When I heard someone going on a safari, I always imagined something like this:
But I’ve never thought safari can turn into this:
And no, we didn’t see a baby tiger. But we were yawning just as hard and wide as it does.
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Chitwan National Park is located in the southern part of Nepal and occupies the area of 932 km2. The National Park is the home to 68 species of mammals, 544 species of birds, 56 species of herpetofauna and 126 species of fish, according to the latest data. The variety of fauna is impressive. From wild boars and deer, the park is home to foxes, jungle cats, rhinos, and even leopards and Bengal tigers, not to mention the numerous population of birds, lizards, crocodiles, and other wildlife.
October to March is the best time to visit Chitwan. It hardly ever rains during these months, and the temperature is comfortable. However, Lonely Planet recommends visiting the park in the January-March period. You will have a higher chance of seeing more wildlife since this is when the villagers cut down the tall grass in the park, which can sometimes hide the view of animals.
All the tourist infrastructure is based in the small village right near the park called Sauraha. If not tourism, the place would most probably look like potato farms all over. But due to all year round adventure seekers, Sauraha has some surprisingly lovely places to get a bite and even listen to live music.
The heaps of local travel agents offer a number of tours to the National Park at different prices.
The most popular are:
Keep in mind that in addition to paying for the tour, you need to buy an entry ticket to the park, which at the moment costs 2000 NPR. It’s valid for 1 day in the park zone + can be used the next day in the buffer zone (a wetland territory around the park, which includes forests, private lands, and Beeshazari Lakes).
In case you wonder which type of tour to take to spot as much wildlife as possible, then people recommend elephant walk. That is because elephants are very quiet walkers and don’t scare off the fauna around them.
We, however, excluded the elephant walk right away and without second thoughts. We consider this a highly unethical business supporting animal cruelty and strongly suggest that you avoid this sort of ‘entertainment.’ If you don’t know how riding affects elephants, watch this video below:
Google about jeep safari, and you'll find pretty good reviews and information that it’s one of the best ways to get the glimpse of a rhino, sloth bear, deer, and even the 'King of the Jungle' – the Bengal Tiger. Apparently, the animals are used to the jeep sounds and tourists riding around. With a jeep, there is supposedly a high chance of seeing the animals up close, and it’s safer than walking around the jungle.
Whether you purchase the tour in your hotel or local travel agent, you don’t have to bother about entry park tickets, they will buy them for you. A representative of the hotel/agency will lead you up to the safari starting point near the Rapti river and assign you to the guide for the jeep tour.
At the start of the journey, you get to sit in the canoe that transports you across the river to the park territory. It only lasts a minute or so, but the fact that there are plenty of crocodiles in the river makes it an exciting experience.
On the other side of the river, you hop on the jeep ready for the adventure.
But that’s actually where all the excitement wore off for us.
Let me get this straight. I understand that no one can guarantee that you see lots of animals during the safari. It mostly depends on the time of the day, season, and of course animal whim. But we felt that the tour got really dull at some point. Maybe it was the gentle swaying of the jeep that made us feel sleepy or perhaps we were bored because there wasn’t much happening. The French lady who was sharing the jeep with us managed to get a nap the beneficial effects of which would probably last for a few days :D.
It wasn't a total disaster, though. We did manage to spot some wildlife during 4 hours of the ride such as a few black-faced monkeys, for example. But they were so far away that it was hard to tell the difference between the tree branch and a monkey, let alone snapping a quick photo of them.
We were lucky to see one rhino pretty close and observed it for a few minutes.
We also encountered a family of deer, one wild boar, several white kingfishers flying in the distance, and a couple of crocodiles on the distant shore. Those interested in crocodiles could also check them out closer in the crocodile breeding center where we stopped for a 15-minute break.
The vegetation in the park is rather impressive, varying from incredibly long fields with the tallest elephant grass I’ve ever seen to broadleaf forests and areas with savanna-like trees. The air is fresh, clean, and very pleasant unless there was a jeep stirring up dust in front of you.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind when preparing for a jeep safari based on our experience:
1) Put on a warm jacket and long pants.
No matter how hot it gets during the day, the jungle is thick, and there isn’t much sunlight in some places. Moreover, it gets really chilly by the end of the day.
2) Bring at least 1 liter of drinking water per person and snacks.
In case you run out of water, you can always buy it when you stop at the crocodile’s breeding center in the middle of safari trip, but be prepared to pay at least 50 rupees per bottle. As for food, we don’t know what magic was happening in the jungle, but it must have been the fresh air that made us super hungry. So better take some snacks with you so that you would focus on the safari instead of talking about food all the time. It’s also a good time killer when the jeep ride gets boring.
3) Take a camera with a good zoom, if you want to take some pics of wildlife.
Average photo or phone camera will hardly be of any use.
4) Try to sit in the front if you get motion sickness.
If you stick to the guide at the beginning and go in front of the group, you'll most probably be the first to hop on the jeep. Seeing the road all the time will help with the motion sickness (and sure will offer a better view ;-).
5) Don’t expect anything.
If you have high expectations about seeing lots of wildlife, most probably you’ll end up disappointed. Don’t be fooled by the ads promising you the experience of a lifetime and glimpses of the Bengal Tiger. A guy from the hotel told us that he spotted the Bengal Tiger only once in his life (and he lives in the area for years!). Same story with leopards and other small mammals.
Would we do the jeep safari again? Most probably, not. If we would visit the park again, we would probably go for a jungle walk or a few days trek. It would be more exhausting, but will most likely give us a stronger feeling of connection with nature. I guess with the jungle walk you can also go off the road and have a good chance of spotting more birds or small animals.
It’s exciting to realize that you’re in the real jungle which is brimming with life. But the fact that we haven’t seen much wildlife during the safari and the inability to stop whenever you want, listen to the jungle sounds and snap some pictures with huge Sal trees left us disappointed.
It’s up to you what kind of tour to choose. But if you decide to try your luck in the jeep safari, we hope that you’ll have a great experience and won’t fall victim to a sweet sleep as we did! 😀
Have you ever went on a jeep safari? How was it?
Share your story in the comments!