Oh… what’s that? You’ve never heard of Chitwan National Park?
No surprise there. Most people haven’t… and even the people that have heard of it probably wouldn’t be able to tell you where it is located. So here I am… about to convince you to jump on a plane and head on over to Nepal to visit this wildlife infused national park on the Indian border.
So without further ado… here are 10 reasons why you need to get your butt over there.
We took a jeep safari through the park and saw 20 wild one horned rhinos, also known as Indian rhinos. TWENTY. These guys are a vulnerable species, charismatic and FREAKING. ADORABLE. It was a complete honor to be able to see these guys in the wild. They also occasionally make their way into the village… as we found out on our very first night staying at our amazing lodging, Hotel Rhino Land, when we were all eating dinner and a local man came running into our open kitchen area yelling “rhino! rhino! rhino!”…. there was one blocking the road right outside of our kitchen and it got grumpy and trotted off into the field directly next to us.
2.) Bengal Tigers
It is rare and considered lucky to see tigers while on safari in Chitwan. We saw THREE. Within the first twenty minutes of our jeep safari we saw our first one. Even our guides who go into the park every day were super excited every time we spotted one. The second one we spotted sauntered off into the jungle and started roaring. Loudly. As we were returning from the safari, other groups that we ran into kept asking us if we were “The Lucky Group”… apparently news spread fast that we saw three tigers. We were even approached while we were eating dinner later that evening and asked if we were the lucky group.
A note about me: When I’m not frolicking around the world, I work as a registered veterinary technician at a zoo (and at two animal emergencies… but my full time job is as a Zoo Tech). So that means that I am around these awesome animals all the time. I have placed IV catheters, collected blood from, and intubated airways with my arm all the way inside of a tiger’s mouth. You would think I would have been calloused when I saw them in the wild. Turns out NO. Every time we saw the tigers I think I got lightheaded because I was holding my breath the entire time…and when they were gone I did this weird excited little shakey arm pump dance while silently screaming of excitement on the inside (Key word = SILENT…. if you’re loud on these safaris you will see zero animals). Actually ALL of the the animals we saw in the park gave me incredible excitement. Hell, we saw wild peacocks and I was squeally about it. But thats enough about me….
One of my best friends is obsessed with this species. I think he spent a couple months just reciting facts about them to me and every conversation would always lead back to gharials. This fish-eating crocodilian is critically endangered, and used to be plentiful in river systems in India, Nepal, Pakistan, Myanmar, Bhutan and Bangladesh. Now their distribution is just 2% of what it formally was. They can only be found in India and Nepal. We spotted 5 of them in the wild along the banks of the Rapti River, and also got to visit a breeding center for them. The breeding center has gharials of all ages and they have a head start program that releases gharials that are hatched at the breeding center into the wild once they have reached a large enough size to actually attempt to survive on their own. This is a seemingly good effort, however humans destroy everything and have depleted the fish populations in gharial territory so much that a population comeback of this species can only be achieved if the waters become less polluted and the fish can also make a comeback. For more information about this unique species head to the Gharial Conservation Alliance website (and hit up that donate option while you’re there).
4.) Birds, birds, birds
So many birds! The park is constantly humming with the sound of chirps from adorable birds and caw-cawing from the peafowl running all over the place. Keep your eyes peeled for junglefowl, woodpeckers, hornbills, rollers, bee-eaters (the cutest), kingfishers, malkohas, parakeets, doves, plovers, lapwings, eagles, darters, egrets, herons, storks, laughing thrushes and SO. MANY. BIRDS. More than 500 species of birds have been recorded in this park, making this place a great destination for bird lovers.
5.) Primates and Deer: Adorable Teamwork
After spending a couple days in Kathmandu living in a hostel right next to Swayambhunath, a sacred Buddhist pilgrimage site that is also known as “Monkey Temple”, seeing rhesus macaques in Chitwan was not the most exciting moment… because we just spent a couple days trying to keep them from breaking into our dorm room. However, rhesus macaques are not the only primate found in Chitwan. Gray langurs, also known as Hanuman langurs, scatter the tree tops of the national park. These guys are CUTE… and we saw babies that were even MORE CUTE. It is also almost a guarantee that where there are langurs in a tree, down below will be a herd of deer eating everything they drop down onto the ground. During our time in the park we saw this teamwork between the gray langurs and the spotted deer.
