How did I decide to head to Chitwan? I had been thinking to go from Patan directly to the mountains, to Pokhara, to enjoy the Himalayas. However, the monsoon season wasn’t over yet, so I had to change my priorities. I decided to go to the jungle first and afterward head toward the mountains.
The first day trip to Chitwan
Short Description: I caught the bus going to Sauraha at the last moment and spent most of the day on the road. In the evening, I analyzed the jungle activities of the travel companies along the main street in Sauraha.
In the morning, I had a bus ticket to Sauraha. Om (the landlord of my guesthouse in Patan) had bought it for me while I was traveling through the villages in the Kathmandu Valley. I had to go to the bus station in Kantipath, in Kathmandu, to take the bus. Even though I had charged it, my phone was completely discharged in the morning and the alarm didn’t ring at all. My wristwatch ran out of battery too, and I had no idea what time was when I woke up.
I looked out of the window and saw it was light outside, so I thought maybe it was time to leave for the bus station. At the front desk of my guesthouse in Patan, I saw the real hour and hurried up. It was very late. By that hour, I was supposed to be already at the bus station. In the street, I negotiated a taxi, but not too much, because I was in a hurry. The taxi driver was driving like crazy just to get me in time to the bus station, so I had to ask him to slow down a bit.
The bus station in Kantipath was a long line of buses, exclusively for tourists, parked along the street. The line of buses was at least one kilometer long. My phone was still discharged, so I asked the taxi driver to call the agent and find out which bus I had to get on for Sauraha. I took my luggage out of the taxi, paid the ride to the taxi driver, and went to the bus the taxi driver pointed. I asked “Chitwan?,” but I got a negative answer and the agent didn’t pay attention to me at all. I waved back to the taxi driver. He came and talked to the agent, and I went back to the taxi with him. He drove me 400 meters down the street to bus number 697, where I finally had a seat.
The road was good as long as it went toward Pokhara. When it turned south toward Bharatpur, it became a horrible off-road full of suffocating white dust. The bus ran with the door and all the windows open, and everywhere inside the bus it was full of smothery dust. When we finally reached Sauraha, I found out the local bus station stood in the middle of the fields outside of the village.
I called my guesthouse, but they couldn’t come and pick me up. All taxi drivers jumped on me. In the end, I agreed with a jeep taking two other travelers to their accommodation to give me a ride to the Evergreen Ecolodge, where I had booked a treehouse. My room was called a ‘nest’ – a small wattle cottage with only a mattress on the floor. I also had a mosquito net, electricity, a small balcony, and a bench.
Sauraha was a village of the Tharu ethnic groups. It was situated in the buffer zone of Chitwan National Park (listed as a UNESCO heritage site). This is why tourism had exploded in the village and the place had countless accommodations everywhere. In Sauraha, it was normal to see elephants walking down the street, and it seemed there was also a rhino who had its daily walks through the village. In the evening, I explored Sauraha and most of the travel companies within the village center. I carefully studied the jungle activities and tried to choose the ‘best’ one. When I was about to go back to my wattle nest, an American girl, Lisa, asked me if I would be interested in sharing the price of a jungle walk with her (which I eventually did).
The second day in Sauraha
Short Description: I walked with Lisa and our two guides through the jungle all day long. We saw gharial crocodiles, one-horned rhinoceros, spotted deer, peacocks, and two leeches bit me.
Early in the morning, I met with Lisa and the agency’s guides, Ramo and Basanthe. We walked down along Sauraha’s main street to the Rapti River. At the river, the guides stamped our entrance permits at the ticket counter of the national park. We crossed the river in a primitive wooden canoe while a huge crocodile was peacefully floating in the water just fifteen meters from us.
When we reached the other riverbank, we had our first survival lesson up in a wooden observatory. If we met a rhino, we climbed seven meters in a tree or ran in zigzag; rhinos have a big body and can run only in a straight line. If we met a bear, we had to stay in a group, clap and make noise, but not run. Ramo had a big bamboo stick which he had used to fight with a bear a couple of years ago. If we met an elephant, we had to run into a thick forest where the elephant couldn’t follow us. Surprisingly though, if we met a Bengal tiger, we had to stay still, not move at all, not make noise, and keep eye contact with the animal; otherwise, it would run away.
