Thank goodness our elephant is docile. We are traveling in convoy – my friend Priscilla and I on one elephant, a young family squashed onto the back of another.
Suddenly, an elephant trumpets in the distance.
The family’s elephant stops and trumpets back. Then she spins in a circle.
‘She’s lovesick,’ our guide explains. ‘Her mate was calling to her from another part of the park.’
At night, wild bull elephants leave the rainforest in Chitwan National Park, south central Nepal, and make their way to the Sauraha Elephant Breeding Centre where 20 or so females are chained up so that wild bulls can mate with them, keeping the dwindling Asian elephant population thriving. Sometimes, the cows break free of their chains and slip into the National Park to find their old flames.
Elephant is the best mode of transport to get a bird’s eye view of the 360sq miles of parkland and its population of deer, antelope, hyenas, jackal, 543 species of birds and even tigers.
Reaching Sauraha is an adventure in itself; a boat ride on a pirogue (or tree-trunk canoe), in a slow river with thankfully lethargic crocodiles on the mudflats.
A short motorcycle ride out of Chitwan’s National Park, past the flood plains of grazing water buffalo, is Tharu village, a rural Nepalese settlement of mud-and-thatch huts.
The weather makes it impossible for us to trek or even take a helicopter flight over the town to catch the views. Even so, the scenery is luscious all year round, with green virgin farmland and lakes sitting in front of frosty-capped Everest peaks.
The capital, Kathmandu, sits 1,350m above sea level. In the 12th century, the area was run by three different kings. Today, it has almost a million inhabitants.
The Hindu temple just off central Durbar Square is one of the most intriguing of the dozens on offer. Named Kumari Ghar, it is home to a young girl believed to be the human incarnation of a Hindu goddess.
Driving out of the city past the River Bagmati, we stumble upon a Hindu cremation.
Brick plinths and ghats (or steps that lead down to the water) are lined up for the services. A widow walks past me wailing, then stops beside a plinth.
A bamboo stretcher holding her freshly deceased husband is laid on it. Her son must light the body with a torch, after vermillion powder is scattered over the dead man.
The spot, which used to be a forest, is where Lord Shiva is said to have landed when he descended to Earth from heaven. The air hangs with choking funeral smoke.
In an hour, the last of the cremated husband’s body will be pushed into the water, too. The sons will leap in and scoop the water over their heads.
We are not shocked. In fact, it is curiously moving and reminds us that visiting Nepal remains one of the world’s great adventures. We feel privileged to experience this bewitching country.