Road Diary Update: Cultural road trip through Nepal continues as we head to Chitwan for a Safari.
From Panauti, we headed to Chitwan, which is well known for its national park and safari opportunities. We left Panauti around 5:30am and did not arrive at our hotel, the Landmark Forest Park, until after 6pm. Mind you, the journey is only about 110 miles. The traffic, roads and terrain make this journey a rather long one. It was, however, quite scenic in many areas, especially through the mountain passes and villages.
The grounds at the Landmark Forest Park are lush and beautifully manicured. While the accommodations are better than modest, it’s not 4-star as listed. As a matter of fact, something I found during my travels through Nepal is that the hotel star ratings are often highly inflated. The Landmark Forest Park for example is a solid 3-star, nothing more.
Once we got settled we enjoyed a traditional Nepalese meal in the restaurant, then we headed outside to the courtyard for some entertainment. I’m not sure if the entertainment is nightly for new guests or not, but many of us gathered around and sat in chairs that were set up in a circle. Not long after a group of dancers/entertainers made their way to the center of the circle and performed some traditional song and dance rituals. Not long after the performance started, I could see the skies turning quite ominous, so I decided to head up to my room on the 3rd floor which looked directly down at the performance. No more than a minute after getting into position to finished watching the cultural act, the skies opened up and absolutely dumped rain. It happened so quickly, and with such fury, that the audience and the performers dissipated in an instant, as if a bomb had gone off or something.
One of the nice things about staying at the Landmark is that they organize and facilitate tours of Chitwan, which is one of the most popular destinations in all of Nepal. Chitwan National Park is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The park is inhabited by 68 species of mammals, over 500 species of birds, over 100 varieties of fish, and 56 different types of reptiles and amphibians. Chitwan is a celebrated conservation project with regards to endangered species, flora and fauna, including the one-horned rhinoceros, Bengal tiger and the gharial crocodile.
The next morning in Chitwan we took a river tour in a hand-carved canoe, which takes 3-4 men nearly a month to build. Along the way we got a glimpse of the one-horn rhino, several crocodiles and many species of birds. It was a relaxing ride, however after a while my rear-end was a bit fatigued after sitting on the bottom of the boat. The canoe’s are very narrow with no seats or padding to sit on. After about an hour we came ashore, walked up a hill, through the forest and ended up at an elephant sanctuary. It was so awesome to see the elephants close up and watch youngsters playing.
Later that morning we headed back to our hotel for lunch and a bit of rest before an afternoon safari. By now it was blazing hot and I was really questioning whether or not I wanted to bear the heat for four hours. Of course I had to go as this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but I was not excited about being in the heat. Our hotel guide took us to a drop off point near the river, the same one we were on earlier in the day, but at a different put-in point. Here we were handed off to another tour guide who would lead a group of 10 deep into the jungle for a safari expedition. We had to wait for at least 15 minutes in the blazing sun for a canoe to ferry us across the river where a safari jeep was waiting. I was concerned I did not have enough water with me to last the day. I was also compelled to add another layer of sunscreen while I had the chance.
As we made our way across the river, we walked up a small hill where a number of safari vehicles waited for their passengers. It was shaded here and a nice reprieve from the glaring sun. We all hopped aboard while our tour guide/leader provided some instruction for the safari. Once we got moving through a shaded canopy of trees, the breeze created from the speed of the vehicle was a such a welcome relief. Almost in unison, a subtle verbal utterance of delight was expressed. Surprisingly, an hour or so after we disembarked, some cloud cover occurred, and with it the temperatures seemed to drop a good 15 degrees, making the rest of the day quite enjoyable.
Going on safari is really a luck-of-the-draw when it comes to seeing wildlife. While we did not have any extraordinary sightings, such as tiger or a bear (sloth), we did see a large herd of white spotted deer, a close-up of a crocodile and lots of birds. Seeing all the variety of flora and fauna, driving through grasslands and crossing bridges to new terrain was still an enjoyable experience.
Just as our safari was coming to an end, the sky began to turn very dark. Rain was without question imminent. Thankfully, we did not have to wait for a canoe to cross the river as one was already in wait. We got across the river in short order, and just as we walked up a hill to our waiting vehicle to take us back to the Landmark hotel, the sky opened up in a vigorous downpour.
Tomorrow we head to Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha, so please stay tuned for my next Road Diary update. If you’ve ever been to Chitwan, please leave a comment below and share your experience.