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!
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
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.