Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Things to do in Chitwan, Nepal

Nepal has been known for its beautiful mountain peaks. Landlocked between India and China, this small country is the home of the 10 highest peaks of the world, including the famous Mount Everest. But this country has much more to offer. Aside from its scenic landscapes, Nepal is also the home of several majestic species. And we were lucky that the United Nations event we were attending was held in Chitwan which has a national park tagged as UNESCO World Heritage. 

Hello, Chitwan!
Chitwan may not be as popular as Kathmandu, Patan, Bharatpur or Everest Base Camp but this district has some interesting activities in store for visitors too.
Back in the 1950s, Chitwan's forest was the home of about 800 rhinos. However, the rampant wildlife poaching caused its massive decline. It wasn't until 1957 when Nepal took action issuing its first conservation law. By the end of 1960s, only about 95 rhinos remained.
In order to protect this number, a rhino reconnaissance was formed. And in 1970, Nepal's first ever national park, Chitwan National Park was born. 
Booking a tour inside Chitwan National Park is a breeze as there are several agencies that could arrange it for you. Chances are, the hotel/resort you stay in can help you too. We were lucky that our resort, Royal Safari, has its own jeep and guides. 
There's an entrance fee of 2,000 Nepalese Rupees (NPR) per day to get in the national park. If you decided to visit later in the afternoon, your entrance ticket's validity gets extended until morning of the next day. This rate is fixed. Activities rates vary depending on your resort or agency. Make sure that you get all prices set before the tour.

Three of the most popular park activities are jeep safari, jungle walk and canoeing. We tried the first two during our stay. To save on entrance fee, we did both in one day.

Jeep Safari (16,000 - 20,000 per jeep; rate depends on number of hours)
This is deemed to be the most expensive option but it covers the most ground. The downside of this option is that the jeep's noise tend to scare away some animals. But it didn't seem like it when we tried it ourselves. 
We managed to gather 10 to split the 16,000 NPR (got it down to 15,000 NPR) rate for 3 hours. There are two schedules to choose from, one that starts at 6:30 a.m. and another at 1 p.m.. We chose the former as one of our companions had a flight to catch in the afternoon. 
The ride to the park was absolutely freezing! With the jeep moving fast and the morning breeze hitting us hard, I highly recommend that you wear thick clothes if you plan to visit the park early morning in November. 
I read that the jeep safari could be boring as you'd hardly see any wild animal aside from a few jungle fowls, peacock and deer. And unlike numerous blogs showing photos of rhino, most visitors don't get to see one. Think of playing Where's Waldo LIVE.
We quickly spotted some peacocks and deer within the first half hour of our ride. 
We also saw a lot of very active Red Painted Bulbul which were fun to watch. 
A handful of gharials or fish eating crocodile were seen from afar. If you want to see these endangered species up close, it's best to take the canoe tour. 
Other animals we saw were mongoose, dhole, and the elusive Sambar deer.
And just when I was starting to feel bummed for not seeing a rhino, we got lucky and saw one! It was quite far though and blocked by trees and tall grass. But it still made me so giddy to (sort of) see one in the wild. 
But we weren't expecting to see one up close roaming around town! Does this still count as seeing one in the wild though?

Still on a safari high, we decided to join the jungle walk tour.

Jungle Walk Tour (2,500-3,000 NPR)
We were surprised to find out that the walk tour was more expensive than the jeep safari. I guess because it takes a bit longer and more tiring?
Unlike the jeep safari, you don't need to bundle up for this. In fact, light clothes even in November is recommended as you could get sweaty while taking that 3 to 4 hour walk. Just make sure to not wear bright colored clothing as it could deter animals. Also, bring a bottle of water as the long walk could be exhausting. 
We got very lucky to see a rhino keeping cool in the water during the first leg of our walk. R and I thought that it was a great decision to take the tour.
Sadly, that was the only highlight of the walk. We barely saw other animals. The only interesting sights were the tree killing vine and some bugs. 
Oh, and the massive rhino poop and tracks!
And ginormous termite hills.
I guess it should have been named as Nature Walk to manage expectations.
But we were in for a surprise when we were brought to the Elephant Breeding and Training Center. Entrance fee costs 100 NPR for foreigners. This was included though in the tour rate we paid. 

There were three or four baby elephants in the breeding center and it was fun watching them play. But my heart broke when I saw the adult elephants chained. They look well though. 
I heard that canoeing costs about 900 NPR for an hour ride. It seems to be the most relaxing option out of the three but I felt that we won't see as many animals from the river. 

Other activities are partaking in the Tharu Cultural Show and Elephant Bathing or Riding. I do not really recommend the latter though as I've heard unpleasant things about it.

Places to stay:

There are a lot of resorts and hotels near Chitwan National Park. Only a handful would be considered luxury hotels while most are within PHP1,500-3,000 range inclusive of breakfast. We stayed at Royal Safari which was very basic. Expect no lift up to the fourth floor and they use padlocks for door locks. Breakfast spread was very simple too.
You can also stay inside the park overnight for 5,000 NPR per person inclusive of dinner. You will also be accompanied by a park ranger to ensure your safety. Guests are not allowed to roam around at night though for obvious reasons. 

Where to eat:

Unlike other districts, Chitwan is very tourist friendly with the town filled with several restaurants and cafes. We even saw some Chinese restaurants offering Sichuan cuisine. 

How to get to Chitwan from Kathmandu:

Chitwan is about 148 kilometers away from Kathmandu, capital of Nepal. Travelers can opt to hire a taxi, fly or take the bus to get here. Bus is the cheapest option at an average of $12 per way while flying is the most expensive at $89 per way. Cab rates are not fixed but the usual rate ranges from $90-100 which can be comfortably shared by 3 passengers. If you opt to take the bus or taxi, be prepared to take a 5-6 hour bumpy ride. Though flying is the fastest at 25 minutes, it's common for flights to be delayed by hours and be stuck in a crowded small domestic airport.
Is it worth going to Chitwan?

I didn't get the chance to see the other national parks of Nepal which were said to also have rhinos. But Chitwan was a nice place to visit if you love wildlife. And if you have $500 to spare, why not?

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