The ubiquitous whistle of Indian Cuckoo was echoing in the far distance and soon it would become the only sound I’d associate with Nepal for years to come. The golden of a dawn sky reflected in the glimmer of River Rapti flowing in front of me as a thin veil mist lifted from the lush hills where the river disappeared from my sight. The grasslands on the opposite bank swayed in the gentle morning breeze and a Riverine forest extended well beyond. It was just my first morning in Chitwan National Park but I was already in love with the magical serenity of Terai.
|A misty morning in Chitwan National Park where curious Cheetal stopped to observe the intruders|
When I think of Nepal, lofty Himalayan peaks were the only things that sprang to my mind for years! Home to seven 8000+ meter high peaks and many more impressive mountains, it’s hard for anything else to fight for attention living under the shadow of such a formidable presence.
So the first thing that sprang to my mind when I was planning to a trip to Nepal earlier this year was that I need to overlook the mountains and find something else to write about. And that’s how I ended up in the jungles of Chitwan National Park. Recognized as one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots and declared a World Heritage Site in 1984, the ecosystem of Chitwan is the last surviving pristine example of Terai region.
|A one-horned Rhino basks in the late evening sun in Rapti River|
I have had only glimpses of Terai before while passing through West Bengal; and I have always wanted to spend considerable time reveling in the beauty of Sal forests, Riverine forests and Savanna grasslands that form the ecosystem. Naturally, I was thrilled to have spent a whole week in the jungles of Chitwan that were bound by the Rapti and Narayani rivers where I was staying and Indian border on the other side. I had no clue what to expect from Chitwan in terms of animal sightings and activities that would keep my occupied during my time there. Now, I can safely vouch that you can in fact spend a whole week in Chitwan and not get bored.
Sauraha is the more famous and densely packed village where plenty of resorts and hotels have popped up, thereby creating a very touristy atmosphere. I, on the other hand, stayed at a faraway village called Meghauli where only two resorts existed including the one I was at. My days in Chitwan went by like a dream, calm and serene. I almost saw no other tourist apart from the ones staying at my resort and that’s a big deal considering how inundated Nepal is, with travellers from all over the world.
I spent my days hiking in the forest, going on wildlife safaris, bird watching and rowing up and down Rapti River. Given that Meghauli hardly sees much action in terms of visiting tourists, the animals in this part of the National Park were immensely shy and would run for the cover the minute they would hear the sound of an approaching vehicle. This made observing wildlife even more interesting.
|Prem Gurung, one of my guides, looks for wildlife during a long hike in the forest|
However, one of the most fascinating things that I had experienced in Chitwan was tracking animals on foot. Unlike National Parks in India, hiking in the forests of Nepal is allowed. I found it insanely exhilarating yet equally distressing to be walking in the same forest amongst the company of wild animals. We encountered massive 2000-kilo One-Horned Rhinos several times during our walks that got my heart racing like it was about to burst out of my ribcage!
|A Jackal in the grasslands next to Rapti River|
The One-Horned Rhinos, Tigers, Leopards and other animals of Chitwan National Park suffered severe poaching during the 10 year Maoist Insurgency period in Nepal that lasted till 2006. However, soon after, Nepal’s government took extensive measures to protect the wildlife and doubled the numbers of Rhinos that had plummeted to 375 making it a rare conservation success story in a world where wildlife conservation is increasingly becoming a lost cause. The park is extensively patrolled by a battalion of army who are stationed at several spots in the area. I encountered many of these foot soldiers during my jaunts into the park and I was suitably impressed by Nepal Govt’s commitment to protecting their wilderness.
|We stumbled upon a huge Rock Python basking in the sun during our forest hike|
The jungles were indeed lovely and teeming with all sorts of wildlife creating strange dramas. I remember giggling at the sight of a tiny black Drongo chase a giant Great Indian Hornbill and marveling at the pulsating sound of Oriental Pied Hornbills flying over my head. I also remember feeling spellbound after my first sighting of the marvelous plumage of the exotic and long tailed Asian Paradise Flycatcher. I always thought of myself as a non-birder but somewhere over the course of several jungle explorations, I seemed to have turned into one.
|At the confluence of Rapti and Narayani, the two rivers that mark the north-eastern boundary of Chitwan National Park|
Probably that’s the charm of Chitwan, it will turn you into an ardent admirer of all things wild. Now, I even fondly look back upon my heart-stopping encounter with a humongous 18-foot Rock Python while I was on foot in Chitwan! And to think that the mammoth mountains grossly overshadow all this glory. Next time you plan a trip to Nepal, do consider starting from the plains before you head up to the hills! You can thank me later.
Where to stay:
I was hosted by Pugdundee Safaris at their recently acquired Barahi Jungle Lodge in Meghauli village. Keeping in line with the Pugdundee ideology, the property is eco friendly, environment-conscious, uses locally sourced material and emulates the indigenous Tharu architectural design. During my fortunate stint as a travel blogger/writer, I’ve stayed in plenty of rather luxurious properties but without a doubt the rustic cottage at Barahi happens to be my most favorite one so far!
|I'm usually not that in self portraits but had to take out the tripod to capture the blissful memory of watching over the grasslands from my room balcony|
Located on the banks of Rapti River, right opposite the grasslands of Chitwan National Park, location is golden in case of this property. My room had huge glass windows through which I could see the grasslands, night sky and the colors of sunrise sneak up at dawn every day. Every single minute of the day that I didn’t spend in the jungle was spent sitting in the lovely balcony overlooking River Rapti and the National Park. Without getting into lengthy descriptions of the property, I would just highly recommend spending a night or two here to experience the beauty of the Chitwan yourself!
As the tourism season for Nepal draws near after the devastating earthquake, I can't help but think of the immense beauty of the country and how it needs tourism to return now more than ever. Go now!
Disclaimer: My stay at Barahi was sponsored by Pugdundee Safaris, opinions as always are mine!
More Stories from the Jungles:
, by Neelima Vallangi