The festival began with the eye-catching procession of bedecked elephants that originated from the eastern sector of the Chitwan National Park and passed through Sauraha. A Tharu cultural rally was also the part of the inaugural session of the festival.
The nine various programs including elephant ‘fast walk’ tournament, elephant Polo, a football match among elephant calves, cart race, elephant painting, picnic for elephants, a cultural program and a boat riding competition are the parts of the festival.
The festival is the continuity of the Elephant Race Tournament that used to be held in Sauraha 12 years ago.
The 11th edition of the Chitwan Elephant Festival is scheduled to be held in Sauraha from December 26-30 on the occasion of Christmas and New Year 2015.
The festival is aimed at promoting tourism and spreading awareness about wildlife preservation, said Suman Ghimire, coordinator of the event. It started in 2004 as an international elephant race and since then it has been celebrated as a festival.
The organizer said that a picnic would also be organized for the elephants this year. “Wildlife is our asset and it should be preserved well,” said Ghimire. Another objective of the festival is to encourage tourists to remain in Nepal through the Christmas and the New Year holidays as most of them return to their own countries for the celebrations. The holiday season is also a lean period for Nepal tourism as arrivals start dropping from mid-December. “The festival is targeted at increasing tourist numbers,” said Gyanendra Kumar Bista, president of Regional Hotel Association Nepal in Chitwan. “Such events will also help create awareness to preserve wildlife.”
Hotels and restaurants offer discounts and serve distinct varieties of foods for visitors. Local hotels and restaurants are normally packed with domestic and international tourists during this time. Around 20 elephants compete in a 150-metre race. Likewise, elephant calves play football while an elephant beauty competition is also held which has become one of the major attractions at the tourist hotspot. The event has been successful in promoting tourism in past years. “This is why we have been continuing the festival,” said Deepak Bhattarai, second vice-president of the association. Apart from foreign visitors, the festival has been attracting huge numbers of domestic visitors. Sauraha has more than 100 hotels and all of them are packed during the festival. The jungle safari destination of Sauraha has not only seen an aggressive development of hotels and resorts over the past few years, entrepreneurs have also been making large investments in elephants to carry tourists on sightseeing tours in the jungle.
Around Rs 330 million has been spent on rearing elephants. The jumbos have become an integral part of tour packages of the hotels and resorts here.
Situated in the lush tropical plains of southern Nepal, Sauraha attracts safari goers with its rich wildlife and thick jungles. There are 51 elephants owned by hoteliers and cooperatives in Sauraha .