With its lush forests and exotic fauna which include the rare one horned rhino, the Royal Bengal tiger, crocodiles, elephants, deer and over four-hundred species of birds, the Royal Chitwan National Park offers one of the finest wildlife experiences in Asia. Lying in the Terai belt, and ringed by the Churia Hills, Chitwan is flanked by the rivers Rapti, Reu and Narayani . The Royal Chitwan National Park was established in 1973 and is the oldest National Park in Nepal. The park became a World Heritage Site in 1984. It covers a total area of 932 sq. kms.
During the late 19th century, Chitwan was the private hunting reserve of the Rana Prime Ministers. In 1911, King George V led a hunting party to Chitwan and is said to have shot thirty-seven tigers and eight rhinos. The jungle of Chitwan was a favorite haunt among Nepalese royalty. It is said during 1933-40 the king and his guests killed around four hundred and thirty-three tigers and fifty-three rhinos. By the late 1960s the population of rhinos and tigers in Chitwan had dwindled drastically due to indiscriminate hunting and poaching. The declaration of Chitwan as a national park in1973 and the imposition of strict measures against poaching and unauthorized conversion of forest to farmland have helped in increasing the wildlife population. At present Chitwan National Park is regarded as one of the most developed and most frequently visited of Nepal’s national parks.
Things to do& Places to Visit
The greatest thrill while at Chitwan is the traditional elephant ride. Taking an elephant ride to the jungle is an experience of a lifetime. The lodges inside the park have their own elephants. Three or sometimes four people can ride atop an elephant. Elephant safaris usually start in the early morning or late afternoon .There are also jeep tours available inside the park. The best months for this is from mid-February when the elephant grass has been cut, allowing unobstructed views. You can also take a walk inside the park, provided you are accompanied by guides. Canoeing along the Rapti or Narayani rivers is the most restful way of watching the wildlife especially the aquatic birds and crocodiles. Several lodges arrange visits to nearby Tharu villages. Tharus, the original inhabitants of Chitwan, have their own culture, language and customs which is quite different from that of the Nepalese hill people. A visit to the elephant breeding camp and the gharial breeding centre can also be informative.
The jungle vegetation is dominated by sal forest and open grassland .There are also flowering species of trees like the silk cotton, acacia and flame of the forest. These trees bloom from January to early spring and fill the forest with their colorful blooms. The tall elephant grass dominates the grassland and gives it a savanna like appearance.
The park is home to the great one-horned Indian rhino, the world’s third largest land mammal. They feed on grass, which is also their normal habitat and move alone or in groups. The elephants seen frequently at the park are trained and tamed. The tamed elephants are used for elephant rides as well as to carry heavy loads in Chitwan. The Royal Bengal tiger, at the most remains elusive from prying eyes, but if one is lucky one may chance upon the royal beast ambling alone or sunning itself. The tigers are by nature reclusive and do not attack unless provoked or hunting for food. There are four different species of deer living in the park – the barking deer, the hog deer, the sambar deer and the spotted deer. Different species of birds have been recorded here. The Indian peafowl, the black headed oriole, and the openbill stork are some. The park’s rivers and marshes are home to various reptiles like the pythons, crocodiles, gharials, which feed on fishes and the marsh mugger. The common leopard, langur and rhesus monkey also make up the park’s wildlife population.
Chitwan is accessible by car or bus on the Kathmandu -Mugling-Narayanghat Highway or via the Mahendra Highway from Hetauda. It takes around six hours to drive from Kathmandu to Narayanghat. Air-services from Kathmandu to Meghauli and Bharatpur is also available. The best time to visit the park from is from October to February. Many of the park lodges are closed between May to August, the rainy season.At Chitwan, you can stay inside the park. A variety of lodges are available, from multi-starred to basic but comfortable. Travelers can also stay at Sauraha, which has some high end accommodation.