6.) More Crocodiles
If seeing gharials wasn’t enough for you, there are some angrier crocs here too. Mugger crocs are plentiful, and some are super chunky and adorable. They can be seen along the banks of the Rapti River, or even following your canoe. Our park guides made sure to warn us about these guys… and when we had gharials and muggers on the same bank they would point to the gharials and say “endangered” and then to the muggers and say “danger”. But really…. just don’t be dumb and then they won’t eat you.
7.) Apparently Sloth Bears…..
Here is another little tidbit about me…. bears are on my list of top favorite mammals (anything that is related to a giant panda is obviously my BFF)… I have traveled the world to areas that THERE SHOULD BE BEARS. And I have been to those places DURING BEAR SEASON. I have hiked up mountains and have found bear poop along the trails. I have put my food in bear containers because I was sure they would come find me. I have waited patiently in areas that people have told me they JUST saw a bear in……I HAVE NEVER SEEN A BEAR IN THE WILD. NEVER. EVER. NOT ONCE. Everyone else in the world has…. except me. That being said, apparently there are sloth bears (ONE OF MY FAVORITES) all throughout Chitwan. Apparently they are plentiful. We met a group that had seen 20 bears on their jeep safari ON THE SAME DAY WE WERE IN THE PARK. So if you go to Chitwan, you’ll probably see a sloth bear. Or twenty. Just don’t go with me.
Please notice that there are no photos in this section. SINCE I SAW NO BEARS.
8.) The Scenery
If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know that I’m a big landscape person. I will never be a person that takes a gorgeous view for granted. I can sit and stare at beautiful scenery for a long-ass time, and thats saying something because I’m not much of a “sit still” type of person. Chitwan is full of unique, gorgeous views. The animals are just a very large added bonus.
9.) Dugout Canoes
On our last day in Chitwan, we took a dugout canoe trip down the Rapti River. This was SO MUCH FUN. And its perfect for people who love birds, because its a silent canoe that doesn’t chase the birds away. We also saw about one million mugger crocs while on the river. Its definitely a must-do if you’re visiting Chitwan.
10.) Its Cheap AF
Here is a break down of the costs for you:
Our hostel gave us a walk-thru safari our first night there so we could find the town and know where the park is and this was free (we tipped our guide well). This was also when we saw our first rhino.
Lodging at Hotel Rhino Land = About $7 USD per person per night (There were 7 of us all together so we had three rooms between all of us)
All Day Jeep Safari through Hotel Rhino Land = $43 USD per person. We also paid a generous tip to our guides after this tour as well.
Morning Dugout Canoe Safari = $8 USD per person
The food at Hotel Rhino Land is very affordable, and the restaurants near the river are also very affordable.
Sooo there are animals, beautiful scenery, cheap lodging and cheap food. This place is my heaven. And you should probably go.
Keep an eye out for some upcoming posts on our full trip to Nepal 🙂
Till next time!
A Note About Elephants…
If you know anything about Chitwan, you’ll probably be surprised that I didn’t list elephants as one of the top ten reasons to travel to this park. Although I recognize that the Nepali culture and their relationship with elephants goes back hundreds of years, and that some of the people who own elephants over there treat them like they are family members, I do not want to promote the elephant tourism in this area. Elephant back safaris are highly advertised, but the training of the elephants when they are young for them to be a trusted ride for humans is a horrible practice. I cannot support or encourage other travelers to unknowingly support this practice by taking these elephant safaris. That being said, we did a jeep safari, and a canoe safari… on both of those safaris we went deeper into the jungle and saw more animals than anyone else on an elephant-back safari. Logically, a jeep safari is honestly the better choice if you want to see as much as possible, and you can do so with a clear conscious.