Chitwan National Park, Nepal
We stopped off at Sauraha to visit Chitwan on the way from Pokhara to Kathmandu, a nice way to break up the long bus journey back across the country. Chitwan is a UNESCO world heritage site and is about 360 square miles of diverse ecosystems in the southern plains of Nepal, on the border with India. It is very hot and humid and we felt that it had quite a different feel from Northern Nepal – less Buddhist and Tibetan and more Indian and Hindu influences. Most people visit Chitwan for its flora and fauna, many species of birds, crocodiles, elephants, rhinos, bears, tigers (though almost never seen), and monkeys. Like with many other places we had visited in Nepal, Ryan had already been a couple of times, but it was my first visit to the park.
If you could endure the heat and humidity Sauraha was a fascinating village to walk around. Animals and children dominated the streets and on an evening walk out to the elephant breeding centre, about a 45 minute walk through the local settlements away from the central tourist area, we started to get a feel for the area. Little electricity, very rural village scenes, mud huts and even a colourful wedding party made the walk to the elephant breeding centre very interesting.
After almost dying from the heat in a small room with information about the centre we set to having a look around. It was almost sunset and the elephants were all back at the centre, having spent the day with their mahouts in the national park.
Families were together, the parents mostly chained up and the babies running free. Although there were some mixed feelings about the elephants being chained the centre argues that this is for their own safety, as it would be dangerous for them to wander unaccompanied back into the park with the other wild elephants.
However, we noticed that around half the elephants were contained within a new trial enclosure, which Ryan had not remembered from his previous visits, where the elephants were not chained but could roam within a larger area, which seemed to be bordered with electric fences. This felt like positive progress!
As the sun set we set back off across the river and through the village to find some dinner back in Sauraha. Having forgotten our torches we hoped there would be enough natural light or electricity to find the way back!
The following day we decided to do a small tour into the national park. This involved a hour long canoe down the river to look at wildlife before having a 3-4 hour guided walk in the National Park to see what we could see.
The canoe ride was very peaceful and enjoyable in the cool early morning. We punted down past Sauraha, looking out for wildlife along the way.
We saw many interesting birds including egrets, kingfishers and lots and lots of sand martins. We also saw a couple of gharial crocodiles, with their long thin snout for catching fish. We even saw an outline of a rhino in the long grasses of the national park, just making out the top of the body, the horn and the ears as he looked at us quizzically. I found the best thing was hearing the noises it made – like a giant pig! It was to be our only brief rhino sighting of the day, but we were told by someone else staying in our camp that two rhinos visited our hotel grounds that night (so much for trekking into the national park to see them!)
We then started our trek through the national park, partly through densely forested areas, part by the riverside and part through the open plains with long grasses. As our guides pointed out at the end we didn’t see any special animals (aren’t they all special?!!) we did see quite a few monkeys, wild spotted deer, many different colourful birds and about a billion bright bed ‘cotton bugs’
We did also see some fresh tiger poo….!
In the evening we took a walk along a trail which traces the river to view the national park opposite. It was beautiful (and at points quite deafening) to hear all the birds and insects around us. The sunset was beautiful as we watched herds of deer relaxing in the river, a couple of gharial crocodiles basking in the evening light and a ‘retired’ elephant returning from her day in the national park, back to her home across the river with the other captive elephants.
The sunsets were stunning and we wandered back to Sauraha to enjoy a quick river view cocktail (banana daiquiri – yum!) before finding some food.
The next morning we set off by bus to Kathmandu for our final night before leaving Nepal. With still no news from VSO we decided that the next stop would be Malaysia!