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Things To Do In Chitwan National Park
Chitwan National Park, the first of its kind in Nepal, is a world apart from what you would usually see in terms of nature and its majesty in the rest of this country. While Nepal is a proud host to a number of national parks now, this World Heritage-listed site holds special significance for being home to over 500 hundred species of birds, and over 700 species of animals.
Undoubtedly, a lot has been done to safeguard the defenses of the animals that reside here, but what cannot be undermined is also the role of the local populations in these regions that have learned to peacefully co-exist with these species, with a lot of them being wild and potentially dangerous. The indigenous natives of this region are, in fact, the other highlight of visiting Chitwan; after you have had your fill of exploring the forests and grasslands, make sure to experience the local culture of the natives who live here. Here are some pointers on the things to do and the best ways to spend your time in Chitwan National Park.
Explore Tharu Culture
The Tharu are the native population of the Terai region, and occupy the villages surrounding Chitwan National Park. The closest village is Bachchauli, but the best one worth visiting is Harnari simply because it is less frequented by tourists and feels more realistic. With the help of your local guide, you can visit these villages and mingle with the locals and get an insight into their traditions and way of life. Both these villages have a Tharu Cultural Museum that features murals, ornaments, attire and artefacts on display that will help familiarise you with their culture. A fun way to go about the villages is to get onto an ox cart or the back of a pony to feel as one among the locals as your guide introduces you to the Tharu’s lifestyle.
Every winter, thousands of birds migrate to Chitwan from the extreme weathers of Siberia and the rest of the Northern Hemisphere, which makes this region a haven for bird watchers and bird lovers. They belong to a wide variety of species, and with the help of your guide and naturalist, you will be able to gain a lot of insight into their individual habitats, and the meaning of each call and whistle they make. One of the best places to check these birds out is the Bish Hajaar Tal, or 20,000 Lake, that is frequented by most of the birds who visit the region.
A fascinating way to explore the park for those with a little more nerve is to walk through the jungle accompanied by your guide. It is essential to remember that while it may seem to be an exciting adventure, walking through the forest carries the risk of bumping into wild animals and catching them at the wrong time, which could carry the possibility of being relatively dangerous. It is advised to always travel in a bigger group with at least two experienced guides. The best part about these walks though, is finding the opportunity to get up close and personal with some exotic species of both birds and animals. An experienced naturalist will be able to keep you updated about all the information you may require about the range of wildlife you encounter. If you are lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of the one-horned rhino, the sloth bear, and the more elusive Bengal Tiger.
A four wheel drive or jeep safari is the most convenient and popular way to go exploring through the park. It’s faster and relatively safer within the confines of the vehicle, even though there is rarely anything to worry about in terms of security issues while cruising through the park. The animals are generally accustomed to the sound of the engines, and do not get bothered by tourists passing by, so don’t be concerned about missing candid photo moments of your favorite creatures.
Up until a while ago, ambling along the forest path on the back of a massive yet graceful elephant used to be an exemplary part of the jungle safari experience. But of late, animal-rights concerns have risen substantially and the government has pulled out of offering any more elephant safaris in the region. The only way to do so now is to get in touch with private contractors who still provide these services, which are mostly limited to the community forests and the buffer zones in the park.
A better alternative to the elephant safari is to opt for a walk with the elephants by your side through the jungle and observe other wildlife and their interaction with your mighty companion; an experience that certainly beats lumbering around on the back of the elephant instead.
Sundowners with Elephants
This is a fun program and a fresh take on the old elephant bathing activity wherein the visitors spend an amusing hour on the riverbanks as the elephants bathe in front of them, often drenching the visitors too in the process. The best months to participate in this activity are February to November as the water can get too cold for these affectionate creatures during the winters.
An alternative but nonetheless interesting way to cruise through the National Park is to get onto a quintessentially Nepali hand carved dugout canoe, and float along the peaceful Rapti or Narayani rivers as the waterside landscapes pass you by. The canoe ride will offer you the chance to observe the crocodiles, water birds and maybe even the gharial, all from a safe distance. You can also opt to make a stopover at one of the riverbanks and take a short walk around the jungle. Most canoe trips originate at Sauraha and last about an hour in duration, with a walk back to the origin point.
Most of the lodging options in Sauraha put on shows for the tourists and guests, where the local Tharu folks dress up in colourful attire and display their song and dance routines. The Sauraha Tharu Culture House and the Tharu Culture Program feature the popular stick and dance show; a performance where Tharu men run and whack their sticks in a particular dancing routine.