In the heart of the jungle Candace Rose Rardon
Travel writer Candace Rose Rardon recently explored the deep jungles of Chitwan National Park, south-central Nepal on an unforgettable journey.
“Watch your heads,” says Deepak, our guide and driver, as he lifts a large, leafy branch out of our way. That we should have to duck to miss a branch fifteen feet off the ground can only be explained by one thing: we’re on the back of an elephant.
While Deepak sits close to the head of Rani, a 23-year old female elephant with spotted pink ears, I’m tucked safely away in a simple wooden howdah--or, seat--as we move further through the Baghmara Community Forest in Chitwan, Nepal. With a stick and metal rod in hand, Deepak pokes his feet behind either of Rani’s ears to let her know which direction to go.
The forest we’re exploring is adjacent to Chitwan National Park--Chitwan meaning “heart of the jungle”--and is located in south-central Nepal, quite literally on the Indian border. While it initially served as the ruling class’ hunting grounds in the 19th century, it now stands as the country’s first national park, established in 1973 and declared a World Heritage Site in 1984. The area is key to many of Nepal’s animal conservation efforts, home to everything from a nearby tiger reserve to a vulture breeding centre.
Our ride takes us on a long amble through the jungle. It’s easy to get caught up in the sway of Rani’s steps, the slow movements that go up and down as we climb mud banks, wade across muddy lakes, and brush past trees. Along the way, we pass several spotted deer, a mischievous wild boar, a few reddish-brown monkeys scampering through the treetops, and even a peacock perched up high on a branch--but sadly, the region’s iconic rhinos elude us this time.
When we come to an open, grassy field, Deepak turns around and says, “This part is dangerous.”
Thinking of the tigers we’d also yet to see, I ask him why.
“Because Rani not always listening to me.”
But with so much wildlife and rich forest foliage all around, I’d get distracted if I were her, too.