Chitwan National Park, Nepal
We caught a local, rather than a tourist bus, for the hour’s ride from the place we finished the rafting to Chitwan. Wow, what an experience! We’d been warned that local buses are risky but the onward transportation to Chitwan was included in our rafting package so we decided to just go for it and hope for the best. When we got on the bus there was only one free seat but a very kind gentleman stood up and offered his seat to me. The bus took off at lightening speed and as we hurtled towards the first bend in the road, our driver decided to overtake another bus which by no means was going slowly. We were overtaking and cornering the bend when I saw a lorry coming towards us on the same side of the road! Our bus swerved onto the correct side of the road just before we collided with the lorry. We could literally feel the wobble and hear the whoosh of air between the two vehicles as they passed ridiculously close to each other! Anyway, to cut a long story short, we had a number of de’ja vu experiences of this near collision before the bus journey was thankfully over!
Stepping out of the bus in Chitwan village, the heat hit us. Luckily there were a couple of taxis there waiting to transport tourists directly to Sauraha, the village nestling on the banks of the river Rapti, which acts as a natural boundary to parts of the national park. We chose a hotel next to the river which was very beautiful. There were lovely comfy chairs and hammocks near the banks of the Rapti which were a great place from which to watch the sunset. Accommodation in Chitwan is generally more expensive than the that of the same standard in other parts of Nepal. However if you want to stay inside Chitwan National Park itself you can expect to pay at least $100 and up to $200 per night for the privilege!
We wanted to book a jeep tour from our hotel but wanted to keep the cost down so the hotel owner tried to find other people who were interested and could share the cost. Luckily he found another couple and a guy who’d already been the previous day on a jungle walk and had enjoyed so much he wanted to go deeper into the forest by jeep.
So the day after we arrived at Chitwan we were up at dawn and we got on a canoe which took us across the Rapti to the park, where our jeep was waiting for us. I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of how many animals we might see.
Well, the day turned out to be a brilliant success (except that we didn’t see a Bengal Tiger!! ) You know that the chances are really slim (although in Chitwan you actually have the best chance of spotting one because there are more per hectare than in any other park in Nepal), however you still kind of believe that you’ll be one of the lucky ones and get a sighting. Nope! But it didn’t matter, we saw plenty of other wildlife, the most impressive being the infamous one-horned rhino, + a wild elephant!! And we saw a fresh footprint left by a tiger so we knew at least that they were there! (Two days later we found out that the other couple in the group with us saw a tiger when they went on an elephant ride into the jungle!)
Witnessing our first rhino was a scary experience. The guide spotted it with his trained eye. He knew where they usually bathed so he knew which places to look. We had to get out of the jeep and walk for about 20 seconds and then balance on a tree log to get a good view of the rhino. I was really worried about being so far away from the jeep with a rhino in the vicinity! We’d already spoken to people who’d had a rhino charge at them, and for a creature so large and cumbersome, apparently they can run extremely fast. Luckily this one didn’t seem too bothered about us being there and we could watch him just standing in the water, swatting flies with his tail for about 5 minutes until he decided to wander off into the reeds. I was relieved however when I was safely back inside the jeep.
As well as about 12 other rhinos, we saw lots of barking deer, monkeys, kingfishers, a fish owl and an eagle flying above us carrying a snake in it’s beak.
The next day we went swimming with elephants in the river during the morning and in the evening went on an elephant ride into the jungle. Swimming with elephants was scary but a great experience! There isn't a fixed cost for it as the elephant owners take them to the river every morning for them to bathe whether or not there are any tourists there, but they do expect a tip for letting you swim with the elephants. Lalo got on his elephant from dry land, the owner got it to lie down so he could climb aboard. I had to swim up to my elephant in the water which was difficult, I had to fight my instincts because they were telling me not to get close to it, they're so huge!! But once I was on the elephant it was really fun, the owner told it to spray water over us, which it duly did. He also told it to collapse into the water a few times so I would fall off! They were such cute animals - when Lalo wanted to give a tip to the owner, the elephant took it in his trunk and passed it back to him!
I thought, being bigger and slower than a horse and the fact that you sit in a cage instead of a saddle that riding an elephant would be more comfy but I was wrong! Four of us squished into the cage and the guide sat near the elephant’s head. As the elephant began to walk, the tipping from side to side was extreme! It was pretty uncomfortable in the cage as the limited space meant you were constantly trying to avoid bumping into the other people and not fall flat against the cage. However, it was all worth it as not far into the jungle we could hear shouting and we discovered a rhino had been spotted by another group on an elephant. Consequently the other guides rushed their groups to see, luckily ours got there first and we saw a mother with its baby! It was so cute! It was amazing how the mother wasn’t bothered by us getting really close because we were on elephants. We followed the mother and her baby as they walked through the jungle. Eventually they took a route which the elephants couldn’t and they disappeared but what an amazing experience to be so close to a rhino + its baby!!
The elephants were beautiful, such gentle giants. They were really responsive to the people controlling them, for example the man would tap a tree with his stick to indicate to the elephant that it was too close and the elephant would be careful not to bump us into it.
On our third day in Chitwan we were supposed to go on a full day jungle walk. However our plans didn’t come to fruition after we went to breakfast and then I almost passed out. I went deaf for a few moments and felt extremely dizzy, I was quite scared! I had been awake all night with a fever and apparently I wasn’t getting better, as I'd thought I had been, so it was back to my room to rest. By the end of the day I’d been backwards and forwards to the bathroom countless times and I was feeling really weak, I could hardly get out of bed. Lalo walked to the local health centre a few minutes away and came back informing me a doctor would come and see me soon. In half an hour a doctor was at the door of our room! His diagnosis was dysentery and he advised that I had intravenous treatment which included antibiotics. He said I had done well to drink as much water and re-hydration salts as I could during the day, if I hadn’t then I might well have been unconscious. He said he’d seen many tourists that had been unconscious due to severe dysentery, you can deteriorate very quickly. So, if you’re abroad, have a dodgy stomach, can’t take in enough fluids and feel very weak, definitely call a doctor!
I felt so much better after the treatment! Unfortunately however, we only had one day left in Chitwan and I was still very weak so we couldn’t go to the baby elephant centre like we’d planned. We rested in the garden of the lodge which turned out to be quite a nice way to end our action packed trip.
To anyone thinking of visiting Chitwan National Park, I would recommend staying 4 days. In this time you can explore the jungle by jeep and by foot if you wish, ride elephants, visit the baby elephant centre and also have a bit of time to relax in the tranquil atmosphere. I wouldn’t recommend staying much more time because there isn’t much to do at night or during the day other than the things I already mentioned.
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