Chitwan National Park
Situated in the Mid-South Terai region of Nepal is the Chitwan National Park, which was originally known as the Royal Chitwan National Park ( RCNP ) as royalty used it for game hunting purposes. However, conservation orders were issued in 1973 to protect the endangered species of the region. In 1984, it was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO. In the past hunting and poaching of animals like the one horned rhino and the Bengal Tiger had reduced their numbers to the bare minimum; fortunately over the years conservation efforts have increased the numbers of these endangered animals.
The park is home to wide array of diverse flora and fauna and is an animal lover's, bird watcher's and botanist's paradise. Among the many species of mammals and reptiles found there are the one-horned rhino, rhesus monkeys, deer, sambar, gharials ( local crocodilians ), the fresh water dolphin which is now a rare feature and the elusive Bengal Tiger. Pheasants, hornbills, cranes are many of the hundreds of species of resident and migratory birds that co-habit the jungles and rivers of Chitwan and its adjoining areas.
Some activities that you can engage in are as follows :
1. Jungle Walks
These walks range from half day, full day, 2-3 day or even a week and one may come across rhesus monkeys, various fowls / birds, rhinos and if you are lucky enough, the Bengal Tiger.
2. Elephant Rides
This is a novel way of exploring the habitat of these rare animals. Such elephant rides can last from one to one and half hours. Elephant rides are mainly conducted in three shifts – morning, mid-morning and late afternoon.
3. Elephant Breeding Centre
This where you can see baby elephants and get an opportunity to feed them and get up close and personal. There is also a museum you can visit to learn about the various species and the breeding and conservation efforts.
4. Elephant Washing
Washing elephants is an experience that very few get a chance to do. For a nominal fee and a tip to the mahouts, you can help to wash an elephant. It becomes even more enjoyable when the elephants are taken down to the river banks for their daily baths.
5. River Boating / Canoeing
Canoeing or boating in the slow flowing rivers of Chitwan is not only a relaxing experience, but an opportunity to observe the wildlife on the banks of the river and in the river itself. One can spot gharials ( crocodilians ) and very rarely, the fresh water dolphin characteristic to this region. One can also spot many migratory birds in the process.
Besides such wildlife activities, one will also get an opportunity to sample local Tharu culture in the adjoining villages and enjoy an evening of such cultural dance performances at your choice of stay. The Tharus are the predominant tribals ( indigenous ) people of the area.
Accommodation can vary from tented ones, to wooden stilted huts, to lodges and luxury hotels. Some provide the bare amenities and food, whilst others may provide all luxury facilities and choicest cuisines.
Chitwan is easily accessible from Pokhara and Kathmandu by a 4 – 6 hour drive. If you choose to fly, the nearest airport to Chitwan is Bharatpur which is 10 kilometres away from the park centre.
Best time to Visit
Most local guides and tour operators claim that October to December, or even better, November-December is the ideal time to visit as one will not only experience bearable weather, but also stand a much better chance of sighting animals. Mid-June to September in the region is extremely hot and humid.