An Irritable Elephant Outing

"Today, elephant in very bad mood". This was not the welcome I was hoping for as I waited outside the guesthouse for my "lift" to the Chitwan National Park, especially given that my primary mode of transport for the day's jungle exploration was said angry elephant. I could hear it coming long before I saw it, a trumpeting echoed down the street followed by the occasional gruff exchange in Nepali. It rounded the corner with a thunderous welcome and, as they brought out a stool so I could clamber up into the basket on the elephant’s back, I began to have second thoughts. Two Swedish girls looked tentatively over the basket’s rim and gave me a nervous smile.

Today we were off in search of the elusive royal Bengal tiger, which, although rare, are occasionally seen in this area of Nepal. It was the tail end of the monsoon and after three continuous days of rain the sun had finally made a break for it and humidity levels were soaring, enough to make even the calmest of individuals irritable, let alone a two ton elephant with three girls and its owner strapped to its back.

We made our way slowly into the jungle and soon the tall grasses gave way to a dense canopy of green vegetation and trailing creepers. A musky warm smell filled the air from the rotting vegetation and mosquitoes dive bombed any area of skin left exposed while we desperately counterattacked with large quantities of Deet.

As we progressed deeper into the undergrowth it became increasingly difficult to identify a clear path through all the trees. However, our ill-tempered elephant was undeterred and not in the mood to have
anything stand in its way, instead, it lowered its head and with seemingly minimal effort pushed down the tree blocking our path, showering branches and leaves into our basket. While I was busily tucking my trousers into my socks to prevent any unwanted “guests” making their way inside the elephant owner gave a yelp and we made a hasty advance into the bushes, just in time to see the tail end of a
single horned rhinoceros go charging into the undergrowth. This impressive animal was built like a tank with skin that resembled gunmetal grey body armour and despite its size it was well camouflaged
in the low light of the jungle floor, blending into the tangled forest. This may not have been the tiger we had hoped for but was equally thrilling to see, a giant amongst the trees.

In a moment it had disappeared into the shadows and our elephant, bored of the silence, let out a roar and with surprising agility headed in the opposite direction, once again ignoring the reprimands of its owner.

S Archdale

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