Chitwan National Park was a place slotted into our travel plans, mainly for my benefit. I had never been on a wildlife safari to see animals in their natural habitat. It was something that I had wanted to do but had never had the chance before.
Even though Lynette had already been to the country that is considered the King of Safaris (Africa) and had been on safari before, she still agreed that we should go to Chitwan whilst we were in Nepal so that I could have the experience.
The small settlement of Sauraha that borders the national park has a small strip of restaurants by the river, as well as a few convenience and souvenir shops. It was nice to sit and watch life on the river over breakfast and dinner.
We stayed at a lovely place on the edge of Sauraha called Rhino Land; from beginning to end the owner was so friendly and helpful; we couldn’t have asked for more. The room was very comfortable and spacious too.
When we arrived we were given a free tour of the nearby rural villages in which we saw rice fields, crops and locals hard at work. It was comforting to see people living happily here, despite the encroachment of tourists and the ever-present threat of an elephant or rhino trampling or eating their crops!
Exploring Chitwan National Park
Due to the park entrance fee not being cheap and the fact that we only had a short amount of time, we decided that I would go and do the things I wanted to do. I decided to do two activities in one day, a 3 hour morning walk through the park and a 3 hour jeep safari in the afternoon. It felt very odd doing it alone, but I knew Lynette would be OK doing her yoga and having her own time.
The Morning Walk
On the day of my solo adventure, I had breakfast and was met by a local government approved guide at 7 am; the earlier the better to have a chance of seeing some wildlife!
My guide, who was called Moon, was born in a village in the national park and moved out with the rest of the village when they were resettled by the government in the 1970’s. This was so that the national park could be created. He and his family had lived on the border of the park ever since and were apparently very happy.
With my guide equipped with binoculars and a rather large stick (for defense against animal attacks), we took a long-tail boat across the river that is technically the parks border. On the way, Moon pointed out four crocodiles that were lying in the water – not a comforting thought when you’re in a wooden boat low to the water!
Safely across, we began our walk. I had been warned, “do not wear the red colour” as this would make me a target if spotted! We trekked through forest and mangrove and Moon pointed out different plant and tree species. It is possible to see crocodiles, elephants, rhinos and a whole range of different bird species in the park; if you are lucky, you might even spot a tiger or sloth bear.
Lynette was a bit worried about me being on foot but I’d told her that I’d be OK with my guide. I had no expectations of seeing anything; if you look for something, you won’t find it. So I told myself to just enjoy the experience; at worst I’d have had a pleasant walk and if I saw anything it would be a bonus.
As we walked, we suddenly stopped to witness a semi-wild elephant heading into the jungle to graze. Moon said that she would return of her own accord before nightfall. Moon pointed out things like piles of fresh rhino dung and tracks; he was clearly a very good tracker and even recognised rhino urine by it’s smell. We were getting close.
As we came out of the trees and into long grass, Moon cheerfully said “Oh! Rhino!” There, not 100 metres away, was a huge one horned Indian rhino grazing. I was mesmerised! We managed to get within about 40 metres of it.
Moon pointed to a fallen log and said, “If the rhino comes, we go there”. I assumed this was if the rhino charged at us. Thankfully, he didn’t! Seeing this amazing creature so close was an amazing moment for me and a dream come true.
Moving on, we saw the paw-prints and holes dug by a sloth bear and even the paw-prints of a tiger! The rest of the walk was pleasant enough if uneventful, stopping at some viewing decks and seeing some birds and deer. I was back at the guesthouse by 11am and spent a few hours with Lynette, filling her in on my walk.
The Afternoon Jeep Safari
At 3pm I was back on a long-tail boat and crossing the river for my jeep safari. I’d dreamed of going on a jeep safari for so long! We drove a total of 55km around the park, spotting birds, deer and crocodiles. Things got exciting as we glimpsed more elephants and rhinos, including a mother and baby.
Watching these animals was an amazing experience. The park is dedicated to conservation and the rhino population has dramatically increased! The guide said that they were about to reach a new record of 4 years with no poaching, an amazing achievement.
As the drive came to a close we spotted a rare sight… a sloth bear! It was in the undergrowth and ran right out in front of us! A fleeting glimpse but a rarity all the same. Having begun the day with zero expectations, I ended my day’s adventure having seen 11 rhinos and a sloth bear with some elephants thrown into the mix; not a bad count-up I thought!
That night at around 8pm there was a great commotion and someone hammered on our door shouting, “RHINO! RHINO! COME!” Just outside the guesthouse was a massive male rhino; the locals were making noise to drive it away, lest it destroyed their crops. Even in the dark, seeing this creature at close quarters was unbelievable!
There are other things to do around Sauraha, such as cycling to a lake, which we did on one of our two days. It was a painfully bumpy 25km ride there AND back!
Most people, however, come here for the wildlife; if you’ve never experienced a safari and would like to, Chitwan National Park is definitely the best place for it in South Asia! It’s an experience that I certainly won’t forget.
On your way back to Kathmandu stop by charming Bandipur, a sure highlight of any Nepal trip. Check out our post – Bandipur: A Slice of Europe in South Asia.