The Chitwan National Park is one of Nepal’s most popular tourist destinations, situated in the subtropical southern part of the country. It was the first national park to be established in Nepal, in 1972, and was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1984. The park covers an area of almost 1000 km2 and it has a rich natural habitat, which includes a complex variety of fauna and flora. Among these, it is especially renowned for being home to the one-horned rhinoceros, the Royal Bengal Tiger, and the gharial crocodile.
If you book your stay in Sauraha, the base for many travelers, you’ll easily have many options to choose on how to enter Chitwan. There are also good Homestay options a little further afield, in Barauli. On a jeep safari you can venture deep into the jungle for a couple of hours. You can also take a canoe trip along the Rapti and Narayani River. However, the most appealing activity for me was the jungle walk, as it didn’t involve motorized transportation at all, nor a fixed route. We could explore as much as we could walk during a whole day.
While it may be tempting to venture into the park and explore its habitat alone, it is mandatory to have an entrance ticket and two guides – one stands at the front of the group, the other one at the back. This is a requirement even for solo travelers. I joined forces with another traveler and booked a jungle walk.
At dawn, we met with our guides, Basanthe and Ramu, at the office of the travel agency. We walked along the main street of Sauraha and crossed the Rapti River on a canoe. The guides pointed out to us a gharial crocodile in the water, twenty meters away.
Once we got on the other side of the river we were given a safety briefing. Besides birds and fish, there are fifty-six species of mammals and some of them might be dangerous in certain conditions. If we met a rhino, we should climb a tree or run in a zigzag, because the rhino can run only straight with its big body. If we met a wild bear, we should stay in one group, clap and shout, but not run. Ramu even had a bamboo big stick that he said he would use for fighting with the bear. If we met a wild elephant we would have to run into a thick forest where it could not follow us. However, with the terrifying tiger, the situation was unexpectedly different: it goes away if it sees us. Tigers are most active at night. If we saw one, we should keep eye contact with it, be silent, and not move; otherwise, it would run away.
During the first part of the day we walked parallel to the bank of the Rapti River, but far enough away to avoid crocodiles. From our safe footpath in the forest we spotted numerous gharials that stayed close to the water. They attack and eat anything, but during the heat of the day they barely move and stay mostly in one place, into the water or close to it.
Around noon, the guides led us to a pond where rhinos usually come to bathe on hot days. They have very warm blood and need to refresh themselves in the water. They are herbivorous and attack only to defeat themselves. Males (bulls) usually stay alone, while females (cows) stay with their calves for four to five years, until they grow up. Sometimes, one can see all of them bathing together in one pond. In a place situated between the forest and the river, through the high grass, we spotted a male rhino grazing calmly. We had to walk towards it quietly and slowly so that it didn’t notice us and get alerted.
After lunch, we went deeper into the thick forest and followed animal tracks that could be hardly followed. We saw spotted deer and peacocks several times. When we had to cross an area with two meter high grass, Ramu kept his bamboo stick in front of him, in case an animal attacked us. We walked for a couple of hours into the forest without seeing any other animals.
After we crossed a small river, our guides saw traces of a tiger, and hoped to show as a real animal. They decided to stop for a while in that place and wait in silence. We stayed for about an hour, but no tiger showed up. Fighting with the mosquitoes, we had to leave, and headed back towards Sauraha. We walked through the thick forest along wild footpaths and then joined a bigger road, used by jeeps. We ended our jungle walk after we crossed the Rapti River at dusk. The crocodile we had seen in the morning into the water was still there, doing nothing.
A whole day walking through the jungle can be daunting for the faint-hearted, but it’s an excellent opportunity to see some real wild animals while safe in the company of experienced guides. Spotting animals that you’ve seen only in biology manuals or on wildlife documentaries is a unique experience.
Inspired? If you would like to stay a one of the Community Homestays in Chitwan, you can book this at CommunityHomestay.com.
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