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Chitwan National Park, Nepal – Elusive Tigers and Iconic Rhinos

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Nestled in the fertile lowlands of the Terai region, Chitwan National Park is a true jewel in the crown of Nepal’s stunning natural landscapes. Covering an area of 932 sq. km, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is celebrated for its rich biodiversity, including an impressive array of wildlife, from the Bengal Tiger to the One-horned Rhinoceros.

The park is also home to a lush mosaic of Sal forests, grasslands, and riverine forests, providing visitors with a diverse spectacle of nature’s brilliance. Established in 1973, Chitwan National Park was Nepal’s first national park, and its conservation success stories are a testament to the country’s commitment to preserving its natural heritage.

Getting There

Located in south-central Nepal, Chitwan National Park can be reached through several means:

By Road: From Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, you can reach the park by first getting to the town of Sauraha by bus or car. The journey usually takes about 5-6 hours and offers beautiful views of the Nepalese countryside.

By Air: If you prefer a faster route, daily flights from Kathmandu to Bharatpur Airport are available. The flight takes around 25 minutes, followed by a short 30-minute drive to the park.

By Raft: For the adventurous traveler, you can opt for a combination of driving and rafting. This allows you to experience the thrilling white waters of the Trishuli River on your way to Chitwan.

Chitwan river

When to Visit Chitwan National Park

Chitwan National Park has a tropical monsoon climate with three main seasons: summer, monsoon, and winter.

Summer (March to June): The weather can get quite hot, with temperatures reaching up to 35°C. However, this is a great time for wildlife sightings as animals come out to the water sources to quench their thirst. I visited the park in mid-May and I had good weather.

Monsoon (July to September): The park receives heavy rainfall during these months, which can make some areas inaccessible. However, the lush greenery during this time is truly beautiful.

Winter (October to February): With mild temperatures and lower humidity, this is the most comfortable time to visit the park. Visibility is also at its best, increasing your chances of spotting wildlife.

For the best wildlife viewing opportunities and comfortable weather, the months between October and March are highly recommended.

Where to Stay near Chitwan National Park

Chitwan National Park has a range of accommodations to cater to different budgets and preferences, from luxury jungle resorts to budget guesthouses.

One of the recommended places to stay is Hotel Parkland (this is where I stayed), known for its comfortable rooms and peaceful garden setting. Located near the park’s entrance, the hotel offers cozy accommodation with excellent wildlife-themed décor, clean and spacious rooms, and an inviting outdoor area where you can relax and enjoy the surroundings.

Chitwan Hotel Parkland
The greenery of Hotel Parkland outside Chitwan National Park

They also organize various activities like jungle safaris and cultural shows, which can be very convenient for guests.

If you’re looking for luxury, the Barahi Jungle Lodge or Tiger Tops Tharu Lodge might be a good fit. These resorts offer high-end accommodation and services, including guided jungle safaris, spa services, and gourmet dining experiences with a focus on local and organic ingredients.

For budget travelers, there are numerous guesthouses and homestays in the nearby Sauraha village, offering basic but clean accommodations, a chance to experience local life, and easy access to the park.

Remember to book your stay well in advance, especially if you’re planning to visit during the peak season (October to March).

Park Regulations and Permits

Entering Chitwan National Park requires a permit that can be purchased at the park entrance. The price for foreigners is 2,000 Nepalese Rupees (about 15 USD) per day, but it’s best to check for updated fees. In any case, if you go with a tour package, this will most likely be included so you won’t have to worry about it.

Respect for wildlife and the environment is paramount in Chitwan. Here are a few key regulations:

  • Off-road driving is strictly prohibited to protect wildlife habitats.
  • Maintain a safe and respectful distance from all animals.
  • Feeding and disturbing wildlife is not allowed.
  • Littering is prohibited. Carry out what you carry in.
  • Fires and camping are not allowed in the park.

Guided tours are compulsory for safety reasons and to minimize the impact on wildlife. Guides are well-trained and knowledgeable about the flora, fauna, and cultural significance of Chitwan.

Chitwan Deer crossing
Deer crossing the tracks

What to Do in Chitwan National Park

Nature & Wildlife Experiences

Chitwan National Park offers an array of activities that allow visitors to experience the park’s natural richness:

Jungle Safaris: Jeep and elephant-back safaris are popular ways to explore deeper into the jungle. I definitely recommend the jeep safaris, to avoid supporting the exploitation of elephants. Both morning and afternoon safaris are available. The safari routes are determined by the guides based on recent wildlife sightings.

Walking Safaris: Accompanied by trained naturalists, these tours offer a unique, up-close perspective of the park’s flora and fauna.

Canoe Rides: Drift down the Rapti or Narayani River in a traditional dugout canoe. This is a fantastic way to spot crocodiles basking on the river banks and a variety of water birds.

