Sunday, December 26, 2010

Nepal 3: Elephant Races in Chitwan

Action shot of some elephant football!! 
(Explained later in this post but I wanted to start off with a solid picture.)

Today we headed to Chitwan. We woke up early and got a taxi to Kantipath where the busses were. The travel guide guy from the Hotel Ganesh Himel had given us an envelope with a bunch of stuff in it for the rest of our trip. Our bus tickets were in the envelope and it is supposed to be about a 6 hour ride. There were 8 other people on the bus. It was kind of a chilly morning but not that bad. We sat down in our seats and I immediately passed out when the bus started moving.

The front of the bus that we rode from Kathmandu to Chitwan.

I woke up because I was freezing cold. Even with my crew jacket and intense trekker shoes on my feet and hands were numb. There was a serious draft coming into the bus from somewhere but I just tried to ignore and went back to sleep. We stopped once, I kind of woke up, looked around, saw that there were a lot more mountains and trees and then fell back asleep. We stopped at a small restaurant up in the mountains so Steve and I got off the bus to get some tea. When we got back on the bus Steve and I switched seats so he was at the window seat. I warned him that it was cold in that seat. Two minutes later Steve turns to me and says, "Uhh Maddie, your window was open...." 
No wonder it was freezing cold!! The mountain air was just blowing right into the bus through the window!! So needless to say, we closed the window and I was at a much more comfortable temperature for the rest of the bus ride.

A view on the bus ride.

I stayed awake for the last two hours of the bus ride. Bad idea. It was much less stressful when I was sleeping. The roads were pretty narrow and there were these ginormous cliff drops off the side of the road. We kept getting behind these really slow vehicles (like trucks full of rocks) so the bus driver would just beep a lot and then pass them on the outside. I thought for sure we were going to get hit about 4 different times pulling these passing maneuvers. The preformance of the bus itself was pretty impressive. A million times I thought for sure we had broken an axle or popped a tire going over some of those ditches and bumps on the bumpy road but the bus stayed in one piece for the whole ride.

Some little girls playing at their house on the side of the road. Taken during the bus ride.

Cars on the other side of the road would go by us with literally inches to spare. We saw a ton of mountain scenes and river flowing through them. There was sudden change in scenery and raise in temperature: we were getting closer to Chitwan. 

Quite the change of scenery when we got to Chitwan.

We got dropped off in a dirt parking lot with a bunch of pick up trucks parked around it. As we got off the bus we were approached by 20 different guys with brochures, all shouting names of hotels and resorts. We whipped out our master travel envelope (from the travel guide guy) and looked for the driver with the brochure that matched ours. We found Gobind (pronounced Go-been-da) who was the guy from our hotel place. He put our bags in the back of a pick up truck and we hopped in after them. 

Steve being way to excited about our truck ride to the hotel

The Jungle Safari Lodge was about a 10 minute drive from the bus stop station. This was clearly a much more rural place than the bustling streets of Thamel in Kathmandu. There were flat fields of yellow flowers, little thatched roof houses, people outside, kids playing in the streets, bicycles on the roads, and tons of rays of sunshine.

Gobind showed us our room and had us fill out some passport stuff. The room was awesome. Steve took the single bed so I was left with the queen bed (yess!!). There were mosquito nets above both, probably more for the really warm season but still, I used mine both nights just to be safe. Steve and I did the normal video footage and picture documentation of the room, dropped our bags and headed to lunch. Lunch was chicken, vegetable cutlet, cooked vegetables, and fries. And some salty meat soup thing.

Lunch: chicken, vegetable cutlet, vegetables, fries.

After lunch Gobind and his friend asked if we would like to go to the elephant races instead of the program activities. Elephant races?!? Whaaat??!? So get this: we are in Chitwan for two days, it just so happens that it's the one weekend of the year that the anual Elephant Races are happening. OF COURSE we wanted to go!!
Gobind and his friend walked us about 20 min down the dirt road of the town until we saw a ton of people and a huge banner that said "The 7th Annual International Elephant Races: Together for Tourism" <--kind of funny but in reality Nepal is trying to increase their tourism economy now that they're government is more stable than in the past.

The first elephant we met, Beauty. She belongs to the Jungle Safari Lodge (our hotel!)
Here's what I saw in the first 20 minutes: an entire field of parked motorcycles, horses pulling carts, elephants walking around, people riding elephants, food booths, racing lanes, a soccer field, a stage, oxen, more elephants, and a TON of people. We had just missed the actual elephant racing event but we were just in time to see the ox cart races, the horse races, annnnnnddd ELEPHANT FOOTBALL!!!! (aka elephants playing soccer). Kind of hard to describe all these things so I'm just going to bombard you with a bunch of pictures of the event instead.

