Nepal - Beyond the Mountains

29th Aug 2019
Photo of Nepal - Beyond the Mountains by Prasanna Vee

Despite having traveled a lot, I didn't realize until recently that the nation most associated with mountains and high-Altitude adventure is also home to one of the most celebrated national parks in the region, let alone it being recognized as a UNESCO heritage site!! For most people, this vast forest in the Nepalese ‘Terai’ wouldn’t be the first thing that would spring to mind when a travel itinerary in ‘the most mountainous country in the world’ is mentioned. It would be the Himalayas, the 8000+ meter high peaks, Adventure filled Snow trekking and Base Camp. Till a few months back even I was under the same impression, and I felt ashamed about how unfair I’d been to this Himalayan nation in terms of assessing its Bio-diversity. So, I decided to do this trip to Chitwan purely to explore the hidden side of a country that’s more celebrated for what’s closer to the sky than on the ground!

Photo of Nepal - Beyond the Mountains 1/3 by Prasanna Vee

The Nepal you probably haven’t heard about

Didn’t realize how much off the beaten track this place was until we engaged with the locals after arriving in Kathmandu. Most of them naturally assumed we were going to the cliched traveler haunts of the mountain nation and kept asking us if we were in Nepal to visit Pokhara or Climb the Mountains! The guy next to us on the flight, the cab drivers, the staff at the hotel and airport, etc. Some of them were actually surprised to hear what was in store in the national park! So, after a long time, it felt great to be at a destination that was quite exposed to tourism but still getting to explore the still undiscovered side of it.

Like I mentioned already, Nepal is typically associated with the high altitudes, daunting peaks and freezing temperatures of the Himalayas. Much of Chitwan, by contrast, is barely 100 meters above sea level, flat as a pancake and mercilessly hot all through the year. And the jungle here it is quite different from the game parks you might find in other regions in East Africa or Southern Africa. Compared to the broad sunbaked plains dotted with short Acacia trees in Africa, the landscape here is filled with lunch greenery and imposing tall trees all around with a couple of mesmerizingly meandering rivers dissecting them at various points

Photo of Nepal - Beyond the Mountains 2/3 by Prasanna Vee

The heart of the jungle

Chitwan, which means “heart of the jungle” in Sanskrit, is known for having some of the best wildlife-viewing in Asia- including sloth bears, leopards, deer, monkeys and over 450 species of birds. And, of course, tigers. Also, this is one of the last places that still have anything like an abundance of the Indian one-horned rhino. Of the about 3,000 in the wild, an estimated 500 of those live in the park. Nonetheless, this is what I would label as a “Virgin” National park – due to the fact that it is still untouched by mass tourism and not spoilt by too much exposure to the outside world! Since we visited during the offseason, we were not blessed with a lot of animal sightings. But that didn’t prevent us from getting a solid sense of what living in a forest land feels like. The constant chirping of birds, the never-ending buzz of the jungle bugs, the river cruising crocodiles that occasionally pulled ashore for a quick sunbathing trip, the resident elephants strolling around the grasslands – there were plenty of ingredients that made us feel aware of where we were and be respectful of the wild natives.

Photo of Nepal - Beyond the Mountains 3/3 by Prasanna Vee
Day 2

Riverside Romance

You might have heard about hybridized travel modes like “Glamping” or “Flash Packing”, but I believe the Barahi Jungle lodge has conceptualized & mastered an entirely new breed of travel experience called ‘Glodging”. A tasteful mix of glamorous abode in the wilds combined with regulated indulgence, eco-friendly diligence, and decadent home-style pampering! This is probably one of THE best eco-lodges we have ever stayed in across the globe, and surely deserves to be a part of the ‘elite’ blue-lists and clubs, but unfortunately (or luckily for itself) still flying under the radar! We couldn’t believe that we were chilling out in one of the most Romantic Jungle Lodges at the edge of a forest in a Himalayan Country! And the fact that we were the ONLY guests in the entire property only made the sweet experience even more Honeyed!

Photo of Barahi Jungle Lodge, Megauli, Nepal by Prasanna Vee

A Suite Surprise!

While a stay at this wonderful eco-lodge was magical just as it is, the lovely manager of the property made it even more Suite(er) by throwing in a huge surprise for us - since had read about media articles covering our travels. We were upgraded to one of the best Jungle Villa Suites we have ever stayed in - absolutely free of charge!

