A Traveller’s Guide to Chitwan National Park
Before we start off about how great the Chitwan national park is, we would like to highlight the amazing work Nepalese army is doing in protecting, maintaining and fostering the animals of this wildlife reserve. During our safari, we were impressed to see the amount of army presence, committed to protecting the wildlife, flora, and fauna of this reserve – something we’d never seen anywhere else.
Chitwan National Park was the first national park in Nepal and it was made a UNESCO world heritage site in 1984. Spread across 1,000 square kilometers, its located in the southwestern part of Nepal and lies at a distance of 170 kilometers, connected through the Prithvi highway that’s probably the best stretch of tarmac you will find in the country.
Rated as one of the best places to see in Nepal, the beautiful reserve is home to wild animals, picturesque locations and local tribes that are dedicated to protecting this jungle. The park is patrolled by the Nepali army but the Tharu ethnic minority has many villages around the park. They are its silent guardians, helping protect and maintain it. Many are employed through the resident lodges.
Best time to visit Chitwan National Park
If you wish to avoid rains and go around the time when the skies are relatively clear, the months of October till March are ideal. However, the best time to see the huge variety of beautiful species here is from January till March.
The Chitwan National Park weather is humid all through the year but the monsoon starts from June till September and that’s the time we were there – in June! According to our naturalist, Karan, from the Barahi Jungle Lodge, the best time to sight animals in during March – April. So, you might want to plan your travel during those months. October to December is said to be the best times if you’re hoping to see tigers. June to September, it’s said to be the hottest and most humid due to monsoon season. November-April and March are dry seasons, which are said to be the best climate for comfortable traveling.
Where to stay in Chitwan National Park (Megauli)
There are plenty of hotels & resorts in Chitwan, with good access to Chitwan National Park and most offer all-inclusive safari options, from safari drives, walking safaris, boating safaris, and elephant safaris. Most lodges in Chitwan will arrange your stay, activities, pickups/drop-offs and the package will be inclusive of park permits. You can also book your stay in Megauli region of Chitwan National Park – we stayed at the Barahi Jungle Lodge, which is one of two luxury properties there!
Megauli is a great spot to stay, and the Barahi Jungle Lodge is located right on the East Rapti River. To get to the safari, the lodge will take you by boat across the river, from where the safari starts. Barahi also arranges for morning & evening boat tours and the unforgettable sundowner by the river as well. Enjoy a cold beer with fresh Barbeque as you watch the sun go down near the river! You can look them up here.
Safari in Chitwan National Park
Barahi Jungle lodge gave us the both their curated safaris – jeep and boat. During the second day of our stay there, we took the early morning jeep safari. They have two tours – a 4-hour half-day tour and an 8-hour full-day tour. If you have time, do the 8-hour safari, as you are in a better position to spot the wildlife there! We opted for a jeep safari and a twilight boat safari on the Rapti river and we covered the area around the park, Sal forest and places where the wild animal are known to be at, such as watering holes.
Spotting one-horned rhinos
Spotting the big cats is a rare event, but we did manage to see how they mark their territories or drive away another cat – scratches made by their nails really high up on Sal trees! 15 minutes into the safari, as we were driving through some tall grasslands, we came across 2 massive adult rhinos, enjoying their mid-day bath in a small pond by a stream.
All though we knew that rhinos are herbivorous, yet they look scary and you can immediately feel how strong they are. Especially if there were to ram your vehicle! The rhinos move slowly, almost as if they are in sleep, but our naturalist told us that they can charge quickly if provoked.
There was a level of uncertainty in the air adding to the hushed suspense of watching what they would do. A quick couple of photos and then we were on our way into the jungle again! You have to be really quick with your camera as you will see spotted deer scampering through the forests and wild boars running to safety with their young ones! For breakfast, we were taken to a clearing in the jungle where the resort is allowed to host us for a quick meal by the river. More about this in our next blog about our experience in Barahi Jungle Lodge.
For 4 hours, we roamed around in the forest, but sadly couldn’t spot any tigers there! But we did see plenty of rhinos, deer, langurs and countless birds. On our way back, just before crossing a small stream we saw a pair of big eyes looking at us from behind a thick covering of tall grass.
The driver shut off the engine, and we quickly took over the binocular! We saw eyes; blinking yet staring at us with unsettling focus! It was a black bear, enjoying his noon snack and we seemed to have disturbed him. The engine came roared back to life and we were off to our resort!
The Boat Safari
We’d never been on a boat safari and had actually given this experience a miss during our stay at The Serai Resort in Kabini. But since we were told that we might spot crocodiles here, we jumped on the opportunity! The boat safari was actually on a boat and not a motorboat as we had imagined. But this was better since the human rowed boat is a non-intrusive way of exploring the riverside terrain. The canoe safari is quite relaxing really – well except for the boatman who has to get the boat back upstream all on his own.
The one-hour trip takes you through winding terrain, and the setting sun adds a certain mystique to the experience. The weather was good, bright and sunny and immediately I got a glance of something sticking out of the water. Sitting near some rapids, was a sole crocodile, probably relaxing after a heavy meal!
Boat safaris aren’t as exhilarating as jeep safaris due to the slow pace and the lack of an engine roaring. But nevertheless, it gives you a different perspective of the jungle. Over the next half hour, we spotted some mouse deer, and a bunch of rhinos taking a dip.
Getting to Chitwan National Park (Megauli)
From Kathmandu, Megauli is about a 5-7-hour drive depending on the weather and traffic conditions. It is advisable to leave early from Kathmandu. The mountainous curvy road just outside Kathmandu can get congested due to heavy traffic. You can hire motorcycles from Thamel and ride to Megauli. Else you can hire a car and enjoy the drive!
Bus – There are regular tourist buses which shuttle to and from Thamel in Kathmandu to Sauraha and from there you can hire a car to get to your resort.
Flight – 30 kilometers from Megauli is the Bharatpur airport which has regular flights from KTM. The 20-minute flight is fairly economical and great for people who don’t have a lot of time to drive around!
Tips to follow while on jungle safaris
- You are entering animal territory so keep the sound to a minimum. Turn off your cellphones and don’t talk loudly. When you spot something, don’t move around a lot of make sounds!
- Carry a hat, light jacket, and mosquito repellant just in case
- Carry a good zoom lens or a binocular
- Do not wear anything flashy. When in jungles, we prefer wearing camo colors
- Don’t carry any food un the jungle
- Do not litter