Our safari was over so we left Madi in the morning fog to catch the first of 3 buses required to get back to the main hub of Sauraha. Walking along the river, Bishnu and Krishna pointed out a spot where a cremation had recently occurred, marked by a scattered pile of burnt hair. We arrived at the bridge (under which lived a resident cow) where the highway crosses the river just as the bus was arriving. It was packed full so we climbed the ladder at the back and sat on the dewy luggage rack atop the bus. This method of riding was actually quite enjoyable, especially compared to being among the crush of people below us. From the top we saw some more wild chickens and a barking deer, with small pronghorn-like antlers. Upon arriving at a checkpoint we had to descend and ride inside the bus, as apparently exterior passengers weren’t allowed in the district we had crossed into. There was only standing room and Sean was forced to stare at his feet for the duration of the ride as the ceiling wasn’t high enough for him to even lift his head. Eventually two seats opened up and we were virtually forced by the locals to take them even though there were older people who should have had them first (maybe they were sick of being crushed by the huge white folks trying to keep their balance in the aisle).
When we got back Raj surprised us by having gotten us a deal at a hotel that was luxurious by our backpacking standards. It had beautiful grounds and we sat in cushy chairs right beside the river for lunch, which was the perfect setting for Sean to romantically remove a tick from my arm. We decided we wanted to spend one more day in the forest trying for a sloth bear so after signing up with Raj he walked with us to the other elephant centre near town, yet again free of charge. On the way we ran into a semi-tame rhino that had been found injured by harassment from locals and brought to the centre for veterinary care. Somehow it wasn’t bothered by the masses of tourists encircling it for pictures while it grazed.
At the centre we saw an 80-year old retired elephant that moved so slowly it was allowed to range freely. Another was being treated for an infected toe injury, eating medicine packaged in bundles of vegetation and obediently standing and lying down as commanded to receive care from the veterinarian. There was an adorable calf only a month old and it was heartbreaking to see it and the others chained so tightly. While leaving we passed several big males coming in from the forest loaded with branches for feed and guided by drivers who stood right behind their ears. The males all had their horns cut flat for the safety of their drivers. Raj told us that being an elephant driver is a job passed down through generations and most at Chitwan are from India.