Bird Watching: With over 550 bird species, Chitwan is a paradise for bird enthusiasts. Early morning is the best time for bird-watching.

Elephant Breeding Centre: Commonly included in visits to the park, this center provides a unique opportunity to learn about the park’s elephant population. It plays a crucial role in the conservation of Asian elephants, providing care for injured animals and raising young elephants. And, should I mention, it’s a great opportunity to pet some adorable baby elephants!

Gharial Conservation Breeding Center: Open in 1978, the place is great to see these beautiful crocodilians up close, including lots and lots of babies. The center is an important piece of the puzzle for the conservation of this endangered species.

Each activity offers a unique perspective of the park and a chance to witness its diverse wildlife. Whether it’s the thrill of a jungle safari or the serenity of a canoe ride, Chitwan promises an unforgettable adventure.

Baby elephant at the Breeding Center
Baby elephant at the Breeding Center

Cultural Experiences

Chitwan isn’t just about wildlife; it’s also a place where visitors can engage with the rich local culture.

Tharu Village Tour: Chitwan is home to the Tharu people, an indigenous group known for their unique culture. Many tour packages include a visit to a Tharu village where you can learn about their traditional lifestyle, view their distinct architecture, and experience their vibrant music and dance performances, known as Tharu Stick Dance.

Local Food: Don’t miss trying the local cuisine! The typical Tharu dish, ‘Dal Bhat’, a platter of lentil soup, rice, vegetables, and pickles, is a must-try. Also, sample the locally brewed rice beer known as ‘Raksi’.

Wildlife and Biodiversity

Chitwan National Park is a sanctuary for a diverse range of wildlife, with over 68 species of mammals, 544 species of birds, and 126 species of fish. The park is also home to more than 600 plant species, including the dominant sal tree, which forms 70% of the forest cover.

Commonly Seen Animal Species

Visitors are almost guaranteed to spot several wildlife species, such as:

  • The One-Horned Rhinoceros: Chitwan is home to the second largest population of this endangered species. These solitary animals are usually seen grazing in the grasslands.
  • Spotted Deer: Often seen in herds, these graceful creatures are a common sight in the park.
  • Wild Boar: Frequently spotted around the park, these animals play a crucial role in the ecosystem by disturbing soil and spreading seeds.
  • Rhesus Monkey and Hanuman Langur: These primates are commonly seen swinging in the trees and foraging on the ground.
  • Crocodiles: During canoe rides, you’ll often see Mugger and Gharial crocodiles basking on the river banks.
Chitwan gharial
Gharial

Other Animal Species – If You’re Lucky

With some luck, you might spot:

  • Bengal Tiger: Seeing a Bengal Tiger is a rare and thrilling experience. Though sightings are not common, the presence of these majestic animals is often hinted at by their footprints or roars. I personally did not see the tiger in Chitwan but I did see their footprints.
  • Leopard: These elusive cats are most active at dawn and dusk. They are sometimes spotted in trees or near water bodies.
  • Sloth Bear: Mostly nocturnal, they can occasionally be seen during the daytime, especially during the hot summer months when termites, their favorite food, are abundant.
Chitwan tiger footprint
Tiger footprint

Plant and Tree Species Not to Miss

Chitwan National Park’s vegetation is a mix of deciduous forests and grasslands. The most iconic tree is the sal tree, which is not only vital for the park’s ecosystem but also has cultural significance in the region. Other plant species to look out for are the silk cotton tree, which has beautiful red flowers, and the acacia, known for its distinctive thorns.

Best Locations and Times for Wildlife Spotting

For the best wildlife viewing opportunities, take a guided safari early in the morning or late in the afternoon when animals are most active. The grasslands and the river banks are great places for wildlife spotting. Remember, patience is key when it comes to wildlife viewing!

Photographic Guide – Best Spots to Photograph

Sunrise and Sunset: Chitwan’s wide skies and open landscapes create spectacular sunrises and sunsets. Capture these moments from the riverbanks for reflections on the water, or from the higher grounds for panoramic views.

Wildlife: The grasslands, riverbanks, and forest edges are the best places to photograph Chitwan’s diverse wildlife. Patience is crucial; it can take time for animals to appear.

Sauraha Village: This vibrant village with its traditional houses, bustling markets, and local life provides great opportunities for street photography.

Tharu Cultural Performances: The colorful Tharu dance performances are a fantastic subject for photography, offering a mix of movement, color, and cultural storytelling.

Birdlife: With over 550 species, Chitwan is a bird photographer’s paradise. The early morning and late afternoon are the best times to photograph these feathered beauties.

Scenic Landscapes: Chitwan’s landscapes vary from dense forests to vast grasslands and serene rivers. Don’t miss capturing these scenic vistas.

