Yes that is right, Nepal has jungles. It’s not just mountains and altitude sickness, almost half the country is a relatively low lying, dry, plains like landscape. There are two huge national jungle parks, which are wildlife refuges from some pretty kickass animals. I went for a visit to Chitwan National Park, about 8 hours from Kathmandu, as opposed to Bardia, the National Park that is about 17 hours from Kathmandu. That’s a big time difference when you’re sitting on a Nepali bus.
Visit Chitwan Jungle in Nepal
Chitwan National Park is mainly touted as home to the endangered Great One Horned Rhino of Nepal. There are about 560 of them in the park, as well as also tigers, which currently number about 52. The park is additionally home to monkeys (ugh), spotted deer, sloth bears, crocodiles, elephants, leopards, and hundreds of types of birds. Most people come to see the rhinos and hope to see tigers, but more on that later.
Unfortunately, because Chitwan is quite accessible, it is much more visited, but oh well! I left Lumbini for Chitwan on what was touted as a ‘tourist’ bus, even though we were picking people up on the side o the road for the first hour and then vice versa coming into town. Might as well fill up the bus, but you know as a ‘tourist’ you paid a lot more for that seat than the guy who hopped on 10 minutes down the road. Whatever, I can spring for the $6 seat.
I arrived in Chitwan and was immediately accosted by touts offering great deals on safaris into the jungle and rooms for the night. In response to this, I walked off in the wrong direction from where I was going, got hungry and settled for eating first, finding shelter later. Sometimes, a girl needs a full belly to face anything more.
So after refuelling with dhal baht power, I found the hotel I was looking for, which was on the river and off of the main strip of hotels and restaurants. It also had an in-house guide, (most of the hotels do), and he was pretty cute, so yes, I will stay!
Having settled into my room, I walked downstairs to the restaurant and the guide, Hari, called over and motioned to follow him, 6 Chinese people, and a tall blonde dude, Dutch, obviously. I asked where we were going, and he said, “Don’t worry just come”. Ok. Nothing like a little blind faith.
Traditional Tharu Settlement in Chitwan Nepal
We were off to see a traditional Tharu village, which is the traditional cultural people of the Chitwan area, and then see some elephants. So the settlement was fun, mainly because it gave me a sampler of how many long lenses and photographs come with a group of 6 Chinese people, and also because I played trucks with some little boys. That was before they figured out a game that involved their arms around each other and trying to ram each other into the backs of tourists legs. It was really funny to watch, and they were in absolute hysterics.
Where to See Elephants in Chitwan
After a slice of cultural voyeurism, we went to the government elephant pasture, where the elephants that are used by the army to do daily patrols in the jungle (against poachers!) are housed and trained. I had forgotten how big elephants are, and these were Asian elephants, the African ones are way bigger!
More pictures were taken, and warnings were made to give the elephants decent berths. Elephants are the third most intelligent species on the planet, after humans and dolphins, though I would personally wager they are smarter than quite a lot of humans.
To the side, Hari told me about a tourist who once got too close, made a weird jerky movement, and the elephant picked him up by the neck and that was the end of that guys safari, of life.
On the walk back to the hotel we spotted some crocodiles lazing on the river-side, the opposite side of the river that we were on, so that’s good. More pictures were taken. Then the sun was starting to set, so Dutch Dude and I refused to go any further and planted ourselves on some lounge chairs on the river with 750ml Everest beers to watch the sun go down over the jungle. It would have been very romantic if I had have known his name, so henceforth he will be known as Dutch Dude.
After this little foray with the 8 people at the hotel, Hari decided it would be best to divide us into two groups for the following day’s safari activities. I think it had something to do with Dutch Dude and I being eager to walk further into the jungle, and me pressuring Hari to absolutely 100% guarantee that we would see a tiger (note: only about 1 in 10,000 tourists see a tiger in Chitwan). He laughed.
Day Safari in Chitwan Jungle
Early the next morning, Hari, Dutch Dude, me, and a trainee guide started off early and got into a dugout canoe to float down the river that is the border of the national park. The point was probably to see crocs, but I was actually ok with not seeing any at this time. See, in dug out canes, once you put human bodies into them, they float about 5 inches from the surface of the water. Wouldn’t a croc see that as little more than a speed bump on the way to one of my appendages?
We did see tons of birds, and it was very cool cruising the misty river through the jungle mist at that early of an hour. We canoed for about an hour, when the 4 of us got out and started on foot.
Before we started walking though, Hari gave us some ‘safety rules’. Run-down: If we are charged by a rhino, which means the rhino feels threatened and is running towards us, that lovely endangered horn first, we are to run in zig zags and throw off our backpacks or an article of clothing and hopefully the rhino will stop to smell it. I asked how often Hari gets charged and he said “Enough”.
We also heard how to evade sloth bears, and that if a tiger did attack us, it wouldn’t be from the front, so always face a tiger. Which raised the question: If the tiger is behind you, how would you know to face him? Comforting. Safety meeting completed, we were off looking for all of these beasts that seemed to just be waiting to maim/kill us!
Chasing Rhinos in Nepal Jungle
The hunt of rhinos was on, though not to kill, just view, no poachers in this bunch! Hari and the trainee were doing some serious Mantracker moves, looking at prints, following scat, stopping and listening etc. Dutch dude and I were useless, we just tried to stay quiet.
