Most people abroad know Nepal as a mountainous land; however, there are places in Nepal that are as far-removed from the mountains as yak cheese is from pork chowmein. And, such places have a charm of their own, one that is no less than the mountains’. Chitwan is a good example of this. It’s only 120 km away by road from the capital, Kathmandu, and it is a really nice drive as well. In fact, once you wind your way down to Naubise (28 km), the road widens and flattens out; at most times, bordering a smoothly flowing river that has originated from the mighty Himalayas.
You’ll begin to think that the country is not as poorly developed as thought by many, the drive on this highway is a motorist’s delight, and, it must be said, a nature-lover’s delight as well, since throughout the journey, one is treated to a changing landscape, each of which is nature’s masterpiece. In other words, lovely views, smooth road, and pleasant weather as well—all of which calls for a leisurely drive. In addition, you will want to stop and rest at the many eateries on the roadsides in quaintly named hamlets and villages to partake of tasty snacks, cold beer, and piping hot tea. Well, enough said about the journey.
One hundred-and-twenty kilometers down the line, and you are in Chitwan territory. This district is world-famous for its flora and fauna, its high-end resorts, and yes, the Chitwan National Park, which, by the way was inscribed as a World Heritage Property by UNESCO way back in 1984. The pioneering resort here is the Tiger Tops Jungle Lodge founded by tourism icon Jim Edwards some 40 years ago. There are plenty of other resorts and hotels around the vicinity, some other well-known ones being Gaida Wildlife Camp, Macchan Wildlife Resort, Temple Tiger, Island Jungle Resort, Safari Narayani, and Chitwan Jungle Lodge. However, new regulations have made it mandatory for all resorts within the park to move out to adjoining areas outside the park now.
No doubt, the resorts have always been an integral part of the whole Chitwan experience, but still , all said and done, it is the magnificent animals within the park that have been the primary reason for luring visitors from all over the globe. For example, the thick skinned (an understatement) one-horned rhino, the magnificent Royal Bengal tiger, and the snout nosed gharial—three fantastic animal species that would have become extinct a long time ago had it not been for concentrated global conservation efforts. And, of course, that is why parks like Chitwan National Park hold so much importance.
Including the above-mentioned animals, some 43 mammal, 450 bird, and around 45 amphibian and reptile species are to be found in the sprawling 932 sq km park, along with hundreds of different types of flora. The park is not only home to rare wildlife, but also to more populous animals such as striped hyenas, leopards, four-horned antelopes, different kinds of deer, mugger crocodiles, Indian rock pythons, monkeys, wild elephants, pangolins, etc., etc. Coming back to the endangered species, there are from 150-250 (out of 3,250-4,700 in the Indian subcontinent) Royal Bengal tigers in Nepal (in Chitwan and Bardiya parks). As for the one-horned rhino, Chitwan has around 500 (out of some 2000 remaining in the wild today around the world). The gharial gets its name from the Hindi word ghara (clay pot), since that’s what the bulbous growth on the nose of mature males resemble. Five to six meters long, gharials are unique among other crocodiles due to them being sexually dimorphic.
Now, when talking fauna, how can we not talk about the many wonderful birds in the park? Birds like the Giant Hornbill, the Black and White Storks, the Bengal Florican, the Lesser Florican,and many species of egrets, as well as woodpeckers, pea fowls, red jungle fowls, herons, kingfishers, flycatchers, and so on and so forth. Avid birdwatchers should make it a point to visit the park the months of October and February or between March and December since these are the times bird watching is at its best.
To conclude, Chitwan National Park is most definitely a must-visit place for all visitors to Nepal. It is not only the mighty Himalayan mountains that make the country so attractive as a great tourist destination, the jungles with their teeming wildlife, and some not-so-teeming wildlife, are as much of a prime attraction.