Chitwan Sal Forest
Sal tree forest

Packing Checklist for Chitwan National Park

Here’s a basic packing list for a trip to Chitwan National Park:

  • Clothing: Lightweight clothing for the daytime and a jacket or sweater for cooler evenings. Choose neutral colors that blend with the environment for better wildlife watching. Don’t forget a raincoat if you’re visiting during the monsoon.
  • Footwear: Comfortable walking shoes are a must. Waterproof shoes can be useful during the monsoon or for morning walks when dew is common.
  • Binoculars: Enhance your wildlife viewing and bird-watching experiences with a good pair of binoculars.
  • Camera and Accessories: Don’t forget your camera, extra memory cards, and batteries. A telephoto lens can be helpful for wildlife photography.
  • Sun Protection: Sunglasses, sunscreen, and a hat are crucial to protect from the sun.
  • Insect Repellent: To protect against mosquitoes and other insects.
  • Reusable Water Bottle: Stay hydrated and help reduce plastic waste.
  • Travel Documents: Don’t forget your passport, visa, and any necessary permits or paperwork.
  • First Aid Kit: Always handy to have for minor injuries or ailments.

Pack based on your personal needs and the activities you plan to engage in. Remember to respect the park’s guidelines and keep the environment clean!

Chitwan rhino
One of the rhinos I spotted in Chitwan

Day Trip and Itinerary Suggestions

While a single day in Chitwan National Park could give you a glimpse into its wonders, I’d recommend at least a two to three-day itinerary to truly soak in the experience. Here’s a suggestion for a three-day visit:

Day 1: Arrive in Sauraha, settle into your hotel, and explore the local village. In the evening, enjoy a Tharu cultural dance performance.

Day 2: Begin with an early morning bird-watching walk. Later, embark on a half-day jungle safari. In the afternoon, take a guided walk through the forest to learn about the flora and fauna of Chitwan.

Day 3: Start the day with a canoe ride along the Rapti River. Visit the Elephant Breeding Centre in the afternoon. Spend your evening relishing local cuisine and maybe even trying out a cooking class.

Remember, this is just a suggestion, and the actual activities and their order may vary depending on weather conditions, wildlife movements, and your personal preferences.

Nearby Attractions and Places to Visit

If you have a bit more time in your schedule, consider exploring these nearby attractions:

  • Bishazari Tal (20,000 Lakes): Located about 20 km away, this extensive wetland area is a paradise for bird watchers and nature lovers.
  • Devghat: A sacred pilgrimage site for Hindus at the confluence of the Kali Gandaki and Trishuli rivers. It’s approximately 20 km from Chitwan and offers insight into Nepal’s religious practices.
  • Bharatpur: About a half-hour drive from Chitwan, Bharatpur is a bustling city with several attractions, including the Narayani River, Chitwan Art Gallery, and Bageshwori Temple.
  • Narayangarh: This nearby town has a variety of restaurants and shops selling local products. It’s a great place to experience the everyday life of the Nepalese people.

Remember, whether your visit to Chitwan National Park is short or extended, the goal is to take in the natural beauty, rich wildlife, and cultural diversity of this incredible place. Travel respectfully, enjoy every moment, and take back memories that will last a lifetime.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is Chitwan National Park so famous?

Chitwan National Park is renowned for its rich biodiversity, including rare species like the Bengal tiger and one-horned rhinoceros. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Is it worth going to Chitwan National Park?

Definitely! Chitwan offers a unique blend of wildlife viewing, cultural experiences, and jungle activities, making it a must-visit for nature and adventure enthusiasts.

How much does it cost to go to Chitwan National Park safari?

Costs vary depending on the type of safari (jeep or elephant-back) and tour operator, but in general, prices can be anywhere between $30 and $200.

How many days do I need in Chitwan National Park?

A 2 to 3-day trip is usually sufficient to experience the major attractions, including a safari, canoe ride, and a cultural show.

What is the best time to visit Chitwan National Park?

The best time to visit is from October to March when the weather is pleasant and wildlife sightings are more frequent.

How far is Chitwan from Kathmandu by bus?

By bus, the distance is about 150-175 kilometers, taking approximately 5-7 hours, contingent on traffic and road conditions.

Which is better Pokhara or Chitwan?

Both offer unique experiences. While Pokhara is famed for its serene lakes and mountain views, Chitwan is known for its jungle safaris and wildlife. Your choice depends on your interests.

Can you see tigers in Chitwan?

Yes, Chitwan is home to the Bengal tiger. While sightings are rare due to their elusive nature, early morning safaris offer the best chance.

Is Chitwan near Pokhara?

Chitwan is about 145 kilometers from Pokhara, taking approximately 4-6 hours by road.

How to get to Chitwan National Park from Pokhara?

The most common way is by road, either by bus or private vehicle. Buses depart regularly from Pokhara to Chitwan.

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