Chitwan Revisited

I returned here because this place confuses and confounds me. It seems to be the best storm of contradictions, possibilities and inequities I have found.

Chitwan National Park and the area that surrounds it is so incredibly rich in environmental resources which promote tourism, but the variety of tourism they offer is not terribly sustainable, beneficial, lucrative. Jeep rides through the jungle to see wild animals (several of my jeep-mates were visibly miserable with the 4-hour ride)… elephant rides to do the same.
A hotel row carved out of the jungle, alongside the river, so that people can get close to wild things. Restaurants are loaded with liquor and barbecue, and lots of things to buy, like Mazatlan and Cancun must have been 50 years ago. Feels an awful lot like living in 2017, going back to visit a zoo of 1965. Before we realized there’s a better, more beneficial way.
I can’t even successfully spell it all out because of the twists and turns my logic has to take in order to present it all to you. The local people – the Tharu – live off of the jungle sustainably, but also rely on tourists buying their wares (weaving, basket making, food) to make money. It feels to me a little like the Amazon natives of today, or the N American Natives of 250 years ago. Cultures of different ages imposed on each other.
I’ve tried on several occasions to blog about Chitwan. Here are some.
The weather is beautiful here. Very much like Miami, and there’s even a riverside to sit beside and watch time pass. The river is muddy and gray, its shores too soft to walk on. And there are crocodiles and cobras – not friendly to swim in.Yesterday soon as I arrived they put me under a round palm-frond roof and put drinks in my hand. Like Hawaii but all under construction. Nothing smooth or finished. Banging and pounding outside my window as I write this. Not serene waves crashing in repetition.
It’s hard to get here – an 8-hour rough jeep ride on treacherous roads, or a tiny-plane domestic flight (the FAA ain’t here) with delays… it was sardineland at KTM yesterday! But the majority of the money that comes in is from tourism. They’ve been doing this for decades.
The wildlife isn’t scarce. I’ve seen wild rhinos… They are a success story here, brought back from the brink of extinction to more than 3000 creatures in Chitwan today (“We lost a few in the flood though.”) But they chase them in jeeps full of tourists, down two-tracks.

Rhino, elephant , deer and people all in the same place today.

The skies are often gently overcast, ruining most blue-sky photos, but you wouldn’t want the sun uncovered – too hot. So the layer of smoke and haze from pollution and humidity serves a purpose.

Mandatory boat ride across the river to reach the jeep tours and walking tours of the jungle.

The elephants look better-cared for than even 4 years ago when I was here. Many of the riding elephants were rescued from circuses then, still carrying the brands of their last owners. Many Asian countries are looking to Nepal’s wildlife successes here to model their own.
Everything is fragile here. They just endured a 100-year flood that killed thousands of people on the Nepal-India border. The palm roof I sat underneath yesterday was drowned under 3 meters of water just two months ago. They are amazingly tenacious about putting things back after disasters like that. But other things are slower…
Gorgeous, lush resorts are flanked by sewer outlets and burn piles.
Water is not safe to drink out of the tap for most Westerners. Even the locals buy bottled water, so the trash piles and plastic collection are out of hand.
Unique wildflowers scent the road which carries elephants, oxen, and diesel trucks, women sweep shop steps and place incense and offerings at their doorsteps before opening their stores.
They’re trying! There’s so much potential here for positive change and they know it.
Yesterday I visited a crocodile sanctuary. Today I will visit an elephant breeding center. They have done well with the rhinos. The newest resorts are outside of the national Park, and offer eco-tours only, in more polished resorts away from sensitive wildlife areas (they still offer elephant rides though).
The locals remain hopeful, even through the corruption of their government, and actively move it forward every day. Several of them have even said to me, “One day will be so beautiful.”