Two Stories, One Lie

The wildlife in Chitwan was amazing. There were tropical jungle beasts just like in the Jungle Book. It was a haven for elephants and rhinos and tigers, where visitors arrive and spy on the exotic, flourishing fauna in its natural habitat, in tropical Asia. There is an elephant breeding center and one for the endangered crocodiles as well. Rivers wander lazily through the Gangetic Plain, protected by the National Park border. Guests are  educated about the wildlife and the elephants roam through the jungle when they aren’t interacting with their caretakers. The indigenous people live harmoniously in the jungle and subsist on its natural abundance. Sunsets are ruby and golden and serene.

Tharu native bringing collected foliage back to her village.
Baby elephant and mom at the breeding center 

Happy elephant bathing self 
Elephant ride

Wildlife education

Wildlife viewing in the jungle 

Tourists at the end of a full day in the park

Tourboats ending the day
Serene sunsets

The photos tell a story and depending on which photos I share, the story will be vastly different. In Chitwan more than any place I have ever been, as I held my camera, I knew that the choices I made, of what to include in my imagery, would greatly affect the story that I told. I was making story-telling decisions that were in opposition. For the first stretch of time, I instinctively left out all the parts that are really hard to absorb without the context of actually living in a developing country for a month. I explained before that this place really left me with a lot of feelings to sort out. The photos that came from Chitwan were in two distinct hemispheres. The photos above show one story. The next set of photos tell the rest of the story.

Overcrowding: too many people on too many elephants stomping through the jungle.

When not in use.

Trained using harsh  means (head and back wounds)

Lack of respect for a 3 ton animal

Painted and punished (head wounds)
Toothless basketweaver, beggar
Scorched jungle, set by “forest managers” to encourage new growth in a nutrient-poor, over used habitat. This is actually what caused the red sunsets (and rises) as well as all the “mist” you see in the photos.
The hardest part of all this is that both stories are true, depending on what you choose to see. I see potential and pain, beauty and torment, exotic and tamed. My hope is that Chitwan really is moving in the direction it should – toward conservation and restoration of the wild that is still left there. Newer resorts built outside the borders of the park are actually running eco-tours (with well-managed and cared for animals). They are much closer to what Westerners consider an eco-tour. Some of the old tour companies in the center of the park are being kicked out to make room for more nature, fewer ice cream stands, hotel showers and delivery trucks. It leaves me hopeful, but at the same time feels very much like the zoos of the 60s and 70s. We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.

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