I had ridden on elephants before that were much larger than this one. Usually, the ride was smooth, graceful, and remarkably quiet. I was surprised at the brutal lumpiness of this ride. We lurched forward and back relentlessly with our ribs banging into the wooden bars on the crate. After a while, I tucked my coat down around my ribs to provide some extra padding. Painful as it was, it was still an exhilarating ride through the jungle. There are animals that you can see from an elephant's back that you usually do not see while walking through the jungle. The deer, wild boar, peacocks, monkeys and rhinos all stay around a little longer when an elephant is coming down the path compared to a group of noisy people tramping through. Sitting quietly on the elephant's back, we were able to stand only a few feet from a wild elephant, her baby and a few rhinos.
For about 2 hours we rode up and down jungle paths and created a few of our own paths in grass that was as tall as the elephant's eyes as we looked for a tiger. We saw tiger tracks, but never found a tiger. Few people do. Finally, we returned to our camp. I started searching my coat pockets for my wallet so that I could give the Mahout a tip. As I patted about my pockets, a deep sick feeling welled up in my belly and a cold sweat started to break out on my brow. The wallet was gone. I had done something I never do, I put the wallet with my driver's license, credit cards and all of my cash into my coat pocket. Normally, I have hidden zippered pockets and extra wallets so that I don't lose everything at once. I did still have back up cards and a passport tucked away in a safe place, but there are many places in Nepal where credit cards are useless, so one must carry small bills in Nepalese Rupees.
Immediately, I told the camp manager what had happened and he explained it to the Mahout. The Mahout, 3 men and the elephant went right back into the jungle without even stopping for lunch. I didn't have a lot of hope that they would find the wallet though. Not only had we gone on a long complicated journey, the jungle is not as empty of people as you might imagine. Plenty of people regularly walk up and down the jungle paths.
My uncle and I had a worried lunch after which I retired to my cabin alone to consider from whom I would borrow money so that I could comfortably continue on my journey and how I was going to cancel all of my cards from the remote area where we were staying. I fell asleep. About two hours later, someone called from the jungle. They had found a river of coins gleaming in the sunlight and followed it to my wallet. When they returned, they were smiling triumphantly. My uncle gave the search party about $20 from my wallet, to split 4 ways. I think that I would have given them much more than that, but he said that they all seemed very pleased.
There was the equivalent of $200 US in Nepalese Rupees in my wallet. To give you some perspective about what these men did for me, you need to know that, according to the Wilson Center and the WWF, the average per capita annual income for the country of Nepal is only about $235. In the Terrai region, where I was jungle trekking, the annual per capita income is more like $50. Yes, that is $50 per person per year! That would have been a year's income for each one of them. The next time you go to the jungle in Nepal, let me know and I will happily tell you a very honest group to travel with.
If you look at the pictures of Nepal on my side bar, you can find pictures of tourists riding elephants in the Terrai.