I had the opportunity to visit Disney World’s Animal Kingdom recently in Orlando, Florida, United States of America. The park has a lot of attractions spread out in various sections, viz Africa, Asia, Discovery Island, and Dinoland U.S.A. I began by going on the Kilimanjaro Safari Ride in the Africa section. I had to wait a pretty long time (about an hour or so) to board the ride, a train of wooden seats pulled by an ancient looking but sturdy truck. Almost immediately after we started off, we began to see wild animals, such as different types of deer, hippopotamuses, rhinoceroses, giraffes, zebras, elephants, crocodiles, etc., as well as a couple of lions resting majestically on a rocky outcrop. But, more than the animals, it was the track we were riding on that was really interesting.
The track has presumably been made to look and feel like a genuine jungle track in Africa, with parts of it being water logged, and more than a few bumps along the way. The lady driver also served as the guide, giving a running commentary that was pretty informative and fascinating. The site is designed as a lush African savannah, with plenty of long grass and scattered trees. One tree, in particular, stood out from the rest: the Baobab, which is also called the upside-down tree because the branches, when bare of leaves, look like roots sticking up into the air. The ride took around half-an-hour, and was a good way to start the Animal Kingdom adventure.
Now, here, I would like to compare this with our own jungle safari in Chitwan National Park in Chitwan, Narayani, Nepal. I have also taken that trip, and let me tell you, it was one of the best experiences of my life. Doubtless, unlike in in Animal Kingdom, where you get to see more animals, you get to see less wildlife in Chitwan. That’s because Chitwan’s wildlife is really in the wild, while Animal Kingdom is a well-designed and conceptualized park with wildlife in enclosures, cleverly concealed, to give the impression that they are in the wild. One cannot but be appreciative of the designers’ ingenuity. However, nothing can make up for going around real jungle tracks on top of a big elephant, as I did in Chitwan. Let me say this: the Chitwan safari is the real thing, while the Animal Kingdom thing is an enjoyable sojourn around a creatively designed wildlife park.
Definitely, the real thing has to be more thrilling. Riding a truck pales in comparison to riding an elephant that trudges onwards heavily on the narrow paths, and up and down muddy river banks, demonstrating fantastic balance; another thing is, you never know when you’ll be seeing some of the 700 species of exotic wildlife (68 of which are mammals), especially the magnificent royal Bengal tiger, the endangered one-horned rhino, and the rare snout-nosed gharials, a smaller, and much rarer, cousin of the crocodile. (By the way, some of the crocs in Animal Kingdom were pretty huge, fearsome creatures.) You’ll have to be indeed very lucky in Chitwan National Park to spot animals like leopard, sloth bear, wild boar, flying squirrel, smooth coated otter, honey badger, Bengal fox, striped hyena, golden jackal, jungle cat, civet, porcupine, and other such animals that are quite shy of public attention.
As you travel deeper into the lush jungle, keeping a sharp lookout from your perch on top of the massive elephant, you begin to spot quite a few deer, and many varieties of birds (there are supposed to be almost 600 species inside the park). The flora also is pretty impressive; the jungle is thick with densely-leaved trees, and many a time your elephant will be making its way forcefully through thick shrubs and tall grass on paths unseen to you. It’s all a very exciting affair, the tall grass, known as elephant grass, may be hiding a fierce tiger or two; this is never far from your mind. At some points, your mahout (the elephant driver) will probably ask you to keep dead quiet, since he’s spotted some tiger tracks on the path, or fresh elephant dung that shows that there are wild elephants nearby. Your heart will start thumping, and you’ll keep quiet, I promise you!
A trip around the jungle also includes a ride on a dugout canoe on the Narayani River that meanders through the large 360 sq km park that was established in 1973 and subsequently designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 1984. The canoes are small things, riding along very close to the river surface, and as you ride onwards, you may be lucky to see some snout-nosed gharials sunning on the banks. The average adult gharial is only 11 to 15 ft in size and has extremely long, thin jaws. The male has a distinctive boss at the end of the snout. You’ll also get to see the gharial breeding center inside the park, where you’ll learn about efforts to save this critically endangered animal from extinction.
Oh yes, the Chitwan National Park in Chitwan, Nepal, is the real thing as far as a thrilling adventure in the wild is concerned. An experience that is sure to bring excitement into your life. And, yes, it must be noted that there is really nothing to rival a tall glass of ice cold beer after an exciting ride around the hot and humid jungle. Heavenly pleasure, indeed!
P.S. I’ll be describing the Everest Expedition in Disney World in the coming blog. It’s famous as the Everest Ride, and it’s thrilling to the extreme.