EL NIŅO WREAKS HAVOC ON WEPA TOURNAMENT
The jungles of Nepal invoke a mystical, almost surreal, feeling in visitors making it difficult to remember that they are still subject to the annoyances of the greater planet. Not so this year.
Dawn greeted Chitwan this morning in a most unusual way. The heavy mist that fills the jungle was nowhere to be seen. The light, almost melodic dewfall that traditionally wakes the sleeping polo players was replaced by the strong, steady beating of raindrops. The rain had been coming down in torrents all night and there was no indication that the sun would find its way through the hovering rainclouds.
El Niņo had come to the jungle.
Polo players lingered over breakfast and drank coffee under the shelter of the porch. Elephant safaris were suspended. The WEPA tournament was experiencing its first rain delay in history. The rain continued all through the morning, with a few breaks. From time to time as the rain let up, spirits started to lift, only to be drawn down again when another torrent would hit.
After consulting with Kalu Ram Tamang, the Sr. Naturalist at Tiger Tops, Kristjan Edwards announced that the rain was here to stay. Kalu, a leading expert on natures idiosyncracies, had explained that until a major thunder and lightening storm descended upon the jungle, the rainclouds would not leave. A consensus was reached that the games must go on come hell or high water.
An inspection of the field by Kristjan and the referees, Chuck McDougal and Pradeep Rana, revealed huge mud puddles at the south end of the polo pitch. Because these puddles prevented the use of the entire field, the decision was made to play two games this day, on a shortened pitch.
A few brave souls decided that a little moisture should not get in the way of the tournament. At about 2:00 in the afternoon, off went the Tigresses, Chivas Regal, the Gurkhas and Tiger Mountain India in bold defiance of El Niņo.
The first game was played between the Tigresses and Chivas Regal. The hardy women donned plastic rain gear and the Chivas team sacrificed their clean white pants and the game proceeded. This was the first game played with three elephants per side instead of the usual four. After a close game marred by a lack of visibility and slippery jumbos, Chivas emerged victorious.
El Niņo persisted. The rainclouds thickened, buckets of rain drenched Tiger Mountain India and the Gurkha Gladiators as they played the second game of the day. Darkness moved in. The play was slow and the players were plagued by a phenomenon never seen before at a WEPA tournament. At one point the polo ball found its way into a monstrous mud puddle. The players fiercely but futilely swung their sticks back and forth through the puddle, to no avail, like so many golfers trying to work their way out of a sand trap. Raj Kalaan, calling the game from the relative comfort of the umbrella covered announcing stand, astutely observed the unusual melee to be a muddle in the middle in the puddle.
The spectators had long since given up and braced the rising rivers in landrovers. Tiger Mountain managed to emerge soggily victorious and the players worked their way back to the lodge, driving through raging rivers and slipping and sliding down the muddy roads.
December 8th / December 10th
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