Suite Room at Barahi L

Photo of Nepal - Beyond the Mountains by Prasanna Vee

Thali me out

If you’ve already heard or known about the gourmet map of Nepal, then you know that a visit to the region is not complete without indulging in thali-style meals that showcase the cuisine of the various local communities. While we had different kinds of Nepali food like Momo’s, Dal Bhat, Bara, Sel Roti, Newari cuisine, Tharu food, and Thakali food during the trip, the meals that stood out the most were the Terai Thali we were served for lunch in Barahi Jungle Lodge and the Thakali Thali we were served for dinner at the Taj. They were carefully composed combos of fine food whose sole purpose seemed to be endowing one with the ability to tastefully experience heaven on earth!

Photo of Nepal - Beyond the Mountains by Prasanna Vee

Chilling with the Gentle Giants

Apart from their luxurious settings, both the lodges offer elephant, jeep and on-foot safaris accompanied by excellent naturalists. But the best experiences of the trip were our interactions with Rani-kali, Tulsi-Kali, Shoba-kali and Raj-Kali – the Barahi Lodge’s resident elephant family. The first day we had privileged to chill out with the younger sisters - up close and personal – right next to the pool area while we were savoring chai made with the finest Himalayan tea leaves.

Photo of Nepal - Beyond the Mountains by Prasanna Vee

The next day the interaction got even more personal (for the pachyderms) as we were allowed to get even closer and feed them, pet them and also give them a bath. Never have we been this close to the moody giants of the animal kingdom – and especially, engage with them directly. One of the most memorable animal encounters we’ve had.

Photo of Nepal - Beyond the Mountains by Prasanna Vee

Getting High on a Helipad

All through our travels, we’ve had the privilege of being able to experience some wicked sundowners – a classic jungle exercise of savoring a surreal sunset while sipping on your favorited drink. But the one in Barahi Jungle lodge was a bit unique. Our Naturalist guide heard about our obsession to always enjoy a new sunset at a new destination in a unique way and decided to something special to make the Terai Sundowner stand out for us. He got the lovely staff to organize a special table – right on the helipad –with a spectacular view of the Rapti river. And the glowing lanterns around the helipad and the screaming pink sky that was appearing post sunset only made the experience even more supremely special! Suddenly even the light-weight Gorkha beer seemed to taste like the nectar of the Gods!

Photo of Nepal - Beyond the Mountains by Prasanna Vee

Dinner in the Bush!

Just when we thought we have been treated to all kind of magical surprises, Mr.Varun had something way more surreal in store for us! To make the romantic retreat even more dreamy, he completely astonished us by organizing a surreal dinner in the bush! The greenery that was glittering with dozens of sexy hurricane lanterns, highly attentive staff attending to your needs, the rhythmic buzz of the jungle residents, free-flowing fine wine, delicious local cuisine. My oh my - Words cannot explain what we saw, felt or experienced. So, I will let the picture do the talking!

Photo of Nepal - Beyond the Mountains by Prasanna Vee

Change of Scenery

Day 3

The very reason we came to Chitwan was because of Taj Meghauli Serai. In fact, I first heard about this serene national park through an article in a travel magazine that was celebrating the launch of this luxury hotel. Unfortunately, after spending a lovely day in Barahi Jungle lodge this place seemed like a runner up in the race to be the king of this jungle! Of course, they were not short on frills and fancy elements – it just felt more manufactured compared to the homely touch of Barahi. With that being said, their spectacular Infinity pool, Riverside Villas with Plunge pools, Characterful Bar where you can exchange travel stories through the night with a Shisha, Surreal Sundowners, Delicious Nepali fare, and Fine hospitality will surely blow you away in any case.

Photo of Meghauli Serai, A Taj Safari - Chitwan National Park, Meghauli, Nepal by Prasanna Vee

Rapti Meets Narayani

While we had visited in offseason, the core national park was not open for game drives or Safaris and only the buffer zone was still open. However, we still chose to do a Boat safari, not with any hope of spotting animals but to experience a different kind of sunset. The sweltering heat toasted us severely as we started cruising downstream from the Taj hotel, but it was absolutely worth the trip purely because of what was in store at the end of it. After an hour or so, the boat pulled off next to a grassland, from where we did a short walk to this magical spot which the staff had already set up a table for us - with all the drinks and snacks – for a classic sundowner. It was a magical setting - right at the confluence of the Rapti river and Narayani river - with a direct ringside seat to the spectacular show put up by the great ball of fire as he was signing off for the day!

