When I first heard that I was going to be visiting Chitwan National Park for a safari on our Nepal Encompassed tour, I was excited to say the least. Having been lucky enough to travel to a number of national parks to spot wildlife, including Udawalawe and Yala in Sri Lanka, I knew I was in for a treat. Part of the lure of a safari is not only the excitement of spotting wildlife but the thrill of the chase – nothing gets the heart racing like hearing there is a rhino nearby.
A country still feeling the effects
Chitwan National Park is one of the few places in Nepal that was not affected by the devastating earthquake of 2015. Buildings remain standing, villagers are still going about their daily lives and life continues on. However, while Nepal experiences a slow recovery in tourism numbers, Chitwan is feeling the same knock on effects of the quake as the rest of the country. During my visit in Chitwan I saw only two other safari vehicles in the park. This alone makes it unlike any other safari experience I’ve had where it is common to be lined up with other vehicles and face a scuffle to get the best viewpoint to watch the wildlife.
Chitwan gives visitors the opportunity to spot a wide range of wildlife including the incredible one-horned rhino, deer, monkeys and more than 400 species of birds. Those with a little more luck on their side may also spot leopards, sloth bears and the elusive Bengal tiger.
To best experience what Chitwan National Park has to offer, spend two nights in a lodge on the edge of the park so you have easy access. Our lodge, the Machan Country Villa, was the perfect mix of traditional jungle decor and modern amenities, ensuring our stay was as comfortable as possible. When you’re not out spotting wildlife you can enjoy the grounds of the hotel, relax in the gardens with a refreshing drink or learn more about the local flora and fauna. The team of expert naturalists will happily share their knowledge, so you leave slightly wiser on the wildlife of Nepal. Sitting round the camp fire in the evening, looking up at the ink black sky heavy with stars with not a sound to be heard, is when I truly realised we were in the middle of the wilderness.
Travelling into the heart of the jungle
On our second afternoon at Chitwan, we headed out on safari in our jeeps, driving through the grasslands in search of wildlife. As we explored the jungle we were taken to an area of wetland where a rhino had earlier been spotted and found them in the wilderness. Just 30 metres ahead of us, the female one-horned rhino was chewing on the plant life as we sat in silence watching in awe – it was a real ‘pinch yourself’ moment.
After our jeep safari we moved to another mode of transport, this time a wooden canoe to explore the river and the wildlife it held. As the sun started to set, we paddled down the river spotting crocodiles lounging on the riverbank, monkeys playing in the trees along the edge of the river and birds flying back to their nests for the evening. The last stop of the day was at the edge of the park for a sundowner of cold drinks and nibbles – the best and only way to end a safari. It was the perfect way to reflect on what had been an amazing afternoon and an incredible experience in Chitwan.
If reading Kate’s experience has placed Nepal at the top of your travel list browse our group tours – or if you have been lucky enough to go on safari in Chitwan National Park, share your wildlife memories in the comment section below.