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The International Writers Magazine: Nepal Journeys

Her DAMNED second cup of Coffee
David Russell

At Chitwan National Park in Bharatpur, Nepal on Lumbini Airlines our planned highlight was to take jungle photos of Leopards or Tigers from up high on
the haunch of an elephant.

Waiting at a river bank for canoes to come fetch us we had a local tourist food picnic of Fried Chicken, Yak Cheese sandwiches, a hard boiled Egg, packaged Orange Juice and mini-red Bananas. When the dugout canoes finally arrived from up-river, we made the crossing of the short waterway in 15 minutes.

At the Chitwan camp our quarters were bungalows stilt-mounted and open on all sides. You exchanged privacy for cool night breezes by closing bamboo window covers.

Our itinerary called for us to take two Elephant rides.

During the first, we learned the startling information that the difference between White and Black Hippos was that the Black Hippo had wet mud while the White Hippo’s mud had already dried. Wow! Was that a major important learn!

What was an important learn is that Elephants do not walk, they plod. Left front forward, you slide left. Right rear forward, you slide right. Then repeat with right forward and left rear. A very strange rhythm. We likened the movement to being in a boat on the crest of an undulating wave that never-ends.

Our initial track had us plodding along a flat road which went into a small stream, then in water and out and through what seemed like endless field of reeds. The few animals we did see other than Hippos, were Rhesus and White Faced Monkeys plus too many bird species to sort. Not a sign of a Leopard or a Tiger. Not even a “spoor” (a urine stream claiming the territories as “his”), or even a claw track.

Eating reeds as they moved, every so often the beast “exhausted” a blast of air and an excavation of stool, creating an aroma of major discomfort no perfume could disguise. This reed in and excavation out was par for the entire “walk”.

Taking pictures from the lurching seating became a challenge of righting continually poor camera angles. Having heard what we were to face in our introduction, I had automatically loaded 1600 mm super fast film and increased my exposure speed, though the game our camera’s were really hunting remained illusive on the first of our two rides.

Nothing of major note posed for a picture worth showing that first day  other than shots of other group members, some seemingly quite uncomfortable, rolling to the elephant’s gait or out of desperation making a photo of the outpourings from the beast ahead of you.

Sitting on two pillows helped as I penned my first day notes, in the building they called “The Round House”, a high thatched roof, open on all side gathering place with a most active bar. I managed to salvage a double Beefeater on ice, which helped greatly. Nor was I was alone. That day, a sudden thirst came upon all us intrepid Elephant toppers.

Without leaving “The Roundhouse” we moved to the dinning area for a meal of Pork Kabobs, Potatoes dowsed with a heavily Onion-ed gravy, a scoop of Ratatouille and dessert of what I think was supposed to be  a Jelly Mold Cake. When leaving, I noted that the Beefeater bottle would soon require replacement, of which I made the bartender aware.

Morning on day two was early for us. Our schedule called for us at the elephant mount platform by 5:30 for a 1–½ hour Walk. The best picture I got that day, was between 5:30 and 5:45,  before the ride while we waited for one woman to finish her second cup of coffee. As the early light lifted my camera lens filled with a semi-clouded jungle, very much like a Japanese painting. It got many compliments. Still does.

Disappointedly, as we plodded along ten minutes later than we had planned, we had seen no jungle beasts other than our monkey and hippo friends until, suddenly our tracker stopped us. He, the other handlers and some of us slid off our elephants to see what he had found. There they were, Leopard tracks, “scratched” into the path and urinated upon by a territory claiming Leopard.
One tracker said we missed him by minutes. At that point, all eyes turned to our second cup of coffee friend sitting aloof high on her elephant perch.

Remounted, our elephant parade continued. After an hour, for most of us, the thrill was gone and the adventure began wearing thin. I believe the elephants were becoming as weary of us as we were of them, especially when they just stopped to feed on roadside reeds. Mumbles of discontent were being heard from the humans. Guess who was loudest?

So cutting the walk short, we returned to the camp where the elephants were rewarded with bales of hay. Fortunately, real food awaited us; Scrambled Eggs and Spam slices, Fried Potatoes and Onions, plus steaming hot Beverages. I noted that our second cup of coffee lady had few table mates that morning.

By afternoon, we had re-crossed the river, eaten a Sandwich of Yak Cheese, washed down with a packaged Orange Drink and begun our 5-hour up and down mountain drive to our next stop.

That 5:30 nature scene hangs as a blowup on my office wall. But, the space next to it where the Tiger or Leopard picture was to be has an Ansel Adams
instead.  To anyone headed for Chitwan, I wish you a more successful “shoot” ours. Just forget that second cup of coffee. And, if you luck out on the
picture taking, please send me a print.

© David Russell December 2009
druss811 at
Even in Africa, Mother Knows Best
David Russell

"We’ll stop here", whispered our driver, Meiza. Here, being the side of a dirt road late one afternoon while returning to camp from an afternoon game drive on the Serengeti.


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