Chitwan National Park is situated in the subtropical Inner Terai lowlands of south-central Nepal. It is the first national park in Nepal and used to be a favourite hunting ground for Nepal’s ruling class. The thick grasslands and dense subtropical trees are home to an abundance of wildlife, including rare species such as leopards, sloth bears, one-horned rhinoceros and the elusive Bengal tiger. A visit to Chitwan NP is not complete without a jungle safari.
We stayed at Sapana Village Lodge, after a recommendation from a young American couple we met at the hospital in Kathmandu (a meeting spot for altitude-sickness sufferers it seems). Like most lodges, it is situated just outside the national park area. Sapana was on the banks of a very picturesque fast-flowing river that weaved past fishing villages, grazing areas and mustard fields.
Sapana Village Lodge had a resident elephant who was pregnant with twins! Watching an already massive elephant walk around with two bulges on either side was absolutely unreal! We were able to get up close to her and the others staying nearby.
We opted for the full-day jeep safari to ensure we gave ourselves ample time and exposure into the deeper regions of the jungle to go wildlife spotting. The elusive Bengal tiger was at the top of our wish-list, then the rare sloth bear and one-horned rhinoceros.
We set out early morning in our open-topped jeep. The mist hung low over the thick grass. Through the dense greenery we would spot nimble Chital or spotted deer. Then above our heads sat a cheeky bunch of gray langur.
Passing along the banks of a reed-lined river, mugger crocodiles lay unmoving in the warming morning sun. A glimpse of a wild boar sneaking up to say hello. Wooly-necked storks perched high above the treetops in mammoth nests.
Suddenly our driver came to stop. Our guide motioned for silence. He pointed down to the dusty track we were following through the jungle.
The footprint of a Bengal tiger.
The long grass rustled in the slight breeze, no doubt hiding the tiger’s retreat.
We ventured on.
Chitals and various exotic birds greeted us over the next few hours. Several clearings had a wooden watch-tower, which we were able to climb atop and scope out from a high vantage point with our binoculars. As the midday sun baked down, the odds of spotting a tiger grew slimmer. They usually venture at dawn or dusk, our guide pointed out.
Soon after lunch we stopped once more near a much wider river flood-plain. Our guide had seen a one-horned rhinoceros around here a few days earlier. We continued on foot along the banks, until we saw one in the distance. We stepped as close as we could until the rhino noticed us and wandered into the obscurity of the long grass.
Returning to our jeep, we pushed on. The afternoon sun beat down and although we crusied along, standing up in the back and craning our necks to see over the long grass beside us, our hope of spotting the tiger was diminishing.
Suddenly we came to a stop once more along a straight section of track. We were silent.
On our right side, the long grass was rustling. We could see and hear something big moving towards us.
Rustling grass loomed closer. Parting as something approached our jeep.
I held our camera pointing towards the emerging movement, as our eyes were fixed on the grass as it parted…
Then came an uproarious shriek as the black sloth bear cried out in surprise and immediately turned and fled the scene. Its cry was unlike anything we had ever heard before. Our hearts jumped into our throats for a split second, then flopped back down as we realised it was no Bengal tiger about to leap onto us. Just a sloth bear who was s**t scared of the sight of us! It happened so fast, we can only make out a black blur in the photo.
Alas, there would be no Bengal tiger sighting.
But our jungle safari was still a most memorable one.
The next morning we took a canoe ride along the river to the Elephant Breeding Centre. More mugger crocodiles and other exotic and marine birdlife greeted us as we floated by.
The Elephant Breeding Centre is on the edge of the jungle and allows wild elephant to walk right up to the boundary fence. One wild male was father to a baby elephant inside the breeding centre. We were advised by our guide to stay clear of him as he was very protective of his baby and its mother. One tourist got a little too close, causing the male to roar menacingly and continue to slam and succeed in bending the rail that was keeping it out!
Later in the afternoon we took a leisurely stroll across the river near the lodge to wander around the local fishing village and mustard fields. It truly was a glimpse into a different world to see how they live. Chickens wander the streets free, goats chew straw beside clay/brick houses. Some kids were even playing some local cricket!
Chitwan National Park is a breathtaking place in south Nepal, far away from the limelight-stealing Himalayas. We were so glad we decided to make the effort to visit this magical area.
Visited 4th to 7th December 2013.