By NLRC Staff

Muna told Maya about another attraction of Bardiya National Park, the elephant safari, for which the park was also famous. In order to minimize distractions to the wildlife, businesses were not allowed to run safari throughout the day. There was just one specific time in the late afternoon when they could do so. "Would you like to go on an elephant safari as well, Maya?" Muna thought Maya would enjoy the safari.

"Of course," there was no doubt about Maya accepting the offer, "I cannot come here all the time, so, while I am here, how can I miss an important aspect of the park?"

Muna and her colleagues were on an assignment that evening, so, Muna could not join Maya. She dropped Maya off at the place where the safari would start. Maya was surprised to see tens of elephants. One by one people climbed up to a platform from where they stepped on to a specially placed seat on the back of the elephant. Maya mounted one of the elephants and sat down by wrapping her legs around a corner pole of the seat, with the legs hanging along the side of the elephant. As three other people sat down at the other remaining corners of the seat, the mahout made sure everyone was properly seated and gave some basic instructions on elephant safari safety.

"And, there may be situations when the elephant gets scared because of tigers, in which case it may try to move in different direction. In situations like this, I will try to control the elephant," the mahout cautioned, "so, it is very important that you remain seated and hold the handle at all times."

With a tap on the side of elephant's ear, the mahout signaled the elephant to move ahead and soon they were on their way. As the elephant navigated its way through the tall grasses with its trunk, Maya could see many other safari elephants in front of and behind hers. It looked like a long convoy on a special mission.

The elephant, as it came across a river, spent some time playing in the water. Maya lifted her legs and turned her face the other way as the elephant sprayed some water from its trunk. Soon after they crossed the river, they noticed a rhino with a calf.

"So cute!" Maya said to herself as she saw the baby rhino grazing along with its mother. The elephant stopped near the rhinos for a long time; but the rhinos did not seem to be bothered. They kept on grazing there and paid no attention to the elephant and the people on it.

The mahout quietly gestured the elephant to move ahead. As the elephant slowly walked, the mahout told stories about his encounters with other wild animals. He vividly remembered the time when his elephant was chased by a large wild elephant bull and how he had to make his elephant run away from the bull and how the bull would not let go of them and would chase them for a long time.

Amid the mahout's adventurous stories, beautiful scenery and occasional sightings of the wild animals and rare birds, Maya did not realize the safari had come to end. The fun times she had on the safari made her feel as if the safari had ended quickly. As Maya dismounted the elephant, she heard some people talking excitedly about an event during their ride. The people were guests at a nearby resort. "We saw a tiger!" one of the guests told a manager of the resort.

"Great! A sighting today again," the manager said referring to the sighting of tigers on safari. "We had a couple of sightings yesterday and one the previous day," he continued, "we have been pretty lucky recently; this is great."

Tigers generally tended to stay from the safari elephants. It was not as common to see them as it was to see the other animals. So, even the locals and the mahouts used to get exited whenever they saw tigers on safari.

After the safari ended, most of the people went to their resort. Maya was not living in a resort but living with Muna. Muna's apartment was not that far, so, she decided to walk back to the apartment. She asked the people for direction to the apartment as everyone knew where the army unit lived, and then started walking on a path along the edge of the park.

The path then took her inside the park. "I guess the path briefly enters the park before it finds its way to the apartment," Maya thought as she continued along. The sun had set just a short while ago, so the colorful western sky was starting to get dimmer and dimmer. Maya's walk, however, was not as short as she had thought it would be. "I should have gotten to the apartment by now," she thought as she saw no signs of the path coming to an end.

It started to get darker even quickly as the trees around her started getting taller and taller. And soon, it was all dark except for the sky right above her that was lit by stars. Soon, Maya realized that the path had taken her towards heavily forested area of the park. "I am lost!" worried Maya told herself in a faint voice, "I am lost inside a national park that has tigers and other dangerous animals."

Maya's heart started pounding and with every step she took, it seemed to get worse. She thought of returning back, but her efforts were in vain. The way back also seemed confusing in the dark. She continued to move forward with the hope that she would eventually get out of the park. As she moved along she left some stuff behind on major turns of the path in the hope that if she had to turn back again she would be able to follow those stuff.

As the forest got denser, the treetops began to touch each other and the only visible sky was also covered by the trees. It was all dark and she could only vaguely see the trace of the path in front of her and silhouette of the trees.

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