Photo of Nepal - Beyond the Mountains by Prasanna Vee

Safari time

Meghauli Serai offers several safari options for guests from safari drives, walking safaris, boating safaris and of course the controversial elephant safaris. Since we were against riding animals, we chose to do the game drive on a characteristic Safari jeep. Just like the boat safari, we didn’t spot any of the big guys – except for a teasing sighting of a huge one-horned Rhino. Nonetheless, the drive itself was excellent as we have never been in this close proximity to the greenery and fauna in any of the other safari drives, we had done in Africa and elsewhere. Also, the terrain was so different from what you might get to see in Africa, Borneo or Latin American jungles.

Photo of Chitwan National Park, Sauraha Entry Station, Ratnanagar, Nepal by Prasanna Vee

Sundowner in the Jungle

The key ingredient of any supreme safari drive - no matter how successful the crew has been in spotting wild animals – is how memorable the ending is. And this safari drive was in no way any less than some of the highly-rated safari drives in Africa. The staff had picked a super serene spot that was not just whispering tranquility all around but also felt like a scenery out of a painting! A quiet river streaming below, lush green background of wild fauna, the sun going down at a distance, and the coldest beers and perfectly blended Gin & Tonic! And as we were starting to believe we couldn’t be overwhelmed anymore, they threw into the mix, bowls of spicy potato ‘Chaat’ – whipped up in Nepali style – specially prepared for us just because they heard us in passing mention we love ‘Chaat’!! That is attention to detail and the highest levels of Asian Hospitality for you!

Photo of Nepal - Beyond the Mountains by Prasanna Vee

A slice of Africa in Terai

To make the evening even more magical, the staff decided to take us back to the Lodge on a Boat instead of an encore of the bumpy ride on the jeep. This was an entirely different kind of boat ride compared to the previous evening. This was journeying down a peaceful stream and reminded us so much of the wooden raft trips in the jungles of the Caribbean or canoe rides in the rivers of Africa. For a moment we lost our bearings almost and couldn’t wrap our head around where exactly we were!

Photo of Nepal - Beyond the Mountains by Prasanna Vee

And like the tranquil ride down the river itself wasn’t surreal enough, the departing sun was painting the sky with all sorts of colors like a hyperactive artist on a red bull rush. Since the setting was unbelievably dreamlike, we couldn’t resist but pipe our own sundowner playlist of African tunes. And that filled in what was missing in this intoxication assault by mother nature!

Photo of Nepal - Beyond the Mountains by Prasanna Vee

Dinner under a tree

Since we had shown the pictures of the lovely dinner setting that Barahi had arranged for us, the sweet staff at Taj went out of their way to compete and surprised us by creating a very unique (and not on the menu) experience for us. They had set up a perfectly decorated table right in the middle of an even more gorgeously lit up romantic garden. And the fact that the table was right under a tree made it more picture perfect!

Photo of Nepal - Beyond the Mountains by Prasanna Vee

The Final Word

Nepal’s recent history has been turbulent filled with events of calamity and misfortune – including the disastrous earthquake of April 2015, which killed 9,000 people and made more than two million homeless. In a time like this, the country needs stories of hope, resilience, and rebirth. Chitwan is probably one such great success stories – in terms of wildlife preservation and protection of the local community. On top of protecting endangered species and their habitat, the government has also helped improve the lives of tens of thousands of ordinary Nepalis. It has been an emblem of the country's tremendous resilience, courage and fortitude, and a cause for optimism and pride.

You can do your part to support the country by visiting, and esp. going beyond the mountains to get in touch with the tribal locals & wildlife on the ground. And this is what awaits you - highly hospitable people, welcoming government, decadently delicious cuisine, otherworldly jungles, and mystical mountains. So pack your bags and book your tickets right now, as the Jungle beckons!

Photo of Nepal - Beyond the Mountains by Prasanna Vee
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