We did two elephant treks. One through the jungle of the park, the purpose being to view other wildlife. The other trek was through the grasslands bordering the park, also viewing wildlife, but with the additional purpose of visiting some of the Tharu villages and experience the contrasting environment. I'll deal with each trek separately, but first a couple of tips:
1. Prepare yourself to be uncomfortable. You'll be riding in what is basically an upturned table. Anything longer than a couple of hours and you'll have trouble walking again! Try and convince the elephant's owner to le tyou ride on the neck for a while - it's much more comfortable.
2. Bring fast film for your camera and a telephoto lens. 400-speed film minimum, and try and use a lens longer than 210mm. We also had some success "pushing" 400 film a couple of stops to 1600 for more flexibility.
3. Watch out for overhead branches - you're a lot higher now.
4. Take plenty of water, it gets pretty warm.
THE FIRST TREK
This was a late afternoon trek of around two hours - one of the better times to view wildlife. And with the sinking sun glowing gold, the atmosphere was wonderful.
The "boarding station" is at the park entrance adjacent the hotel. We climb on, four to an elephant, and head southeast, through neighbouring grasslands and across the Rapti River to the thicker jungle.
Along the grasslands we saw many waterbirds, jackal, mongoose and peacocks, as well as the odd water buffalo. We'd both forgotten how much fun riding an elephant could be - it had been many years before in Thailand and Myanmar when we had last trekked through the jungle on these pleasantly plodding pachyderms.
Into the jungle we plunged and our guide circled, skilled in the art of tracking our quarry which was, of course, rhinoceros. Before long we were on the trail but not before we stumbled across some barking deer deep in the undergrowth. Beautiful, nimble creatures, they scattered but not before we got a picture to prove it. Soon after, in a small clearing, we spotted the rhinoceros. They were adults, resting in the afternoon heat. What we didn't know was that they are so used to their elephant-friends we could approach within only a few metres. Exhilerating stuff!
Our journey back was uneventful, apart from the misty pink susnset and distant views of the Himalaya over the grasslands.
Now check out the entry for trek number two.