Nepal II: Chitwan National Park


The itinerary at Chitwan:


Day 1:

Travel by bus to Sauraha, the village on the north side of the Rapti River with Chitwan National park on the south bank.  We had made arrangements for the Hotel Parkside (more later) using one of our usual strategies which has almost never disappointed us: simply asking for a recommendation from our hotel in Kathmandu which we had enjoyed.  We had the remarkable fortune of being linked with Gopal, a most experienced and knowledgeable guide—if anyone follows in our tracks to Sauraha, do seek Gopal out. 



Our guide, Gopal, and Nancy


A walking tour led us to the nearby Tharu village, with traditional frame homes, many covered with mud and animal dung.  The village economy is basically “subsistence plus”: growing and raising the basics of life with the addition of some wage labour, mainly connected to tourism.  Cannabis grows as a weed in untended fields.



Field of cannabis


Day 2:

Up at 5:00 am for our first foray into the park.  First we headed down the river in a dugout canoe.    We had great expectations for wildlife viewing and we were not disappointed, especially with the help of eagle-eyed Gopal.  We did manage to see both of the crocodilians in Chitwan: the fish eating gharial (at 7 m, one of the world’s largest) and the potentially dangerous marsh mugger.






Marsh mugger (I suppose the name sounds as dangerous as he/she looks)


Birds were everywhere.



Pied kingfisher



Lesser adjutant: a stork, by some in Nepal called the Prime Minister Bird due to a resemblance to a particular politician


We did stop and hike in a short way to a water hole where we saw our first rhino.



Indian rhino


A bit farther downstream, we headed into the floodplain forest and grasslands for the five hour hike back to Sauraha.  Almost the first thing we spotted was tiger tracks fresh from the night before.



Tiger spoor


We didn’t see a tiger.  Apparently, Gopal sees them only 3-4 times a year.  We did see tiger spoor (tracks) in several places, fresh tiger scat (it’s a wonder what one can find interesting) and a tree with deep scratches regularly used by a male to mark territory.  And more blood stirring, just as we were entering a patch of head-high elephant grass, a tiger (likely the tigress whose fresh spoor we’d just seen) gave a warning cough in the thicket—Gopal modified the route.



Another view of the same rhino: we circled back to the water hole which now had four rhinos, but three spooked as we arrived.  There’s nothing much more exciting than being in head-high elephant grass and knowing that there are three rhinos running around somewhere—well, maybe knowing that there’s a tiger just ahead may have beaten that.  This one with the kinky left ear seemed accepting of (resigned to?) our presence.


Red cotton bugs were everywhere, but I never did get a good picture.  But, since I do have a fascination for dragonflies, here’s one.





In the afternoon, we set out on an elephant safari.  There is certainly a sense of adventure (and incipient nausea with the rolling gait), but more importantly you are largely ignored by other jungle creatures. We were less than 5 metres away from mother rhinos with their calves and they seemed to pay us no attention—but not the same excitement as coming upon the on foot.  In all, we saw 13-17 rhinos (we may have seen the same ones a couple of times).


Mother rhino and calf


Day 3:


The elephant breeding centre is the source for working elephants for the national parks in Nepal. 



Returning with forage at dawn


Interestingly, the breeding centre keeps no adult males.  They simply open the gates and allow wild bulls to enter—a great way to broaden the gene pool.  The males also may be attracted to female elephants as they work in the park—the mahouts then do have to get out of the way quickly.  The females may wander off with the males but the mahouts entice them back in a day or two.



Elephant Breeding Centre


And there were babies and biscuits to buy for them: oooooh, so cute.




Many of the hotels in Sauraha have their own elephants.  The two at Hotel Parkside are leased from India.  Every day the elephants walk down to river for a wash and scrub.



Elephant’s daily bath


I hate to admit we did the touristy thing, but one can join in.



Elephant shower (a shower: something I would have paid well for on some days of the Annapurna Trek)


Later in the afternoon, we went by jeep to 20,000 Lakes, where we saw hundreds of deer: spotted, barking and sambar.



