I wouldn’t suggest shorting yourself for time on a Chitwan National Park safari. That said I was amazed at what I was able to do and see in two short days. Lions and tigers and bears? Not exactly, but there are tigers, about 108, and plenty of other very large creatures which are mostly herbivores.
If you choose to fly, as I did, you’ll only be in the air about 30 minutes traveling in a southwesterly direction to Bhatarpur, the nearest town of any size. If the skies are clear, which they weren’t when I flew, try and get a window seat on the right side of the plane for the best views and you may steal some peaks of the Himalays in route.
Arriving at Bhatapur I was met by Bhim Chaudhary who would serve as my guide for the next couple of days and an excellent one at that. We hopped in the back of an open air jeep from the Rhino Residency Resort (RRR). They offered me the front seat but I was happy to be getting some fresh air. It’s a 20 minute drive from the Bhatapur airport to RRR, but only another 5 minutes or so from their to the park and the RRR is an easy walk to the Rapti river.
The gates at the Rhino Residency Resort swing open into a little oasis carved out of the jungle. Because I am here at the beginning of the season I have the place to myself. The day after I leave there will be a group of 12 arriving, but for the moment I have the full attention of the staff and private use of the pool and gardens.
With all the attention, I feel kind of like a king which is perhaps fitting, not because I deserve any royal treatment, but because Chitwan National Park was, up until 1973, a private reserve for the royal family of Nepal.
After getting settling in and having lunch and tea it’s time to head for Chitwan National Park where Bhim has arranged to meet with an Elephant driver. As the elephant, driver, and two other riders near, I climb wooden steps up to a square platform. It’s only as I watch the back of the elephant coming towards the platform that I have second thoughts about mounting the stairs before this female pachyderm has come to a full stop. She barely touches the platform though and there’s certainly no movement. I climb into the basket, and since I am the last one on I am facing the back of the elephant as we lumber forward.
I watched a lot of elephants when I lived in Africa and I was always amazed at how graceful these huge animals seem to move. Unfortunately, what’s graceful to the eye doesn’t translate to a graceful feeling on it’s back. An adequate description would be to say that it’s not that uncomfortable.
The real reason, other than the novelty of riding on an elephant, for moving through the forest this way becomes apparent when we spot our 3rd and 4th rhinos, a mother and her calf. We are able to get so close to them that if we were able to reach down to their height we could reach out and touch them.
The rhinos of Chitwan are Rhinoceros unicornis, one horned rhinos. They are the second largest of the species, next to their cousin the Black rhino in Africa, and there are only somewhere over 2000 of these one horned creatures left, but in Chitwan you have a good chance of seeing them.
Eventually we left the mother and her calf happily drinking in the swamp and moved on across the river. There were only two scary moments on the trip and neither was that scary. The first was being within five feet of the rhinos and learning that rhinoceroses will attack elephants if they feel threatened. The other came when we lurched up out of the river. At this point I found myself looking straight down at the water and what had seemed like a long way down before seemed even further as the elephant climbed the bank. I contemplated just what kind of a SPLAT sound I would make if I was lucky enough to fall in the mud.
While I didn’t get a good shot of it we saw a Gharial crocodile we did see one in the river, but we didn’t go very close. We also didn’t see Gangetic Dolphin which is endangered but reportedly you can see them in the park.
After my ride, Bhim, and I went and had a drink on the bank of the river and watched the sun go down.