Chitwan National Park: Of One Horned Rhinos & Crafty Ghariyals

posted in: Asia, Nature, Nepal | 30

“It was almost as if I were the hero in the game Temple Run – meandering in a river, avoiding the seeming logs that turned out to be Ghariyals, swerving the whirlpools and most importantly, maintaining a balance”. The River Safari in Chitwan National Park was one thrilling experience, especially with 6 people on a log boat. Add to that the Jungle safari in Royal Chitwan Park in search of the one horned Rhino. How did I miss telling you all about that? Well, never too late for the tale, is it?

River Safari on Rapti River in Chitwan National Park

A visit to the Chitwan National Park showcased a different shade of Nepal. So far, it had been about culture, heritage, mountains, adventure, trekking in general. However, this place took us through the forests of Nepal to spot its rich flora and fauna. It wasn’t a sedentary safari through the jungle. It had a bit of adrenaline too. And at the end of it, your Indiana Jones – aka – me, did stumble upon a treasure. Take a peek and I bet you will add this to your things to do in Nepal.

About Chitwan National Park

Chitwan literally means “heart of the forest“. The place is the first national park of Nepal. Located along the Churia Hills. Chitwan has three major rivers flowing through it – Rapti, Narayani & Ren. The forest is famous for Royal Bengal Tigers, One Horned Rhinos, Leopards and Sloth Bears. You will also, find a lot of Gaurs, variety of deer like Chital & Sambhar Deer, different species of monkeys including the Langurs and Flying Squirrels. These animals thrive in the high Grasslands and Swampy forest area of Chitwan. It is no wonder that the Royalty of Nepal used this as their hunting grounds.

Peahen in the Grasslands of Chitwan

With three big rivers, you can expect a diverse birdlife. From the rare Spotted Eagle to colorful Hornbills, Kingfishers, Bitterns & Darters, bird watching as an activity is so much fun. You can spot these winged beauties perched around the River on not just branches, but the scary Ghariyals.

Rapti River flowing through Chitwan

The crocodiles are a prime resident of Chitwan, at the same level as the Rhinos and the Tigers. In fact, you might not see the other two for they retreat deep in the forest, but if you are on a River Safari, you are guaranteed to spot one Ghariyal. (Gulp!)

The River Safari in Chitwan National Park

We will not just see one rhino, but a rhino and its baby” – said my partner-in-crime – Divyakshi. And I believed her. It wasn’t the first time she was prophesizing, Her earlier one in Kanha about us spotting a tiger up and close came true too. With such a positive note, I and my gang of bloggers reached River Rapti for our first foray into Chitwan. I expected a motorized boat but what awaited us had all the missing shades of my Indiana adventure

Read about how we met the Tiger at Kanha National Park


Our boat for the River Safari

So far, this Indiana Jones – aka Yours Truly, I had climbed mountains, crawled the ruins, discovered hidden monuments but the one shade that eluded me in Nepal, was the thrill of successfully maneuvering wild villains. I mean, you have seen how the original Jones glides past snakes and crocodiles on a narrow log…haven’t you? The River Safari was actually that!

Me sitting stable in the boat at Chitwan

First off, our boats were narrow logs which were scooped out in the middle to accommodate low seating. And guess who was voted to try it out first? 😉 One step onto the log and it rolled precariously. I was asked to take the end seat which meant that I had to do the tightrope walk. A piece of cake 😉 With due credit to me (can I hear some applause?) And some to my sidekick – well, actually the main kick – the boatman. He held the boat steady. (Yeah! That was my 5 seconds of fame)

With all my fellow bloggers tucked in, our boatman slowly edged the log boat away from the shore. And we were off!

Meeting the residents near River Rapti

Eerie eyes of the Ghariyal looking back at us

Eerie eyes watched as our log boat passed by. The hidden Ghariyal was waiting for our boat to tip. As the boat joined the downstream, I saw plenty more pretending to be asleep but aware of us passing through. To be honest, a few shivers did run down my spine. However, after a few skillful steers by our boatman, I relaxed and turned my attention to the other critters along the river.

Marsh Crocodile lying along the banks of the river
He just turned his face - the Kingfisher in Chitwan
Common Greenshank by Rapti River
Chital in Chitwan National Park
Rhesus Monkeys by the River Rapti

A Kingfisher, a Common Greenshank, a few bitterns and (I think) a heron later, we spotted the first Chital out for a drink. Close to him was a Mummy and Baby Monkey. I checked with our fellow prophet – “Did you by any chance, mean a baby and mommy monkey – not rhino?”. It was a good thing she could not turn in the low crouched position, else I would have been thrown overboard. “No way! Rhino – it will be!”  she said!

