Royal Chitwan National Park situated in the southern part of Nepal’s terai region is the country’s first National Park declared in 1973. Its rich floral and faunal biodiversity earned it the status of World Heritage Site, and it also holds within its boundary, a Ramsar Site, Beezashari Tal in its buffer. The park covers an area of 932 sq kms in the lowlands of Nepal, between two east-west river valleys at the base of the Shiwalik range of the Himalayas, sharing its southern boundary with the forests of India located along the international border. Historically, Chitwan has always received protection from the Kings of Nepal, as it was considered a royal hunting ground for Nepalese and foreign aristocrats. It is believed that King George V and his son, the young Edward VIII hunted here in 1911 and in just one safari, killed 38 tigers and eighteen rhinos. Despite all the hunting activities, its status as a hunting reserve saved more wildlife than it killed.
More than 60% of the forest comprises sal trees in regions which are better drained. In other parts, the landscape is a continually changing mosaic of grasslands and riverine forests. The grasslands along with the Himalayas in the backdrop covered in lush green vegetation, make for spectacular scenic beauty and attract nature lovers from around the world.
In these forests, you will find a diversity of wildlife from the largest terrestrial mammal, the elephant, to the smallest terrestrial mammal, the pygmy shrew! This park holds every kind of floral and faunal species found in Nepal. In fact, it supports 31% of all mammals, 61% of all birds, and 34% of all amphibians and reptiles found in Nepal. It is most famous for the sizeable population of one-horned rhinos and the Bengal tiger. It has the highest number of tigers - 120 at the last census - found in any Protected Area of Nepal, and therefore offers the best opportunities for tiger sightings. The comeback of the rhino population in these forests is a well known conservation story and a big achievement for the park authorities. In the 1990s, the otherwise healthy rhino population was nearing extinction due to a sudden rise in poaching activities in the park, following a civil war in the country. By 2006, the Government and the insurgents put the war to rest, and the Government immediately diverted resources and enforcement agencies to increase protection in Chitwan, keeping the conservation of the forest and its wildlife top priority post war. Their efforts helped revive the population, and herds of rhinos basking in the sun are once again a common sight. Other wildlife found here is the common leopard, sloth bear, fishing cat, jungle cat, golden jackal, crab eating mongoose and yellow throated marten.
The wildlife shares the forests with the Tharu communities living around the fringes of Chitwan. Tharus are famous across the Terai landscape, inhabiting the Himalayan lowlands in India and Nepal. They proudly call themselves the ‘people of the forest’ and are a true example of mankind living in harmony with nature. The majority of the Tharu population lives in Nepal, and is recognised as a nationality by the Government. They have been living around Chitwan for hundreds of years, practicing shifting cultivation. A walk through a Tharu village is a wonderful opportunity to witness their lives and marvel at their ability to adapt so well to wild nature.
Chitwan is also known for having one of the highest concentrations of birds in the world, with more than 22 globally threatened species such as the critically endangered Bengal florican, slender-billed vulture, white-rumped vulture, spotted eagle and red-headed vulture. Other species include the lesser adjutant, swamp francolin, slender billed babbler and oriental darter. It also receives several migratory species from the northern altitudes to spend the winter. These include the greater spotted eagle, eastern imperial eagle and Pallas’s fish eagle. If you have a checklist of endangered wildlife you wish to see in the wild, this park is your one stop destination to tick off many on that list!
The two airports closest to Chitwan National Park are Bharatpur and Kathmandu.
From Kathmandu airport: This is about 55 kms away from Chitwan National Park, and there are bus and cab options from the airport to the park. Most travellers prefer to take a local or private bus which leaves from Thamel along the Kantiparh Road in Kathmandu around 7 am.
From Bharatpur airport: This is located just 10 kms away from Chitwan National Park. Cabs are easily available at the airport and can drive you to the park any time of the day. Travellers can also reach Bharatpur city by road and drive down to Chitwan.
Entry fee for International tourists: NRs 1500/- (US$ 16)
Entry fee for SAARC: NR 750/- (US$ 8)
Entry fee for Nepalese: NR 100/- (US$ 1)
IN THE FIELD UPDATE
Both the tiger and rhino populations are growing in Nepal with the country celebrated another year of zero rhino poaching.
The winter brought ruddy shelducks, bar headed geese, mallards, and goosander. The buffer zone has been occupied by six rhinos that are regularly sighted during elephant safaris. The core area has offered splendid sightings of three different female rhinos with two-three month-old young (two near the Bhimle entry point and one near the Sukhibar checkpost, towards the north). Several solitary bulls have been sighted around the rivers and the Reu grasslands. Another female with a sub-adult calf has occupied the area near Munda Taal (waterhole). The calf seems to be nearly three years old and will probably separate from the mother by the next season.
A female tigress has extended her territory into the buffer zone and has been sighted a few times. In October, she was sighted with the carcass of a hog deer. The sightings of tigers have been spontaneous but regular. A female was recently sighted near the Munda Taal for about 20 minutes, which is an unusual for Chitwan where tigers are still elusive. The forest department has confirmed that the tigress also has two young cubs. Tigers have been tracked in Harrabaas and Khuria Muhan Taal during morning and evening jeep safaris and even nature walks.
Tourists are still restricted to using government elephants inside the national park; privately owned elephants can only be used in the buffer zone. Full day jeep safaris are working very well with particularly good tiger and sloth bear sightings in the spring. Walking in the national park can also be tied into a jeep safari for those keen on birding.
Barahi Jungle Lodge (Outstanding PUG Eco Rating)
New for 2016. Over the past year, Barahi Jungle Lodge has seen an increase in the diversity of species found in and around its perimeter — jackals, civets, monitor lizards, jungle cat, and 80 species of birds. For guests, this would mean that the wildlife display continues even after the safari is over. Several alarm calls have been heard in the night and the oi-oi calls of the rhinos crossing the river at the night can also be heard. The morning ritual at Barahi now includes checking for pug marks before heading for morning safaris. One particular rhino seems to be regularly marking its territory in the parking area.
Contact Mr. Manav Khanduja at firstname.lastname@example.org
Tiger Tops Tharu Lodge (Outstanding PUG Eco Rating)
New for 2016. The lodge has gone through a significant change since the start of the year. Its 12 resident elephants are now in chain-free corrals. The property has been working hard with Elephant Aid International to build new homes that will house the resident herd. It will be the first privately owned lodge to have chain-free corrals in Nepal. Tiger Tops are hoping to provide a role model on housing domesticated elephants that other operators in Nepal can emulate. The lodge is looking to move away from traditional elephant safaris and to provide a more in-depth and engaging elephant adventure.
Contact the manager at email@example.com