We did see some spotted deer pretty quick, but it took wandering around the jungle for about 2.5 hours to finally get a glimpse of the great rhino. And it was from well across a lake. So we crept up closer, me constantly checking to see if we were also creeping up on a croc, until we could get a decent look at the rhino, and its baby as luck would have it. Never can you be happier to have a body of water in front of you than when a rhino and her baby are on the other side of it. We only checked them out for a couple minutes before they disappeared back into the jungle, and then we set off again.
We came out of the park near the Elephant Breeding Project, an organization that breeds and trains elephants. And they were just about to go graze in the park, so we caught them just in time to see some pretty cute babies. We then headed back to the hotel, which happens to be right about where elephants go for their mid-day baths in the river. And let me tell you, those baths are great. If I could lie in a river and have people scrub me with sudsy brushes, sign me up! You can keep the shouting verbal commands in Nepali telling me to sit up though, that’s overkill.
Elephant Safari in Chitwan Nepal
In the afternoon, Dutch Dude and I went off for our elephant safari, which meant that we sat in a wooden box on top of an elephant and walked through the jungle. Atop an elephant, human scents and sounds are obscured by those of the elephant, so it’s more likely to see a rhino on the elephant safari than on foot. And see a rhino we did!
A mom and baby just hanging out in a big clearing, and completely unperturbed by the 12 elephants that had all of a sudden encircled them with long lenses shooting out in all directions from their wooden back crates. We got a great viewing of the rhinos, and they really do look like dinosaurs. I must question if anybody has actually checked if they are dinosaurs or not; I’m pretty sure it’s just a stegosaurus. The baby for sure looked like the little guy in The Land Before Time.
After a time we left mom and baby to themselves, and went off wandering the jungle, getting whipped in the face with high hanging branches, elephants really don’t care about those details. They have pretty tough skin. As we crossed the river, we spotted some lazy crocs on the river and I was very glad to be on top of a three-meter high elephant and not in a dugout canoe.
By the time we got back to the elephant homestead, I was good to get down. Elephants are not exactly graceful walkers, and the rhythm in which they walk makes you have this odd wish that your upper half of your body could be separate from your lower. It also really makes you have to pee.
Tharu Cultural Show in Chitwan Jungle
My second evening in Chitwan, didn’t produce much of a sunset, so I headed into the village part of Sauraha for dinner, momos and fried rice, and to hit the Tharu Cultural Show, which is put on every night by the local indigenous group to show tourists their music and dance. It was a pretty good little show, especially when the dancers did the stick dance, which has each dancer holding two sticks and rhythmically hitting them together to make it’s very own music. This dance was created back in the day to scare off wild animals, so it was actually very utilitarian as well. Then they asked if anybody wanted to come up and volunteer to. All of a sudden the stage was flooded with Chinese people, I sat in the back and enjoyed the chaos.
After the cultural show, I went back to the hotel, where the power was completely out and stopped in the restaurant to grab some empty bottles to put candles into. There I found the family of 6 Chinese people (2x 13-year old boys, one of the boys parents, the others one’s mom, and another lady who’s relation was never totally clear) and Hari all sitting at a table with a million bottles of beer. One of the boys ran up to me, grabbed my arm and said “Emily, come! It’s drink beer together time!” How the heck did he know that “drink beer together time” is totally my favorite time of the day?!?!?! Right up there with bedtime, lunchtime, and elevensies! So down I sat for a time of drinking beer together!
The boys taught me some Mandarin, all of which I promptly forgot, and one of the ladies challenging me to beer chugging contests. I won the first; she dominated after that. I also instructed the boys on how to properly pour a beer, because really it’s a life skill, and you’re never too young to learn life skills.
By the time drink beer together time was done I had thoroughly impressed them with my command of the Mandarin language learning, and had felt good about the teachings I had imparted upon the youth of China. Off to bed I went! With my candles.
Chitwan was the last stop on my Westward journey through Nepal, so it was back to Kathmandu the next day, into the arms of the lovely Vanessa who had a feast of finger food, pizza, and Chinese wine prepared. We ate and watched the Hunger Games for a roommate Super Fun Night. We drank wine, and debated the pros of perfect Peeta versus the cons of gloomy Gale. It was a lovely homecoming!
Travel Blog from Chitwan Jungle…
While I was waiting for the cultural show to start, three little kids came into the parking lot, dancing to the sounds of some dude singing karaoke. They were laughing and having so much fun I joined in and performed my patented Meditator dance. Which went over sensationally, huge hit! It’s going to take the world by storm, Gangnam style storm.
Despite not seeing a tiger, I didn’t hold it against Hari the guide. He’s been guiding for three years and he has only seen one twice. Hari did mention that tigers stalk baby rhinos, so my rationale was that if we stalked the mother and baby that we would therefore see a tiger. He laughed at me. I still don’t see the hole in my logic. Maybe death. Death was perhaps the hole in that logic.
Despite Hari’s very decent English, sometimes I translated between he and the Chinese boys, who then translated to the rest of the group as the adults had very limited English. Dutch dude was no help!
Baby elephants are super cute, way cuter than baby monkeys. And some baby humans.