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Walking with Elephants (Day 1)

The Mesmerising Magic Begins

Very few of us are as well acquainted with elephants as Kristjan and Tim Edwards, the two brothers of Nepal’s pioneer eco-tourism company, Tiger Tops. When us ordinary folk have the opportunity to do something extraordinary and follow Tim’s journey as he moves three elephants from Tiger Tops Jungle Lodge to Kanarli Lodge, you come on board expecting the unexpected. But when four beautiful elephants enter your life, it becomes apparent that your understanding of nature, conservation, oneself and ones place in the world, will never be the same again.

Breathtaking, awe-inspiring, adventurous and pretty darn hot, this is day one of walking with elephants.

We left Kathmandu at 7am and headed in the van, packed to the rafters with supplies, for Chitwan. Minutes after leaving the all consuming bustle of Kathmandu Valley, I knew this journey would be the ultimate escapism – the sheer enveloping mountains, an abundance of green monsoon growth, and the fast rush of rivers that cut their way through the harsh valley floor, and the small herd of elephants that awaited us at the end – a journey like no other.

After a hearty dal bhat lunch we pressed on to Narayanghat, a major trade route linking eastern and western Nepal, where we were to meet the elephants and take them into first camp. The vast expanse of the Narayani River framed by rolling hills and ominous dark storm clouds, was a picturesque but daunting first encounter with the elephants and mahouts (elephant keepers). This was to be one of the hardest legs of the journey, essentially moving the elephants through a busy thoroughfare. Waiting on the towns fringe, anticipation was building, until in the distance the first elephant rounded the bend. The city stopped in its track; small shop keepers emerged to watch the procession; ladies from vegetable stores offered fresh fruits; kids cycled beside the beasts, bewildered by their foreign appearance in the bustling city; and everyone gazed in a collective mesmerizing awe as the four elephants gracefully walked to their destination.

I walked beside them for the journey through town and was placated into silence, watching as the humble giants affably negotiated unfamiliar territory. Standing shoulder to knee with such a beautiful creature makes one reflect on how simple life can be, but how we must embrace every opportunity with an unequivocal confidence. Ten-folds of skin creased over the elephants’ knee as they took each step, one massive foot after the other; their expression was hidden behind eyelashes as long as one’s finger; and their tail whipped behind, beckoning a breeze in the afternoon heat. But, they carried on unwaveringly, earning the respect of all those who bore witness to this extraordinary event.

Tim and the team of naturalists had already selected the first campsite, a beautiful enclave of trees of trees and undergrowth by the banks of a Narayani River inlet, with a village elder and his temple. Tents were erected, elephant food sourced from the trees and shrubs, a sadhu prepared firewood, and vegetables were chopped for the evenings meal. As the sun was setting, bright oranges and pinks streaked across the sky, casting a powerful silhouette of the elephants as they ambled into rest, day one complete.

Steeped in Hindu mythology, elephants in Nepal assume a position of sacredness, one that is linked both to religion and superstition. Ganesh, the elephant-headed god of wisdom, is associated with good fortune and remains one of the most worshiped Hindu deities across the country. As the elephants embark on their journey through jungles and villages, it will be the people we encounter that will define the story. Small children fascinated by a grey giant they have heard stories about never seen before, parents seeking the good fortune of the elephants for their families, and school kids catching a glimpse as they cycle home for the day. These beautiful elephants are more than just animals. They are a part of nature, apart of the Tiger Tops family and, above most, an integral part of the narrative of Nepal.