Taking a jeep safari in Chitwan National Park was the treat we promised ourselves after successfully trekking to Everest Base Camp. Chitwan is not only a world heritage site but it was also the first national park to be established in Nepal so we were keen to visit.
Sauraha is the gateway town for safaris in Chitwan and you can book a safari pretty much anywhere. We stayed at the Eden Jungle Lodge which was our basic but bargainous accommodation for the 3 nights we spent here.
The safari starts at 7am down by the river, where even you aren’t on safari, you can spot wading birds, kingfishers, mugger crocodiles, and gharials. You have to take a dugout canoe to get to the other side of the river.
It’s much cheaper to go on private safari here than in neighbouring India so we had our own jeep for less than £50 each. Having our own jeep meant that we got to spend a full day in the park. When booking your vehicle, make sure to ask whether the entrance fee is included, as a permit for the day is 1,500 rupees or about £10. You can also see the park on foot with two guides but they do not carry weapons so if you are charged by a rhino or tiger then your only defence is a large stick and how fast you can run.
We came specifically because we wanted to see the greater one-horned rhino as they are only found in Nepal, India, Bhutan, and Indonesia. This was our best chance to see them out of all the countries.
We met our jeep and driver in the vehicle park across the river and saw our first animal, a wild boar that had been adopted by the Nepalese as a baby but now gets fed by guides and tourists. The first properly wild animal that we saw was only ten minutes into the drive when we spotted a spotted deer stag in the morning fog.
We travelled to the main river which we weren’t able to cross as there is no bridge, although that is a good thing for the wildlife. There are hotels but they are abandoned as the government doesn’t allow people to stay in the park anymore except in people’s homes.
From the riverbank, we could see openbill storks, red-naped ibis, woolly-necked storks, and ruddy shelduck. The guide usually has binoculars but if you’re an avid birdwatcher I’d advise bringing your own as I didn’t see them available for rent here.
We drove to another river and crossed it on foot so we could eat our packed lunch on the other side. It was pretty shallow so we’d be able to spot an approaching crocodile.
Our hotel provided us with rice, eggs, bread and fruit for our lunch with a view and it was pretty decent.
We were next to a broken down building with a shrine whose offerings attracted grey langur monkeys. We were really excited to see langur monkeys, although we have seen these beauties many times since as they are common in India. This monkey tried to attack my boyfriend while he was taking photos so you have to be very careful around them. They normally leave if you appear to throw stones in their direction. I’m not advocating actually harming monkeys but I’ve encountered some particularly aggressive ones on this trip so be careful.
After lunch, we waited at a few waterholes to see if any tigers or sloth bears would turn up. It’s all very relaxing until another jeeps turn up and disturbs the peace. We did see a wild boar but that was it.
As a mid-afternoon pit stop, all safaris visit the gharial breeding centre, which is funnily enough where they breed the endangered gharial. It’s full of gharials at all different stages that are released into the wild as adults.
There were rewards to be had on the way back as we saw two rhinos and it was afterall, the rhinos that we came here to see. In the morning we saw a mother and her calf and in the afternoon we saw three solo males. We thought that they’d be hard to see because of the long grass but that was not the case for us.
Some people go on elephant safaris in the buffer zone, as they are high up you can see over the grasses but they don’t go in the actual park. As many people refuse elephant safaris due to ethics of enslaving these creatures, it is hoped that this practice will eventually end. It is rare to see wild elephants in Chitwan national park.
The closest we got to a tiger was this footprint which was a few days old. Our guide said that he sees tigers and sloth bears every few days on safari so you might get lucky.
We got the best views of the last rhino of the day, which was the fifth one that we encountered. I was surprised at how placid they were, although they are probably used to seeing people and poachers do not operate in the park. The rhinos here face a bright future as wildlife is on the increase in Nepal.
We live in a world that is becoming increasingly hostile towards our wildlife, but anti-poaching police patrols and Nepalese culture of being kind to animals has helped to safeguard a species in peril elsewhere. While some rhinos have been lost, the steady increase over the past ten years has been a massive win for conservation, if only we could replicate that elsewhere. Nepal’s isolation and basic infrastructure are probably major factors for protecting all their wildlife as well.
The day I spent having my bones rattled on the back of a jeep in Chitwan was one of the best days I’ve spent in Asia. The jungle landscape was gorgeous and lush especially after being in the mountains and I just love rhinos. There were also too many birds to mention and butterflies galore, if you do venture away from the Himalayas then you certainly won’t regret it. Supporting this national park, the wildlife and the people who guard them is a great way to spend time on your trip.