Ecotour in Chitwan National Park in Nepal
I am sitting on the bus to Chitwan National Park. Only two other foreigners are in the seats right in front of me. The road is windy, many steep looks down the gorge available for the adventurous traveler, honking horns and many bumps that make this ride unforgettable. While we get stuck because of one of the many accidents happening on this road, the two travelers and I start talking.
All of us would like to go on a tour to the National Park. That’s the whole point of doing this eight hour bus drive from Kathmandu. We are independent travelers who seek information when we get there and do not book in advance. Hence we decide to keep in touch and exchange on the best tour deals we can find.
There are plenty of options available to explore the park. Together we decide to do one of the most popular day tours that includes a half day canoeing, a walk through the jungle and a jeep tour in the afternoon. Meeting point is at the tour agency before sunrise the next morning.
Many people are gathered at the river shore to take a canoe that fits about ten people and gets paddled down the stream to enjoy this incredible bird wildlife out here and the mystical atmosphere created by the rising sun and fog steaming into the air from the warmer river water.
Next to many beautiful species of birds, we quickly spot crocodiles. Our guide explains the difference between the species that inhabit the river shore. One of these has a long jaw, whose shape reminds me of a power saw. It is a vegetarian and compared to the other carnivore crocodile not very dangerous for humans.
After about an hour floating on this calming Rapti river, we get to the shore on the other side of the river where the jungle of the National Park invites us to explore. We meet with another tour guide from the park and another guest and his guides join us walking along the shore. Only after a few minutes excitement spreads in the groups ahead of us.
“Rhino, rhino“ is what I can hear and we start to run. I am of course very excited to eventually see a rhino in its natural habitat but while we are running through the bush, I am wondering what it is that we are actually doing out here. Are we chasing a rhino in an open field?
Luckily I have a lot of confidence in our tour guide. Besides I don’t have any other choice but to run after my group. I hear the other tourist heavily breathing, everyone trying not to fall over old tree trunks, jumping and running and then we stop at a clearing that rises above a steppe. I see my guide pointing down there and I get to see my first rhino.
After a moment of awe and some looks through the binoculars there is turmoil to hear from another group to our right. “A second rhino! Come, come!“ and again we are running to see the second one as well. My guide says that the other one is a male and it is mating season.
I look to our left and see the male rhino approaching. I look to the right where the female is grazing. My reasoning tells me that we are definitely in a dangerous spot right now. I look at the two guides and realize that they have got nothing more than a bamboo stick in their hands. While my thoughts are pounding we are starting to run again.
With more distance between us and the animals, we are getting the chance of another quick observation. I’m still alert and nervous as suddenly there is screaming to hear and my guide decides we have to get out. Running again until we are close to our canoes.
Apparently another group got chased by the male rhino, while we were getting out of there. Still out of breath I have a look at our canoes and think of the option of going back quickly but my guide walks further, stops in a quiet corner in the bushes and gives us our safety briefing.
What to do when a rhino chases you? Climb up a tree. I’m thinking of the other people who had boarded the canoes and I doubt that all of them would be capable of climbing a tree but my thoughts wander off as our guide continues to talk about the encounters he had with wild animals in this jungle and how humans are supposed to behave meeting them.
I’m fascinated that there are chances to see Bangal tigers here, even though that happens rarely and that elephants are the most dangerous encounter where there wouldn’t be much left to do but pray. We start walking further into the woods quietly. One guide in front, one behind. We spot a slug bear, who appears just a few meters in front of us but I miss him, as he quickly disappears into the bushes.
The sun is up high now. The blue sky is hazy. Ridges of the Himalaya become apparent in the far distance. We board a canoe again to cross the river and rest from this eventful morning over lunch at the river banks.
In the afternoon a canoe brings us back to the other side of the river, where we hop on an open jeep with about ten other people. I manage to grab a front seat and feel filled with bliss riding through the last surviving example of the natural ecosystems of the ‘Terai’ region.
Along the ride we get to see beautiful peacocks, monkeys playing in the treetops and snakes gliding through the wetland. Just as the sun is about to set our jeep slows down for another gigantic rhino.
We are so close that I can hear its heavy breathing. His skin is so rough, thick and full of wrinkles. It looks right at our jeep. Stares for a short moment at us but then trudges back into the bushes. I feel absolutely amazing to have seen so much wildlife during just one day and happily fall into my bed that night.
The tour guide of Nepal Dynamic Eco Tours was very knowledgeable and considerate. Moreover they do respect wildlife and aim to help protect it and most importantly they do not offer elephant riding. Please, be considerate and do not book tours with companies who offer elephant tours.
Where to stay:
I had a different accommodation at first, which I didn’t like at all and I checked out after the first night. I had a look at many more rooms within the same price range of which all were very disappointing. The River View Jungle Camp was the only one with clean and nicely furnished rooms, with an apartment block facing the river and friendly staff. I would totally recommend to stay here!
Mid-range: River View Jungle Camp
How to get there:
Bus from Kathmandu to Sauraha
Sauraha is a small town and the only option for near by accommodation next to the National Park. I recommend to arrange a pickup from the bus station through your accommodation. Walking into town would probably take about 30mins.
For long distances I would recommend to always book one of the tourist buses. I have used the agent of this website, who would always reserve a seat for me on the bus and I would not be charged with an extra commission which will happen, when you book the bus through your hotel.
If you don't want to go by bus you can always hire your own driver.
What to bring:
Water, hat for sun protection, hiking shoes that allow you to run, binoculars.
Another tip: I felt that the easiest way to communicate with agents in Nepal is through Whats app.