If you are wondering why picking one of the smallest countries in the world as your next destination is a good idea, just take a look at the endless possibilities that this little paradise offers. From marvelous landscapes to exciting activities involving tigers, elephants, and rhinos, you’ll always find something new that will give you a once in lifetime experience.
The first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions Nepal is the staggering heights of the Himalaya on the northern part of the country. However, the lesser-known south melts away the icy mountains into subtropical river plains and paddy fields into its border with India. Much easier to travel through than the glacial mountains on the north and perhaps more Indian than Nepalese, you might enjoy these surroundings a lot more. Populated by the extraordinary Tharu tribal people, it is also home to the Royal Chitwan National Park, one of Nepal’s most fascinating and unexpected natural treasures and a real wildlife heaven.
Once you have made it to the park, you will see elephants carrying people on their backs, crocodiles lining the Rapti River and its tributaries, and tigers, rhinos, and leopards hiding in the long grass. It’s very easy for visitors to be paranoid about the wild animals around them, but we can assure you that tiger sightings are uncommon.
One of the best parts of this adventure is the fact that elephants and phanits (experienced elephant riders) are available at all time, which allows you to enjoy this experience on your own time and not based on a strict schedule. You won’t want to miss this unique opportunity since there is no better way to appreciate the true essence of Chitwan other than riding a graceful yet clumsy elephant during the sunset or sunrise.
It seems as if taking your attention away from the snow-covered peaks of the Himalaya is impossible while being in Nepal. However, a couple of days in Chitwan are enough to make you forget the icy northern horizon and enjoy the enriching experience in the south.
Chitwan was declared a national park in 1973 by Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev -the Nepalese king at the time- since a serious case of poaching and royal hunting put tigers and rhinos in the area in danger of extinction. In 1938, just one Indian ruler took out 120 tigers, 38 rhinos, 27 leopards and 15 bears. By 1968, there were only a hundred rhinos and twenty tigers in the park, but in recent years, these numbers have quadrupled.
Chitwan was granted World Heritage status by UNESCO in 1984 thanks to its importance as a living memory of how wildlife-rich the region used to be. This has prevented the greedy human invasion and development that surrounds the park from getting to it.
Why Riding Elephants at Chitwan National Park?
Even though visitors come in growing numbers, they never flood the park’s wildness. Along the southern bank of the Rapti River, Chitwan expands from east to west and is easily reached through the village Sauraha. In this little town, you will find inexpensive hotels, lodges and elephant rides offered by government-owned operators.
However, if you can afford it, we recommend staying in one of the ecolodges inside the park. They have their own elephants, take care of them as if they were part of the family and even introduce them to you by name. You will be sleeping inside of rustic but lovely cabins, some of which are only lit by candles, giving this wonderful journey a luxurious feel.
Sometimes, particularly around first light, a fine fog envelops the streams, meadows, and forests, swallowing little noises and adding to the primeval feeling. Spotting a black rhino and quietly coming closer to it thanks to the smallest command of the phanit on top of an elephant is as close as you can get to ancient hunting without putting both the rhino and yourself in danger. And don’t worry about food, lodges take care of dinner so you will enjoy delicious meals such as freshly cooked rice, vegetables, and curry every night.