Chitwan National Park had been on top of my travel wish list for a long time, and for a good reason. With a vast expanse of nature and bountiful wildlife, Chitwan National Park is a gem of a place located at the foot of the Himalayas. The reserve protects over 900 sq km of tropical and subtropical vegetation, with grassland, riverine, sal forest, and is home to rich flora and fauna. For me the major attraction that summoned me to Chitwan was the magnificent one-horned rhinoceros. One of the last populations of one-horned rhino lives in this park and there is an excellent chance of spotting one. If you’re extremely lucky, you can see leopards, wild elephants, sloth bears and tigers though it is a rare sight.
We took an early morning bus from Kathmandu and arrived Chitwan in about 6 hours. It was the month of March which is a good time to watch wildlife however January and February was the best time as per our guide. The colder weather in that season drives the animals out into the open in search of heat, and you’ll get a better chance of spotting some of the rare ones.
Before starting our trip we had researched about various options for viewing the wildlife and experiencing the jungle in Chitwan. There was a choice amongst jungle walk/trek, jeep safari, elephant safari or canoeing in Rapti river. I was prepared to try all the options as long as I get to spot a rhino and my travel mates were onboard with the idea. Also, I believe that every option offered a unique experience and can take you in distinct habitats of different animals.
On the day we arrived we had a little over half a day remaining after the bus travel so we decided to do a half day jungle walk. We were picked from our hotel along with our guide and were dropped in the jungle for the trek. I found walking in the jungle was a great way to witness wilderness in its real form. We spotted deers, wild boars, rhesus macaques and wide variety of birds. Any birder would enjoy every minute of the walk in the jungle with a plethora of rare bird species. If you go deeper into the jungle you have very good chances of spotting a rhino and fair chance of seeing a tiger but we turned back from as far as we could get in a half day trek. You can go for a full day, two/three day, one week or private jungle treks to go into the deeper parts of the jungle.
Second day was an exciting adventure, we canoed in the marshy river amongst float of marsh mugger crocodiles basking in the sun, waiting for their prey to fall in their mouths. A rower in the front and a rower in the back rowed the canoe, completely submersed in the water through serene and calm water of Rapti river. The river is also home to critically endangered gharial although one has to be very lucky to spot this narrow snouted reptile and I guess we weren’t lucky enough. However other than crocodiles there was a plentiful of bird life on the banks of the river. The near threatened oriental darter is a resident breeder around the water bodies, where also egrets, bitterns, storks and kingfishers abound.
Next we tried an elephant safari which is a wonderful way to explore the profound beauty of forests. While sitting high atop a wild giant we were able to access the deepest beauty of the wild which might not be possible by foot or jeep. It was amazing to see how elephant made his way even in the densest parts of the jungle and got us so close to the wildlife. One can get an opportunity to see rhinos from a very short distance. We saw some amazing bird life and some common mammals but our luck didn’t favour us for spotting a rhino.
Third day, which was also our final day of stay and our best bet was the jeep safari to go deep into the jungle quickly. Going in deeper parts of the forest increases the prospects of seeing more interesting and rare species. There was a very high possibility of seeing one-horned rhinoceros. After about two hours of cruising inside the jungle we finally spotted a rhino. We were very excited to see this heavy armored animal grazing in flood plain area. We then further continued to the other part of the forest and spotted another rhino combating the heat by immersing himself in a water hole. By end of the day we saw not one but five one-horned rhinoceros. We also got a glimpse of sloth bear on the way out of the jungle which was another remarkable moment. The park is considered to have the highest density of population of sloth bears with an estimated 200 to 250 individuals.
All in all we were very thrilled and satisfied after visiting Chitwan National Park that offers one of the Asia’s best wildlife viewing with an awesome spectrum of landscapes, ranging from grasslands and sal forests making it a must visit place for all wildlife and nature lovers.