“Let’s leave, let’s leave,” begged my mother to the mahout.
A few minutes beforehand, one of the rhinos we were following on our elephant ride through Chitwan’s jungle had charged at us. Thankfully, the elephant’s massive size and the mahout raising his stick in the air stopped the rhino in its tracks. But because we had spotted the rhinos again and were heading in their direction, my mother was about ready to jump off the elephant and run out the jungle if the rest of us were going to stay.
If you aren’t as faint-hearted as my mother, make your way to south central Nepal’s Chitwan National Park to get up close and personal with rhinos, tigers, monkeys, crocodiles, and other wild animals. You can see them either through an elephant safari or a jungle walk—or both.
Those who do the elephant safari first get to bathe the large animal in Chitwan’s Narayani river before heading off into the jungle. Come prepared with full-sleeved clothes if you want to avoid being scratched by the knifelike branches on the narrow trail.
The jungle walk is a mix of a stroll through the dense vegetation and a canoe ride in Chitwan’s green, tranquil waters. The walk can be a bit nerve-wrecking because you aren’t safely perched high above the ground on an elephant like you are during the safari. In the unlikely case of a tiger, rhino, or bear attack, you have only the guide to protect you with the wooden sticks they carry. Even if you don’t come face-to-face with a tiger, you’ll be able to observe other animals. The highlight of my jungle walk was the monkeys teasing us as they flew from branch to branch. They wove their arms at us in response to the monkey-like noises our guide made. Another memorable part was spotting rhinos again, this time all of us saying “let’s leave, let’s leave” lest they sense us and start charging at us.
Although famous for its wildlife, Chitwan has more to offer than its 932 km sq park. Discovering the area and learning about its people are quite easy for those staying in hotels that set up all the activities for their guests. Accommodation such as the Island Jungle Resort host traditional Tharu dance performances several times a week.
On our last day in Chitwan, the resort woke us up before sunrise so we could watch the sun cast orange and shy pink light on the Narayani river. Thick mist enveloped us as we walked along the riverbank into a Tharu village, where the day had already started for its residents. A girl in elementary school read out loud on her porch in preparation for a test in a few weeks. Villagers passed by lugging metal jugs that were about to get even heavier with fresh milk. An elderly man wearing a topi, a multicolored patterned hat, already had his first customer of the day: a little boy who waited patiently to buy some sweets.
Perhaps it was the early morning village walk or the uncrowded flat roads with as many cyclists as vehicles, but as we drove out of Chitwan I felt a sense of calmness I hadn’t felt recently. Southern Nepal has heat, a terrain you can encompass without hiking boots and other heavy outdoor gear, and a culture not usually viewed as typically Nepali by neither foreigners nor Nepalese. For those seeking a different taste of Nepal than the mountains or just some warmth after trekking in the Himalayas, Chitwan and its surrounding areas are definitely worth a few days visit.
View more photos of Chitwan on Parakhi’s Chitwan photo album on Facebook.