Croc, hippo and rhino spotting, elephant rides, canoe paddling, and jungle hikes. These are the ingredients in this account of a Chitwan visit.
Few countries are as geographically diverse as Nepal. In the north the Himalayan mountain range have peaks soaring up to more than 8,000 metres, in the fertile Kathmandu valley the elevation is around 1,300 metres while in the south the tropical rain forest of Chitwan offers an altitude of less than 200 metres. During my week in Nepal I had flown on level with Mount Everest and enjoyed the view from my window seat, I had spent some days in the Kathmandu valley with its busy urban life and colourful temples everywhere, and was now heading for a few relaxing days in the huge national park of Chitwan – a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
With an elevation of between 100 and 800 metres above sea level, it is almost incredible that the nearest seashore is as far as 700 km away, in the Gulf of Bengal. There are sandy beaches in Chitwan as well, the river banks, but I would not fancy a swim – thanks to the crocodiles.
Naturally, getting into Chitwan involves driving down the deep, narrow valleys leading south from Kathmandu. The road is not so bad even though paving may be scarce on some stretches. The drive took around five hours into the main tourist area of Sauraha. (Chitwan receives less than 200,000 tourists a year so it will not be crowded.) My driver was good and the vehicle of the more solid type. I would however say that I have not seen so much reckless driving anywhere.
Click on the image to see what was going on.
Buses, lorries, private cars and more were driving as if they had the devil on their tail. Overtaking took on a new meaning down these curvy roads with the river running white and wild deep below us (rafting is popular here). I mean, two buses trying to pass a third at once, in a curve with no proper view ahead – it is quite frankly insane. 2,000 people lose their lives on Nepali roads annually according to police. I suppose the actual number would be higher.
I survived and I even managed to enjoy the scenery.
After the drive it was an especially welcoming place to arrive at, the lodge I was booked into. Several buildings with guest rooms were lined up against a delightful garden full of shaded places to sit down and relax in. Behind my building a couple of elephants were having their afternoon meal and after I had eaten mine I was introduced to several others (humans) having arrived here during the day.
This international group of visitors were then taken for an early evening walk through the village, along the river on the edge of the national park, past a place called the Elephant Plate Farm, ending up in deck chairs with a beer to watch the sunset. The atmosphere was relaxed, the sunset was fine and I was satisfied with how the day had turned out. In the evening we boarded a pick-up and were driven to the Tharu Culture House for a couple of hours of folklore dances and songs. Interesting.
After a good night’s sleep it was up early for breakfast and then off for a canoe ride down the Rapti river. The dugout canoes were just perfect for a relaxed drift downstream, past dense vegetation, birds, crocodiles and the like before we left the canoes behind. From this point on we continued on foot through the jungle, on paths looking for tigers and rhinos (neither turned up). We did see deer and monkeys, and we also paid a visit to a place called the Elephant Breeding Center with baby elephants and their mothers. The elephant keepers lived in houses on the farm, building up a life-long relationship with a particular elephant.
A fun culmination of this first half of the day was the invitation to climb an elephant and let it spray water from the river on you. I had my share of it, as documented in one of the photos below.
Come to think of it, I had never been on top of an elephant before. I have been horse-back in Mongolia and on a camel in Egypt and very much look forward to whatever comes next in terms of rides.
That moment I completely forgot how popular I had been with the leeches during the hike. They had been on my ankles, they had been crawling up inside my long pants to suck blood behind my knee, they had been on my waist and even on my upper body. I managed to peel most of them off before they did much harm, but not all. Of all ten in my group I had been the most popular with these blood-suckers – and I was not amused – nor surprised. I have had previous experience with them in Thailand, on a trek in the Golden Triangle thirty years ago.
The afternoon was spent on top of another elephant, this time with four others in a basket. We went on a safari and were able to spot hippos (one mother with a cub), more monkeys, groups of deer and also a sinister looking male rhino below our feet. Great fun as well beneath towering trees in marshy land. No leeches this time. The evening ended with beers and a game of cards with my group of Australians, Chinese, Irish, Bulgarians – and this Norwegian.
The next day it was back to Kathmandu with nothing serious happening driving there. As you will have reckoned by now I went on a guided tour, solo out of Kathmandu but mixed into a group of others at the lodge. This worked fine and is presumably the way to get the most out of your Chitwan stay.
The map below indicates the places I visited during my stay in Nepal. Most of the days were spent in and around the capital of Kathmandu but I also went down to the Chitwan National Park for a bit of jungle life. Zoom in and out as you like, and click the markers. You may also expand the map into a new tab.
This article is from my visit to the Himalayas. I flew in from Bangkok, spent seven days in Bhutan (read the first chapter from Bhutan) and then took a flight to Nepal for another week. The overall schedule is introduced in an article called The outline of a visit to the Himalayas. These are the posts from Nepal:
- Inflight views of the Himalaya mountain range
- Kathmandu’s Thamel district and the Garden of Dreams
- Kathmandu’s historic districts and temples
- The former city-state of Patan
- The beautiful town of Bhaktapur
- Jungle life in Chitwan (THIS)
Two articles from these World Heritage Sites have also been published: Kathmandu Valley and Chitwan – in addition to a special post containing all pictures from Nepal.
Famous last words, or attempting an epilogue
I had spent a fortnight in Bhutan and Nepal. I had never been there before and may never return. Sure, it was a success in terms of adventure, impressions, number of images and video footage and the like, and I would really like to go back. Nonetheless, I have this travel bug forcing me to explore more places on this planet.
Besides, I had this nagging feeling that buying a guided tour was not me. I am not used to it, and I have always asserted that such a way of travelling was more fit for retirees, disabled persons or the extremely adventurous. On the other hand it was comfortable and in the case of Bhutan I stood no chance of doing it on my own. Bhutan was still a country bent on allowing only tourists who had a contract with a local tour agency. Still, I went solo and I had the luxury of having my private driver and my private English-speaking guide and everything was sorted out for me. They were good and gave me the opportunity to do things at my own pace, experience places bus-loads don’t go, and basically gave me a feeling of being in charge. It wasn’t so bad after all. Thanks to Himalaya Holiday Service. (Okay, that was an advertisement, but is wasn’t sponsored.)