After our little mountain experience of cockroaches and howling dogs (see here) we headed down to the plains of lower Nepal to visit Chitwan National Park, home to 225 tigers, heaps of rhino and sloth bears, monkeys and deer. Sounded like a good chance to get acquainted with some wildlife.
The town itself was lovely with a river edging the park so of course we headed straight down there for a couple of sundowner beverages. As we sat watching the sun set in the deadly heat (38degC +) an elephant wandered out of the bush across the river, browsing the bushes for the tenderest leaves. Then out of the gloaming appeared a herd of 6 deer, unfortunately too far away in low light to really be able to see them well but it seemed to bode well for our safari experience the next day.
We booked ourselves in to a 2 hour canoe trip down the river with a 3 hour walk back. We really wanted to see a tiger, and according to our guide it was not impossible, just highly unlikely and it turned out he was right. We saw some really neat crocs with bizzare thin noses with bulbs on the end called garhwals (not the people eating kind) as well as some bigger people eating crocs amusingly called mugger crocodiles, lots of birds and not much else on the river but it was an awesome way to start the day before it got too hot.
The walk back took us through some really wild landscapes. Elephant grass that was literally higher than my head (a great place for tigers to hide was my thought 😉 ) followed by an open woodland. We didn’t see anything more exciting than some deer on our walk but then again, maybe seeing a tiger on foot when all the guides had was a thick stick was not a bad thing. We saw claw marks up the trees and tiger scat (poop) but no tigers.
The afternoon session was an elephant safari just on the fringes of the park. We were loaded onto a platform with 2 other Chinese tourists on the back of our elephant and away we went, lurching into the forest. Seemingly tigers are less upset by elephants and don’t tend to notice the human component so if we saw one there was a chance of getting a closer encounter. We didn’t see one but … we saw rhino. There were 2 rhino in a clearing (which was apparently quite unusual as there are only 4 known to live in the area) and it seems they were right about the elephant closeup thing.
I swear we were only about 5m away from them at one stage. It was awesome!!!! They just didn’t seem to give a hoot about the elephants with human cargo and just went on munching their dinner of grass. I was so stoked. Got a few piccys (as a mild understatement) and was glowing with rhino love by the time we left them to it. Have to say – while squashed onto a lurching platform on top of an elephant may not be the most comfortable or graceful way to travel, the anonymity it gives for wildlife spotting was well worth every minute.
While we didn’t see a tiger we would both agree that Chitwan was an experience that we would like to come back to. It seems that the tigers don’t just hang on the edges of the park (who would have guessed) and that to increase the chance of seeing them you have to take a 3-5 day trek into the forest. We are thinking that we wouldn’t mind trying that at another time of the year when it is not quite so hot (pre-monsoon heat) and when we are feeling all gung ho. For me the only disappointment really was that I would have like to have seen a bear but luck wasn’t with us this time so I guess I’ll just have to settle for close encounters of the rhino kind 🙂
Our guide, perfectly balanced at the front of our dugout canoe.
It was amazing how close we could get to the rhino with them seemingly unconcerned by our presence.