Spotted deer in the 20,000 Lakes area


The real excitement came on our way home.  Earlier in the day, a wild leopard had entered the village and had attacked half a dozen villagers and tourists. The Parks Service had been called for help but by late afternoon, they had not responded.  So villagers had taken matters into their own hands.  It’s certainly understandable that they didn’t want the animal in the village overnight with their kids and animals under threat.  They had cornered the leopard in a corn field with a pair of elephants and were trying to drive the leopard back across the Rapti River back into the national park.  Our jeep driver, whose brother was one of those mauled earlier in the day, ran into the fray as everyone else scattered as the leopard briefly emerged into sight.



Running for cover


He climbed onto one of the elephants.  Suddenly, we saw him jump down from the elephant.  We subsequently learned that the leopard had come out of the corn field again and attacked another brother and a couple of tourists who were watching the spectacle.  Remarkably, he managed to grab the leopard by the throat and pin its front paws, but not before the leopard bit right through his left hand and clawed both his forearm and leg.  I really can’t imagine a more dramatic pub tale: “Let me tell you about the time I took on a leopard with my bare hands….”


Sadly, the villagers then beat the leopard to death and dragged him to the village square.



The leopard


The leopard seemed to have been in good condition.  I’m guessing that he was a young male seeking territory.


Day 4:

On our last day, we walked around the village for some bird watching before boarding the bus for Pokhara to rendezvous with our son, Llew, and his girlfriend, Sarah, and the Annapurna Trek.


Two observations at Chitwan


When Chitwan National Park was established it effectively cut villagers off from traditional areas where they had gathered wood and fuel, as well as from fishing and hunting areas.  This remains a problem.  Many families keep goats and water buffalo.  Yet there is little in the way of pasture available for grazing.  Villagers still do cross into the park to gather forage.  Constant patrols are necessary to discourage incursions.



Village women crossing the Rapti River to gather forage in the national park


A delimited Chitwan National Park Buffer Zone has been drawn around the park and efforts from several quarters are being made to develop a more sustainable village economy.  Biogas production based on manure has been introduced into some homes.  An electric fence has been constructed to dissuade elephant and rhinos from invading croplands.



Electric fence project


Nonetheless wildlife damage does occur and events like the leopard incursion do happen.  We had noticed an explanation in the small museum at the entrance to the national park.




Hegemony of Lonely Planet


The tale of the origins of Lonely Planet is widely known.  It started out as a photocopied travel newsletter written on a kitchen table in Melbourne and since has grown into the world’s largest independent travel publisher.


We usually do carry the appropriate Lonely Planet guide.  Over the years we’ve found our share of errors in the various editions—mapping accurately is a recurring problem: enough so, that we’ve at times wondered if the authors could have possibly visited the site.  Nonetheless, the guides are the basis of much of our travels. 


The ubiquity of Lonely Planet guides among the travelling set does, however, lead one to ask about the criteria for inclusion.  In Sauraha there are over fifty hotels and guest houses—a couple of handfuls of these appear in the Nepal guide.  As mentioned above we ended up in the Hotel Parkside based on a recommendation from the International Guest House in Kathmandu.  The Parkside does not appear in the Nepal guide.  Why not?  Obviously there has to be some editorial selection process, if for nothing else than space.  Lonely Planet writers do not accept discounts or payments in exchange for positive coverage of any sort, but we’ve heard enough stories to suggest that hoteliers in different parts of the world know when they are in a town. 




Hotel Parkside


But consider the Parkside:

·         Locally owned and operated

·         Amenities the equal to, if not better than, the competition

·         Good food, good service

·         Competitively priced

·         Professional guiding services (see note re Bopal above)

·         More importantly, the management is involved in community development through:

o    Building and sponsoring a local training program for village women

o    Sponsoring a periodic eye clinic for villagers

o    A program of providing school supplies for local children

o    The development of a local paper-making industry to employ locals manufacturing high quality paper from elephant dung

One has to ask to find out about this, but if that doesn’t warrant inclusion in Lonely Planet’s constellation of recommendations, what does?



Lonely Planet recommendation in Sauraha


There are now enough people who have a jaded view of Lonely Planet that there is an anti-Lonely Planet sentiment and not being in Lonely Planet can be a positive.



An anti-Lonely Planet ad in Bahundanda on the Annapurna Trek