The term “Chitwan” is the result of combination of two independent words- Chit and wan. The word ‘Chit’ or ‘Chitta’ means heart and ‘Wan’ or ‘Ban’ is the forest. Thus upon combination, Chitwan becomes-“Heart of forest and it is named aptly named for it covers over 932sq.km.of sal forest and grass lands.
This park which has been enlisted in ‘The World Heritage’ is popular as ‘Wildlife viewing national park’ where you can easily spot animals like one- horned rhinos, deer, monkeys and 450 species of birds. If luck favors, you might even get a chance to encounter leopards, sloth Bears, wild elephants and even tiger. The best time to visit this park is from October to March while monsoon (June- September) is the period you definitely want to avoid being here as there remains too little to view any animals since the tracks will simply be impassable.
Only small communities of Tharus used to inhabit the Chitwan Valley till late1950s. But soon after the launch of ‘Malaria Eradication Program’ in 1954, lots of people migrated from hilly regions. This activity encouraged deforestation where farmers began clearing forest for getting farmland and thus wildlife began to deplete due to loss of habitat. Then King Mahendra came up with solution and declared it to be Royal Reserve which became National Park in 1973. It was enlisted in World Heritage list in 1984.
The park is extended over an area of 932sq.km. Rapti River flows across it while several lakes dot its forest. Devi Lake is famous for bird sighting. Birds like bulbul, peacock, kingfisher, orioles and rare species like emerald dove and crested hornbills can be spotted here. A collection of several lakes lie outside the park known collectively as ‘Bis Hajaar Taal.’
1 Gharial Breeding Project:
The separate entry fee of NRs100 is required to enter this area where you can have a close up view of gharial and marsh mugger crocodiles. This project was started to increase the numbers of gharial crocodiles which had been endangered species and the result is quite encouraging.
2 Elephant Breeding Centre:
It is located about3km west of Sauraha near to Jungle Lagoon Safari Lodge and is one of the must-visit places of park. Most of the elephants used in Elephant Safari come from this Centre. It costs NRs50 for foreign tourists and NRs25 for tourists from SAARC countries to enter its premises and it remains open from 6am to 6pm.
3 Tharu Villages:
The nearest Tharu Village from Sauraha is ‘Bachhauli’ where you can see the traditional tharu huts with thatched roof and walls decorated with Mithila paintings. Tharus have their unique dresses and artefacts which can be seen in ‘Tharu Cultural Museum and Research Center’. It will cost NRs20 for the entrance which remains open from 6am to 4pm.
Annual ‘Elephant Polo Championship’ is organized in every December at Meghauli– Tharu Village lying about 25km southwest of Narayangadh. Many teams from around the world come to participate in this event each year. The game consists of a ball which is to be hit with a stick by a player riding on an elephant’s back. The ball needs to be potted on opponent’s post for a score.
A show is organized at ‘Tharu Culture Program’ where traditional Tharu dances and songs including the popular stick dance of Tharu are shown. The show begins at 7:30pm and it will cost NRs60 for the entrance.
Chitwan Festival is organized in December which includes elephant race, food stalls and cultural performances.
Things to do:
Elephant Ride is the defining experience of Chitwan National Park. Though there are several modes of viewing wildlife inside the park like walking and Jeep Safari, elephant ride has always remained popular among the tourists. There is always the risk of being attacked by wild beasts if you go wandering through the forest on foot while the noise from the jeep might warn the beasts of your arrival beforehand and they might hide themselves. But an elephant ride gives you the best way to view the wildlife as you will be seating at the top of huge beast- several feet above the ground and thus the elephant’s back will serve the purpose of walking tower from where nothing can remain unseen. An elephant ride also prevents you from the lethal attack of ferocious wild beasts if you ever happen to cross their way.
The alternative way of exploring the woodland is through jeeps which will cost NRs1000 per person for a half-day package.
Jungle Walk though is the closest way to get near to the wild beasts, it is not recommended for faint- hearted visitors. Also never dare to walk alone amid the woods. Guides can be accessed through lodges and it will cost NRs650 for a half day package wile for a full day, it will cost NRs800.
Canoeing trips are possible on Rapti and Narayani Rivers where you can see various water birds and crocodiles. Beginning from Sauraha, it costs NRs350 to 1000 per person for canoeing.
There are several gift shops lined up on the streets of Sauraha. Mithila painting and handicrafts like wood carvings depicting various wild beasts can be the perfect choice to keep as the memory of your visit in the mystic woods of Chitwan.
Where to Stay:
You can either choose to stay in expensive Lodges inside the park or in less expensive Lodges of Sauraha. Sauraha lies on the north shore of the Rapti River. Discounts are available in these resorts in off- season (May- September).
Gaida Wildlife Camp, Chitwan Jungle Lodge, Tiger Tops Jungle Lodge are the names of few Lodges inside the park.
Chitwan Rest House is a cheap restaurant outside the park which will cost NRs200 for a room without attached Bathroom and NRs250-500 for a room with bathroom within it.
How to Reach:-
If you are planning to visit Chitwan by air, it is wise to take a flight from Kathmandu to Bharatpur and then take a taxi to head for Sauraha. Companies like Buddha Air and Yeti Air are offering daily flights to Bharatpur.
Tourist Buses leave from the Tourist bus stand at the Thamel end of Kantipath in Kathmandu at around 7am. The bus will stop at its last destination- Bachhauli Tourist Buspark from where Sauraha lies at 15minutes of walking distance.