Terry | Feb 10, 2017 | 0
5 Reasons to Hike Chitwan National Park
When you think about hiking Nepal, there are a few things which immediately come to mind. Snow. Mountains. Everest base camp.
As the home of tea house trekking and with a dizzying number of world class trails to choose from, Nepal is the dream destination for many a hiker. It’s relatively easy to hike independently. It’s cheap. And it’s beautiful!
But while the mountains are the obvious place to head for, save a little time in your itinerary to explore another side to Nepal’s great outdoors.
Here are 5 reasons why you should hike Chitwan National Park. There may not be mountains, but there are royal bengal tigers, endangered rhinos and the occasional wild elephant.
1. The Wildlife
I’d dreamt about visiting the jungle in this part of the world ever since watching A Little Princess when I was about five. Something about the trees, and the dusty heat. The thought of magnificently lethal animals stalking through long grasses.
Yep, the number one reason to hike Chitwan National Park has got to be the extraordinary wildlife.
You may get lucky and spot a royal bengal tiger, but you’re much more likely to get up close and personal with a wild rhino.
The increase in rhino population over the past few years has been a huge success story for Chitwan National Park. There hasn’t been a poaching incident in over three years!
It didn’t take us long to spot one. It was a huge male with a bust up left ear and we were able to get pretty close without being seen. Until, that is, another group bumbled loudly around the corner and he looked up at us with a grunt! We all backed up a little bit after that.
As we moved on through the jungle, our guides showed us the difference between the huge pad of a tiger and the delicate step of a leopard. We chanced upon crocodiles and turtles sunbathing on the banks of the river. There were a lot of grey langur monkeys, so we had to watch out for what our guides euphemistically termed ‘golden rain’!
If you’re a bird nerd, then there are plenty to catch your eye. This oriental pied horn bill was very kind and posed beautifully for me.
It is possible to spot wild elephants if you hike Chitwan National Park, though the guides consider them dangerous and unpredictable. We saw this handsome fellow after our hike, at the breeding centre. Apparently, he visits quite regularly to check whether any of the ladies are, erm, ‘available’. No such luck on this visit!
Fortunately, I had my telephoto lens on me, so I could grab this snap from a safe distance.
2. The Local Guides
You can’t hike Chitwan National Park without a guide, so it’s definitely worth putting some time into researching who you want to go with. That might be by reading reviews on Trip Advisor or speaking to different people once you get there.
Usually, we like to hike without a guide. But Chitwan National Park is one of those places where a great guide adds so much to the experience.
We organised our all day hike with Chitwan Tiger Camp as part of a package deal. Our two guides were incredibly knowledgable about their work! From spotting the smooth indent left by a python to pointing out different kinds of monkeys and birds, they really brought the jungle alive for us.
Without our fabulous guides we wouldn’t have known where to look for rhinos, how to stay safe or even where we were going!
We definitely wouldn’t have noticed the flattened grass where a tiger had recently had a nap, or the scratch marks where it had marked its territory.
Remember – these people aren’t just responsible for telling you about the animals you see. They’re also responsible for your safety. Considering how (relatively) cheap guided services are in Nepal, this isn’t the place to scrimp.
Anyway, how else will you learn such excellent tidbits as how much the average rhino poo weighs?! Spoiler alert – it’s a lot!
As an aside – please note that we are not in anyway affiliated with Chitwan Tiger Camp. We just had a great time staying with them.
3. The Jungle Quiet
I say ‘jungle quiet’ because it’s never really quiet. Small creatures buzz and whir in the trees, monkeys chatter.
The woods are my kind of environment. I love the leafy crunch as you walk and that gorgeous, dappled kind of light. I love that it’s peaceful but so totally alive at the same time.
It’s funny, because hunting out a little bit of solitude can be one of the most attractive things about hiking. But at the same time, knowing that you’re not alone, that the animals of the wood are watching you, brings its own very particular kind of tranquility.
4. Camping Out
Anyone with a guide can hike Chitwan National Park, but there’s only one place where you can sleep in the jungle proper. Unsurprisingly, it’s very expensive! We could have hiked for a few days straight, dipping into different sections of the park and staying in villages on the outskirts. After hiking the Annapurna Circuit, though, we weren’t really up for it.
As an alternative, we decided to spend a night sleeping in the buffer zone. This is the area of jungle immediately around Chitwan National Park.
We slept at the top of a concrete bunker and fell asleep with the sounds of the jungle around us. Deer barked their sharp warning calls and smaller animals rustled in the bushes.
The next morning, we woke up at dawn to watch a herd of spotted deer moving through the morning mist. As the sun began to burn through, we hiked a short way out through the jungle to the jeep. We didn’t see much, a monkey and a few deer, but we did see the elephants and their mahouts making their way silently through the trees on their way to work.
5. A totally different take on Nepal
Maybe you’ve come to Nepal to hike through snowy peaks and wonder at prayer flag covered temples. And that’s great. Hiking through the Himalayas is an amazing experience!
But maybe you’ve done that and are looking for something a little bit different.
I’m not going to pretend that Chitwan National Park is a huge, off the beaten track secret. Plenty of tourists make their way here.
What it does do is offer a complete change from the chaos of Kathmandu and the teahouse trekking of Annapurna and Everest.
The weather is different, the scenery is different, the wildlife is different. Best of all, it isn’t at altitude!
To be honest, I wish we’d had more time to spend here.
But no regrets. Our day of jungle hiking and the night we spent sleeping in the buffer zone were absolutely remarkable. If you get the chance to hike Chitwan National Park, you should take it with both hands.
Did you hike Chitwan National Park when you were in Nepal? Let us know how you got on!