Elephant Breeding Center in Chitwan Jungle

With a few more Chitals peeking to see the boat, we reached the end of our Boat trip. We disembarked to a marshy grassland with some huts. The Elephant Breeding Center it was. Our guide explained that this was where the endangered elephants were kept. There were babies rescued and protected. They were allowed to roam freely at certain times of the day and were not allowed to be used for any work. The center also, had a small museum where you could see the anatomy of an elephant. We visited that while we waited to get our tickets.

A Mother and Baby Elephant at the sanctuary in Chitwan

Sure enough the first few shelters had really cute Elephant babies. While I enjoyed their antics, it was a little heart-wrenching to see the chained tuskers. As I understand, these were precautions so that they don’t run away. However, it still did not feel right! As much as I wanted to see the naughty Elephant cubs (and they were my height 😉), I moved out quickly for my eyes kept going to those chains.

Playful elephant at Chitwan Jungle
Hornbill in the Royal Chitwan National Park

It was good that I did, coz I spotted my first Hornbill flying into a tree. And guess, what? There were in fact, two more of those in the bush. Our entire group got diverted to the tree and the elephants were left behind. With some satisfying shots, we made our way back to the banks. It was time to cross-over and board our waiting bus to the hotel.

Chitwan Jungle Safari

The Tharu Tribal village in Sauraha, Chitwan

With a brief lunch break and a siesta, we piled on back to our waiting canter. It was time for the One-Horned Rhinos that had so far eluded us.  We went past the Tharu tribal village to enter the buffer zone of Chitwan National Park. We expected to go deep into the forest but our guide gently let us down saying that he was instructed to do only the Buffer zone. He did say though that the Rhinos visited this zone too, and we could spot them if we were lucky.

Bee Eater camouflaged
Red Wattled Lapwings

One hour into the Safari and it seemed that the prophecy of the day was not to be. A few Peahens and tons of pretty birds were all that we spotted. A little dejected, we were on our way back, when suddenly – believe it or not!  We spotted a mommy and baby rhino. Hidden amid the tall grass of Chitwan, they strolled around having their own private conversation. They stayed there long enough for us to take tons of pictures. In fact, they were still there when we moved out to the other end of the forest.

One horned Rhino in Chitwan National Park

Oh yes, Divyakshi’s prediction did come true. And after such an awesome sighting, it did not matter that we saw none of the other major creatures. I, in fact, shut my camera down and stared out of the window till we reached the hotel. I would have loved to go deeper into the forest, maybe spent a little more time or even opted for the Jungle walks that they offer at Chitwan. Maybe I will do that the next time but for this time, the Crafty Ghariyals on the Boat Safari and the One-Horned Rhinos in the Jungle Safari had added a punch to this Chitwan Safari.

I am pretty sure you too, would love to check out these grasslands for yourself. They definitely add a different flavor to Nepal.

How to visit Chitwan National Park?

  • Chitwan National Park is located near Sauraha Village in Nepal. This is around 170 km from Kathmandu by road.
  • There are plenty of flights to Kathmandu from different parts of the world. Once here, you have an option to fly to Bharatpur, which is the closest airport to Chitwan.
  • Road is the most popular option. You can hire a cab from Kathmandu or take a bus from here to Sauraha Village.
  • Pokhara is the other major town that is close to Sauraha. This is around 150 km from Chitwan. However, Pokhara only has a domestic airport with flights from Kathmandu.

Travel Tips

  • The best time to visit Chitwan National Park is between October to May.
  • The entry fee to Chitwan is Nepali Rupees 1500 for a foreigner. For a SAARC Citizen, this is Nepali Rupees 1000 while for a local it is 50
  • The Elephant Breeding Center too, has an entrance fee of 50 Nepali Rupees for a foreigner and 25 for a SAARC country citizen. At the center, you can even bathe an elephant for Nepali Rupees 200
  • There are several hotels and resorts in Sauraha for you to stay when at Chitwan. We stayed in Landmark Forest Park when we were in Chitwan. It is better to pre-book the hotels in Chitwan as they tend to have limited accommodation.
  • One can book their boat safari, jungle safari and jungle walk through the hotel or resort.
  • When booking your safari, please check if they take you deep into the forest or just the buffer zone.
  • Wear dim colored clothes and flat shoes when heading out for the Safari. Carry mosquito repellants, sunscreens and a large hat when out. Also, keep a lot of water with you.
  • If you spot a Rhino, avoid getting close to him as they can get pretty wild.
  • There are elephant safaris available at Chitwan National Park. However, I would urge my readers to avoid that as I did see the Mahout lashing out at the Elephant. It is best to go on foot, on boat or in the jeep.
Elephant Safari at Chitwan National Park


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