Chitwan National Park – A Walk on the Wild Side
Having pushed our way through the dense elephant grass, we emerge into a sandy river course, our guide suddenly whispers that we are in the territory of a known tiger. Listening intently for even the slightest sound around us, we move along the river bed through a tangle of trees and overgrowth. All of a sudden, we come across a tiger paw print, and realize the print is still fresh – our hearts start racing – the beast is somewhere close by.
This feeling of being in the wild and the thrill of encountering wildlife on foot, are exactly what make walking safaris so much more exciting. Sitting in a Jeep pressing your nose against the window is simply not the same. Unfortunately, there aren’t many parks on the Subcontinent where you can get out on foot and explore – this was our chance. Although we (or I should say “I”) had been hesitant to walk through such dense foliage with rhinos and tigers around, we knew this would be the best chance to view wildlife. And so, we set out on a 100 km (60 mile), 4 1/2 day walk through Chitwan National Park.
Not what you would consider classic “jungle,” Chitwan is drier, covered in sal forest interspersed with riverine forest and open stretches of elephant grass. In the denser areas, spotting animals can become quite challenging but our two guides, who carried bamboo sticks for our protection (good luck…), made sure we could see as much as possible taking us way off the beaten path, following tiger and leopard paw prints, and even using their noses to smell our way to rhino hideouts.
At the end of a 10-hour day, we always left the park and stayed in small villages just outside the park boundary, as the safari lodges inside the park would have robbed us blind. Tony really wanted to stay at Tiger Tops Lodge, but after seeing that a 2-day package was over $600, we decided to have a Coke at the lodge’s bar instead. Our “suffering” was soon forgotten though and was replaced by sheer excitement of all the animal sightings.
During our walks, we spotted plenty of wildlife including 8 rhinos, a sloth bear (similar in size to a North American black bear), four different kinds of deer (Sambar Deer, Spotted Deer, Hog Deer, Barking Deer), langurs, Rhesus Macaques, Marsh Muggers (wide-mouthed crocodiles), gharials (narrowed-mouthed crocodiles), birds such as the Giant Pied Hornbill and the Jungle Owlette (I love that name – it sounds so glamorous), and, finally, plenty of ticks, eight of which had attached themselves to us.
Although we didn’t see a Royal Bengal Tiger (and I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to see one) on this exciting walk, we aren’t giving up yet. There will be plenty more chances in national parks in India.
Travel Tips and Information
Chitwan has more than 50 species of mammals including tigers, leopards, sloth bears, rhinos, monkeys, deer, and hyenas. You will definitely see deer and monkeys. You have a good chance of seeing Indian rhinos and a fair chance of seeing a sloth bear. Viewing a tiger is a matter of luck. Bird watchers will be more than satisfied with the 450 different species present in the park.
For the 4 1/2 day, 4 night trip, we spent about $87 each including guides, park fees, canoe trip, and accommodation – definitely worth every penny. Accommodation during the walk is only available in very simple guesthouses or very pricey high-end lodges; however, a range of accommodation is available in Sauraha, the entry point for the park.
For budget travelers, we can highly recommend staying at the Holy Lodge & Restaurant in Sauraha. We paid $5 for a double room with bathroom per night. Organize the walking safari with Surya (Sunny) Achanya, the fantastic manager of Holy Lodge. He also arranged for the guide, Januwa Chudury (also called Tarzan), whose 25 years of experience in the jungle absolutely shows.