Apart from the high-altitude mountain treks that Nepal is famous for, tourists are increasingly discovering the lowlands of Nepal. The lowlands area is in the south, at the fringe of the Indian plains – the Teraj – and it is here that you find Chitwan National Park.
Chitwan National Park is a World Heritage-listed reserve covering 932 sq. km of jungle and grasslands, and is one of Nepal’s popular tourist destinations. Chitwan is one of the best wildlife national parks in Asia to spot deers, monkeys, a variety of birds, and one-horned rhinos. And if you are extremely lucky, you can catch a glimpse of sloth bears, leopards and the elusive Bengal Tiger, of which as many as 120 tigers are in the national park.
I had a wonderful opportunity to experience Chitwan in late May and I stayed at the Tiger Tops Tharu Lodge for 2 nights.
The story of Tiger Tops started in the early 1960s when 2 Texan travellers, Toddy Lee Wynne and Herb Klein fell in love with Chitwan National Park, decided to build a small lodge in the jungle and named it Tiger Tops Jungle Lodge. The property paved the way for sustainable tourism in Chitwan and became a benchmark for wildlife lodges in Nepal.
However, in 2012, the government of Nepal banned all lodges inside the national park, thus Tiger Tops Jungle Lodge had to be closed. Despite the closure of Jungle Lodge, Tiger Tops continued to operate with 2 other lodges located outside Chitwan – Tharu Lodge and Karnali Lodge.
Tharu Lodge is an eco-friendly resort that sits across the Narayani River amidst lush forest. Far away from the main road, access to the property is via a private tree-lined path, the setting so tranquil that I felt compelled to whisper rather than speaking at normal audible level.
Designed as a rustic, wilderness retreat, the interior design of the lodge is of muted colours, blending in with the natural landscape. Accommodation is in traditional style – 12 comfortably furnished rooms built from local materials and 12 safari tents, all with en-suite bathrooms with water heated by solar panels.
My room was situated at the far end of the garden which was quieter and more private compared to the ones closer to the lobby. Since it’s an eco-friendly lodge, I made some observations about the room:
- No air-conditioner but there is a ceiling fan to help circulate the air and to cool off from the heat.
- No mineral water bottles given. Instead a flask of filtered water is available on the table. I guess this helps to minimize the use of plastics.
- Miscellaneous items in the room are either paper-wrapped or placed in cloth bags.
- Rustic blinds for privacy.
Guests typically sign up for a package deal when staying at Tharu Lodge, all meals and activities are all-inclusive. Breakfast and dinner are served in the dining area which shares the same space with the lobby while lunch is served al fresco under the shade of a mango tree. The lodge serves Nepali and Continental cuisine, food is cooked using fresh, organic local produce.
Some of the activities that guests can sign up for are jeep safaris, boat trips, bird watching, farmland walks, and visits to Tharu villages. However, if you are visiting Chitwan for only a few days, say, 3D/2N, then I would highly recommend to go 2 jeep safari trips, a boat trip and to visit the elephant camp.
The jeep safari trips are generally organized one in the morning and another in the afternoon. Both trips are neither the same, for you will encounter a variety of wildlife on an open-top Land Rover with an experienced driver and naturalist to lead the way. We spotted 2 one-horned rhinos (mummy and babe) in the morning whilst we encountered lots of deers and monkeys in the afternoon safari.
Note: Chitwan has had experienced successes in their fight against poaching of the one-horned rhino. Before the national park was set up in the 1950s, there were close to 1,000 rhinos in the region but declined to 100 in 1966 due to deforestation, human settlement and poaching.
Fortunately, the number of this endangered animal rose gradually to 544 rhinos in between 1980 and 2000, owing to anti-poaching laws, conservation projects and awareness instilled among the public. Subsequent years, however, poaching returned and more rhinos were killed. But bucking the worldwide trend, Nepal continues to fight to protect the rhinos. Presently there is a more cohesive collaboration in Nepal from imposition of stricter anti-poaching laws and regulations, rising awareness among local communities and across the Nepali society, resulting in the one-horned rhino population to increase again to 605 as of 2015.
For more information on the one-horned rhinos in Nepal, click here.
Since our lodge was a stone’s throw away from the calm Narayani River, we went boating on the river – twice – we saw local fishermen, sun-bathing crocodiles (don’t worry, they were quite far away from us) and elephants.
The activity that I did not do, regrettably, was to visit the elephant camps. The elephants in Tharu Lodge are neither chained or kept in an enclosure nor are they used for tourist rides. You can spend a day with the mahout to learn how to take care of the elephants, to feed them or to walk alongside with this mighty yet gentle beast in the jungle. Or if you are pressed for time, you could always visit the camp to see the mahouts prepare food for the elephants and to feed them. I was a lazy bugger for wanting to sleep-in on our last day in Chitwan, as such I skipped this activity. In retrospect, I should have gone.
In every trip, there will be a day when you don’t want to do anything – no catching flights, buses or trains, no hectic sightseeing – but to take a break to recharge your batteries. There might be light travel activities but other than that is to take a breather and reconnect with one’s surroundings.
I needed a break from our mini bus adventure which took us on a long, winding 14-hour ride from Panauti to Chitwan. Tharu Lodge was a refuge, a temporary abode that took me far away from the maddening crowd to get in touch with nature and wildlife – just for a while.
*My trip in Nepal was part of the Himalayan Travel Mart FAM trip sponsored by Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Nepal Chapter. Opinions expressed in this post are, as always, my own.
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