The World Heritage-listed Chitwan National Park is one of the main tourist attractions in Nepal and completes the Nepal triangle with Kathmandu and Pokhara. We are rather excited about finally getting there and dream of seeing a tiger!
We get a taxi into the park, an hour drive from our overnight hotel in Bharatpur, along yet more pot-holed roads and then a dirk track leading to our resort, which happens to be one of the most popular places in the park set on a large island in the middle of the Narayani River at the western end of the park.
We are treating ourselves because it is rather expensive to stay in the park itself but this is one of the most atmospheric ways to visit Chitwan and it is hard to put a price on the experience of staying deep in the forest, surrounded by the sounds of the jungle. Plus this opportunity will not be there for much longer as the government are forcing lodges within the park to reolcate outside the park's perimeters when their leases expire.
You see Chitwan is one of a few wildlife parks that you can explore on foot when accompanied by a guide and it does not come without its risks - the only thing between you and an animal is a bamboo stick carried by the guide. Potentially scary stuff and you do hear of local villagers being killed by wild elephants and rhinos.
We have to take a wooden boat across the river and it is all rather lovely and atmospheric because for some reason it gets really misty here in the morning and evening and is really cold too! We are both really excited as we have never done anything like this before and it does feel rather special somehow.
At the resort itself all the staff are really friendly and we are led to our room, which is on stilts with views of the river. It is all rather basic, no electricity in the room as such and they are rather damp but there is lighting between 5.30-7.30am and 5.30-9.30am and hot water between 5.30-7.30pm. We also have to make sure to leave all food at the main bar to reduce the risk of attracting rats into our room (and we are warned that we may hear them scuttling over ou roof at night, which I don't notice, thankfully).
After a Yoga practice and some tea, we took lunch (yes you guessed it, more Dahl Bhat at the buffet counter) before we started our program with elephant bathing. Now I am not entirely sure about all this. One of my hosuemates at University has since gone on to become a doctor in some form of elephant research and now runs an elephant research programme and an elephant trust in Botswana so I am aware that perhaps elephants should be left in their natural environment and not exploited by us humans.
Still we felt we should join in and while the river was really cold, the sun was quite warm, so we both took turns to sit on an elephant and have him spray us with water from his trunk. Bless him, I can't help thinking that he probably doesn't enjoy doing this every day but what can we do, I don't know, it just does not rest easily somehow.
After the elephant bathing we went out on a 4-wheel drive with a few of the other guests to get deeper into the jungle. We were out for a few hours and initially we didn't really see anything other than a peacock, which both Ewan and I struggle to get excited about, but then we saw two rhinos from afar and we borrowed someone's binoculars to get a better view, quite incredible really. Then we saw a vulture in a tree, and then a stork, and then some spotted deer (Ewan refused to get excited about seeing deer!) and then on the way back to the river we saw another rhino, closer up this time.
Back at the resort it was getting dark by the time we had been rowed across the river and the temperatures were dropping fast and already we realised that we should have brought our coats with us for these cold evenings. We enjoyed a lovely hot shower back in the room before sharing a drink at the outside bar and then dinner inside and an early night, like 9pm because there was nothing else to do, it was simply too cold and dark!
The next morning we received our wake up call at 5.45am, which felt as early as it sounds and it was cold and dark and damp and we probably should have put on more layers because we spent the next few hours so cold that it took a few hours for me to feel my toes again, but it was still good fun.
This time we were going out into the jungle on an elephant, 3 of us at a time. This was quite some experience, not the most comfortable of rides and we didn't see a single thing. Well actually that is not strictly true. One of the guys at the resort has said the best he saw was a chicken...we didn't even get the chicken, the main distraction was a child's pink rucksack and our elephant driver actually dismounted the elephant to check whether there was anything in the bag (which there wasn't) before flinging it back into the undergrowth. We laughed about that for a few days.
Back at the resort and we had breakfast before heading out for a jungle walk on foot. Now this was slightly more exciting as we happened to walk upon two sloth bears in the undergrowth off to the side of the path. It was quite funny really as we had listened to the guide explain to us what to do if we did come across wild animals - rhinos; climb a tree or run zigzagged, tigers; stare it in the eye and back away slowly; sloth bears (the most-feared animal in the jungle due to its unpredictable nature) make lots of noise; elephants, run for your life!!
So here we were, the guide banging his bamboo pole on the floor and making noise and I instinctively did the one thing I was not meant to do - turn to run away. So much for looking out for others, if that sloth bear was going to kick off I wanted to be as far away from it as possible!! Anyhow thankfully the sloth bears went away and with my heart beating slightly quicker than it has done for some time, we carried on our way.
We came across more kingfishers and crocodiles too, quite incredible atually, to see them there in the wild.
Back at the resort we had a break before lunch, time for Yoga in the sun and an opportunity to simply chill out - it had been quite a hardcore morning!
After lunch there was more elephnt bathing but we gave it a miss this time, before another jungle walk, going to the same place we had been on the 4-wheel drive the day before. This got really quite exciting because we came across an angry rhino. Apparently the rhino has lost its one month old baby and killed a villager 4 days ago.
We didn't know this at the time however and I must admit I was rather alarmed when we all stopped to look at this rhino on the other side of a small waterway, before the guide suddenly started getting really excited and almost running us along the path as he was worried that the rhino had heard our voices and would come looking for its baby where we were - basically she wasn't taking any prisoners at the moment. The deer seemed rather tame after all that and as for the peacock, well wasted on us I am afraid.
Back at the resort we enjoyed another warm shower and dinner before our earliest night ever - 8.30am, quite unbelievable considering we can both be night owls.
The next morning and we had another 5.45am alarm call. This time I wore as many layers as I could for our nature walk, only 45 minutes and we didn't manage to see anything other than the resort's elephants but that doesn't really count!
We ate breakfast by the river before getting a minibus back to Bharatpur and a Greenline bus (we were taking no chnaces this time) back to Pokhara.
The Chitwan is great, we truly enjoyed the experience, it was so relaxing in its simplicity and incredibly grounding and uplifting for the spirit. I can highly recommend - just remember to bring contact lenses with you!