Over 9000 sq/km of jungle, river, planes, and tall grass fields, not forgetting the villages and farming lands within the Park Chitwan has been a UNESCO heritage site since 1973. Protecting not just the plants, environment and wildlife, but also protecting endangered and beautiful species like the Black One Horned Rhinoceros.
Chitwan National Park which means “heart of the forest“ can be found 5 -6 hours from Kathmandu through the Gauge Valley and Mountains. A beautiful drive through jungle, following the rivers, and through villages and homes which are built just off the road, with stops for tea, food and rests every so often. The contrast between the drive to get here vast, you suddenly go from the huge busy streets of Kathmandu, to the mountainous valleys, then to the planes of Chitwan Valley with the mountains suddenly disappearing.
People who live here are called Thareb people, the indigenous people of this land with their own traditions, beliefs and values. One of them is being respectful of the wildlife they live with and who they know were there before them. They see the tigers, Rhinos, birds, and Elephants as guardians and gods rather than an enemy, and this is why the National Park has grown with popularity and understanding of the importance of its survival and development. We stayed here for 2 nights, enjoying the hospitality of the Royal Park Resort found in the village of Sauraha. Situated on the river and very close to the main areas of the National Park.
Our first experience was a bike! We rode through all the adjoining villages around Sauraha, each one connected together by the km’s of Rice fields. The village houses are made from concrete due to new materials, but also the traditional mud huts which are more cost effective, and also work as well as the concrete ones. It shows how’s even though technology and materials are developing, the traditions and simply way of life is still so popular and works fine here.
We had the opportunity to go on a canoe safari down the Narayani River, where we spotted crocodiles, loads of different kinds of birds some huge, some small, some camouflaged, some so colourful like the kingfishers. We also stopped off and headed to a watch post in the jungle for lunch, but the main highlight was the tiger prints and rhino prints which we spotted when we had a break on the river bank, an amazing experience to see these first hand. We were in the Sun all day, so remember the sun cream, but also the rain jacket you never know what the weather brings here. The forest is famous for Royal Bengal Tigers, One Horned Rhinos, Leopards and Sloth Bears, OH MY! The terrain reminded me of the medical scenes from Africa’s Serengeti images, a romantic haze in the mornings, and a hopeful feeling in your stomach of seeing one of the big 5 Nepalise style!
The Jeep safari was also amazing, 3 hour of searching for Rhinos, but instead seeing a family of wild boars, beautiful species of deer with huge antlers on some of the males, monkeys, birds, huge cranes 3 feet tall, and taking in the beauty of the National Park which consists of plains, jungle, lakes and rivers. The jeep was bumpy, but due to pure concentration you don’t even realise. Its kindof different to what you expect, thinking you will be dressed all in camouflage hiking through a jungle with giant binoculars and safari hat to finish it, seeing all kinds of animals and birds. You have to have a lot more patience, you may not see anything for hours. The idea is with the guides who have grown up here, lived and breathed the jungle will help make the experience as thrilling as possible. Rustling in the bushes, slight movements, noises from smaller animals, or just one small paw print to suggest the next direction. Patience is key!
However the biggest highlight was the evening. We had just ordered food while discussing Rhino’s, what we were going to do tomorrow, and also about Chitwan itself, when a waiter came in and said casually there was a Rhino outside! We of course ran to the front of the restaurant, I thought we would need to quick run to the river, or get rickshaw to maybe an open space in the jungle nearby but no! I looked right along the main road a metre from the restaurant, and in the back ground in the centre of the main road… WAS A RHINO… A dark moody shadow, coming closer with car lights making its silhouette all the more clearer. In comparison to the tuts tuts either side of it there was no question how big this beautiful animal was and it knew it!
I was in complete shock, and in complete disbelief that this magnificent creature out of all the places we would see one was on a village road, rather than in the jungle. Its armoured body coming closer to me, my guide shook me and told me to get behind the fence for protection. Even though it is slow, and calm now, doesn’t mean I wont get frightened and dangerous in 2 seconds. I was still in shock, just whispering oh my god, every few seconds. Trying to take this once in a life time experience special moment in as well as try to get a photo to show friends and family at home that it actually happened.
The Rhino gradually strolled along the street, behind our fence, we just looked, stared and appreciated every moment of this event. It was like seeing a Dinosaur, with its armoured body and dark prehistoric skin tone, like a mystical creature. I was 2 metres away from a fully grown, adult, endangered One horned male Rhino. My whole body was shaking from being so excited and privileged to have seen one in such an unusual circumstance. It kept walking down the street, almost like a scene out of Jumanji, and steadily got smaller, with people following it with doubt and reservations but intrigue.
As I write this, I still cant believe it happened, I will never forget this unusual moment in Chitwan, Nepal. The Rhino has been an endangered species for over 30 years now, with poachers still trying at any opportunity to take their horns. Chitwan has special army officers who roam the National Park to stop this from happening, and since 2012 there have been no reports of Poachers which is amazing. Steadily the 600 Rhinos who are accounted for, are rising to 645 in 2019… I can only see positivity when I leave this place and the non stop work the people here are doing to keep this magnificent animals thriving.
Read more on the Rhino conservation here – https://www.chitwannationalpark.gov.np/