter, the room for the soldiers (the park has army surveillance) and the information room. We spent 10 minutes in the last one, reading about the history of the park, about elephants in general (anatomy, reproduction, captivity) about their dressage.  They need three men for an elephant: one cleans up, another provides the food and the mahout will train it, etc. In an elephant's life (70 years) will be two or three mahouts. At two years they start the training. The calf is separated from its mother, tied up with both front feet to a pole, deprived of food and water, to weaken it and not to be able to hurt itself or the people. The basic training will take a month and is complete in approximately two years. In this world there is no one who studied the elephants language? Their rules and their society? Don't they have an elephant whisperer, to use body language and low frequency sounds?
Outside we see a baby elephant walking under a big one. It is pushed with the trunk and that causes a third elephant to trumpet and flutter its ears. This is the real mom! The baby comes to her, suckles a little and then moves on freely. 




We saw twins (I didn't know they could have twins), two boys two years old. They were half the size of an adult and soon they will start the training... Somewhere far away a calf was touching with its trunk its mother like in a tag game, and she was shaking her head... he wanted to be spoiled and suckle, but he was too big. 


Eventually he got his way.

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