In Chitwan National Park, we came up close and personal with the majesty of wildlife. We also encountered people living in close contact with nature and a deep respect for the environment which supports the lively hood of local people and provides a unique experience for travellers.
Visiting Chitwan National Park requires a guide, so we had looked up the best ones on TripAdvisor and headed off to plan our next couple of days as soon as we arrived in Sauraha. We chose Bijay Giri from Wildlife Adventure Tours. As soon as we entered his office, he immediately offered us some tea. Perhaps, it’s because we are not used to such hospitality that we assumed this was some sort of selling technique, foot in the door sort of thing, but Bijay immediately put us at ease. He crossed the road to an open air restaurant which became our breakfast place for the next three days – Nepali Open Kitchen and brought back a masala tea to die for. We discussed our options and budget, and opted for a canoe ride and jungle walk as well as a full day jeep safari that would take us deeper into the jungle. We found Bijay to be genuine enough that we later also opted for the night tower watch. After we closed the deal with Bijay, he took us for a short walk on the banks of the Rapti River and start explaining the wildlife that we can encounter in Chitwan National Park.
The Jungle Walk, starts with a canoe ride on the Rapti river. The wooden canoe glides close to the water surface and a little bit of caution, not to make sudden movements, ensures that the boat does not overturn. The river’s edge is teeming with wildlife as we watched crocodiles, deer, peacocks and a bird that has been nicknamed 'President Bird'. Once on the other side of the river bank, after about an hour canoe ride, it was time for safety instructions. Our first thoughts were, either there is no wildlife, or we must be amazingly crazy to be attempting a walk in the jungle where the Bengal Tiger roams! The paths we took were quite safe, as the wildlife we saw, mainly rhinos and jackals down at a watering hole were in quite a safe distance away. Bijay was accompanied by another guide who walked one in front and one at the back of the group. Even though there were no close wildlife encounters, I must say “thank God!”, the walk in the park is worthwhile, the jungle vegetation and paths are pleasant to trek in.
Full Day Jeep Safari
The next day we were up for the Full Day Jeep Jungle Safari, and this is where animal sightings were at their best. What must be said, must be said, we did not see the tiger (which is a pretty rare sight), but people who come only wanting to spot the Bengal tiger would be wasting precious time. We had lunch at an old derelict hotel where rhinos gather near a pond of water. Later we helped two jeeps full of Nepali wedding goers whose vehicle got stuck in the mud and picked up an army general with his family from an army base to Sauraha. But, the absolute highlight was the sheer number of animals we saw: 30 rhinos (some of which very close!); 2 sloth bears; a Giant Hornbill (Toucan); peacocks; deer (samba, spotted deer and barking deer); bisons, wild boars, monkeys and crocodiles.
Night Tower Watch
Our third experience at the national park was the night tower watch. We got really fed up at the hotel we had booked and though we had already paid in advance for the third night we decided to let it go and experience a night in the jungle buffer zone. We know it’s not ideal to pay for something and then not use it, but once we are at it, we decided to take the peaceful way out, whilst not missing out on the night tower watch. We left Sauraha late in the afternoon and headed for a short drive on a tuk-tuk up to the tower. This place is situated in the buffer zone between Sauraha and Chitwan National Park. It is as close to the park one can get at night time. We listened as the sounds of day turned to eerie night sounds and watched deer coming to the watering hole as we had a candle light dinner. Our silence was broken with party music which seemed to go on all night but that did not dampen our spirits. Given the choice between the hotel and the tower, we would choose the tower hands down!
It is no wonder that Chitwan National Park is on the itinerary of the vast majority of people who visit Nepal. The authenticity of nature and wildlife, together with the interesting adjoining town of Sauraha make it a place not to be missed.