This was off to the side during the ox cart races. This guy was practicing for the horse races. He was intennse. Turns out he actually got last during the horse race. I think all that practicing might have tired out his poor little horse haha

This was basically a toystore that was attached to a bicycle. You can't really tell from this picture but the guy could actually sit on the bicycle and ride it around the event selling these little toys and balloons and random carnival toy stuff. The kids loved it.

A bunch of little kids were selling peanuts at the Elephant Races. Some boys would walk around the crowd with plastic bags of peanuts yelling "Potam potam potam potam!!" Which I guess is the Nepalese word for peanut. Some kids would have these little blankets set up as a make shift peanut store. There would be a huge pile of peanuts and two sizes of cups on top for filling the small or the large bag sizes. In the picture above, these two seemed like brother and sister. Quite the business duo. In this picture they're in the middle of a big sale, the guy bought like 6 bags of peanuts!

This kid was rocking a sick hat. Plus he had the best view of 
the races while riding on his dad's shoulders.

There were some of the cutest kids ever at this place. They kind of reminded me of the kids in El Salvador, just their care free attitudes and the fact that they were allowed to run anywhere they wanted with pretty much no supervision at all. Good life. The people watching was incredible and it was enough of an even that it wasn't weird for me to be taking a ton of pictures.
The little boy on the left had just gotten this truck toy from the bicycle man. The boy was completely enthralled with this truck. He was making engine noises and flying it through the air, completely oblivious to the fact that he was walking through random crowds of people and fields. And the little boy on the right, totally smiling for the camera. But who can blame him, he knows he looks good in that hat. haha

Elephant football!! These guys ride around on elephant calves and play soccer by making the elephants kick the ball. It was actually really impressive. The crowd loved it. The people could basically sit right up on the edge of the field: good for viewing the game, not so good if an elephant decides to run out of bounds haha

More elephant football!!

After the ox races, horse races, and elephant football there was a show on the stage. Two guys and a girl did some comedy act all in Nepalese so Steve and I didn't understand a single word. But I guess they were pretty funny because everyone was laughing histerically. We were just laughing becuase of their facial expressions and attitudes. Some teenagers did a few Bollywood type dance numbers and then a guy and a girl did a slightly awkward couple's dance. Slightly awkward because they clearly were not quite as in love as the song made them out to be. Also, the boy wasn't the most coordinated kid ever. 

Dad with his son watching the dance show on the stage.

After the show, Gobind walked us back to the hotel. Most of the town was dark because of the power cuts. Okay not sure if I've mentioned this BUT in Nepal, due to some political stuff, their electricity is not completely figured out yet. There is only so much power available so they have to save it by doing power cuts. Sometimes the power cuts last for 18 hours a day. But while we were there it was usually just at night. The hotels often have generators for the lights and such but the town was mostly dark. On the walk back we saw a ton of people sitting around fires, some had candles lit, and every so often one of the shops had a small generator strong enough to power a single lightbulb to light up the merchandise in the store.

Back at the hotel, Steve showered. Apparently there was no hot water this time even for him<--probably becuase of the power cuts. Dinner was sweet corn soup, chicken, veggies, potatoes, and a really weird pudding thing. After dinner I took my second cold shower of the week. I'm starting to become a pro at taking really really fast freezing cold showers.

I was sitting around writing about the events of the day when I heard a ton of drumming and singing outside. Steve was reading so I went to see what it was. Across the wall of the hotel there were a ton of people dancing around in a circle, shouting, singing, drumming and waving their hands around. I was out of sight in the darkness of the hotel wall so I just watched for a while. Suddenly, the single spotlight that was illuminating the party shut off. Everyone screamed and cheered and the drums got even louder. I let my eyes adjust to the new pitch black darkness and continued to watch the black mass of shadows dancing around. Creeping closer I could see that it was mostly local people and a few non locals. Then the light switched back on. My first thoughts, "Ahh they can see me!" One of the guys from the hotel spotted me and walked over. He motioned for me to join the dance and said, "It's a local dance, no problem. Local dance." waving his hand towards the group. I politely decline saying that I was just watching. He said that tomorrow night we would get to see a cultural dance preformance and they were practicing tonight. He walked back with me to the hotel and gave me some extra blankets because our heater wasn't working. The blankets at this hotel were the best blankets ever. If I had room in my suitcase I would have stolen about 5 of them.

Went back to the room and fell asleep. Tomorrow morning we're going canoing really early!!

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