During the morning, we walked along the Rapti River at the limit of the jungle. Ramo stayed in front of the group, Basanthe at the back, while I and Lisa were staying in the middle, carefully protected. A leech bit my leg and Basanthe took it off with a stick. After that, I had to put on protections over my trousers and shoes. Along the riverbanks, we spotted many gharial crocodiles from a distance. Gharials eat and attack anything and during summer, they stay in the water to refresh themselves.
We continued along the river toward a place where our guides knew rhinos came to bath. We eyed a rhino through the high grass and silently approached it. Rhinos have warm blood and when they are hot, they come to refresh themselves in water ponds near the river. Usually, males (bulls) stay alone, while females (cows) stay with their calves for 4-5 years. However, they come to the same pond and bath together. They are herbivorous and attack only to protect themselves.
At noon, we had a picnic lunch on a wooden platform built up in a tree next to the river. After eating our cold dhal bhat, we went into the jungle. We saw many spotted deer, we had to take off our shoes to cross a small river, and another leech bit my foot. We launched again in the jungle along a footpath with tall grass. There, Ramo had to walk carefully and keep his bamboo stick in a fight position. When we saw tiger traces in a muddy place, we quietly sat down, waited in silence, and hoped to see a wild animal. Nothing happened, though. No tiger!
When we returned to the agency, I negotiated a new activity package including an elephant safari, a ticket to Lumbini, and a ride to Sauraha’s bus station. In the evening, I had dinner with Thomas at the restaurant of the eco-lodge and tried the malai kofta (vegetarian balls in curry sauce with tomatoes, onions, and vegetables). Thomas was Lithuanian and he had worked at a bar in London. During winter, he was traveling through South-East Asia where it was warm and cheap.
The third day in Sauraha
Short Description: I went to see the elephant bath at the Rapti River and in the afternoon, I was on an elephant safari in the buffer zone of Chitwan National Park.
I had a generous breakfast at the eco-lodge (yogurt with muesli, eggs, toasted bread with honey, and milk coffee) and then I went to the riverbank to watch the elephant bath. The place was already very crowded. There were lots of Indians who quickly crossed the border for a short trip, and everybody was waiting for the elephants to come. I talked with a French guy who had just come from Lumbini and picked up the necessary information for my next destination. When three elephants came with their mahouts (caretaker), we started to take photos while the elephant was showering people climbing on its back.
In the afternoon, I went on an elephant safari in the buffer zone of the Chitwan National Park, the Baghmara forest. They checked my entrance permit at the counter office, and four persons got on a wooden platform with a fence built on the back of each elephant. John from the United States sat on my right, while at our back we had a Nepalese family. He talked on the phone during the whole one-hour ride. She suckled her baby girl who otherwise was crying all the time. And all these happened during our trip on the back of an elephant.
The mahouts guided the elephants along a route going through a forest and then descending to the Rapti River, where we found crocodiles when we crossed through the water. When we reached a meadow, a one-horn rhino was calmly grazing and had a white bird sitting on its back (exactly like in the National Geographic documentaries).
When we crossed the river once again, we saw another crocodile but didn’t fear as the elephants are massive big animals, tall and very safe. A group of tourists passed by in a wooden canoe along the river and waved at us. After that, we entered another forest where we saw monkeys with their infants in the trees and a herd of spotted deer in a small meadow with an observatory.
In the evening, all the world nations gathered under the mosquito net in the dining hall of the eco-lodge: Thomas from Lithuania, Barbara from Germany, an American girl, two Indian girls, an Austrian couple, and I lost count of.
The fourth day in Sauraha
Short Description: I rented a bike and cycled through the nearby Tharu villages. In the evening, I went to a cultural show at the Culture House of the village, where lots of Nepali came on Saturday evening.
In the morning, I rented a bike from the closest center to the eco-lodge, put my small backpack in the small basket of the bike, and hardly pedaled along the dusty and rocky road through Bachauli, Harnari, Tarauli, and Jhuwani villages.
The countryside road was not very appropriate for leisure cycling, but it was the best way I could get around to the nearby villages on a day trip. I completed two loops, one through the villages close to the Rapti River, and another one through the villages overlooking the Himalayas afar at the horizon.
It was a hot day, and the Nepalis looked at me with curiosity. They weren’t able to understand why I was cycling through all those dusty and bumpy roads. Children ran after me and inevitably asked me to give them something – money or sweets. When I failed to find the place where women were fishing with a net, I decided to return to Sauraha.
In the afternoon, I edited photos and took down notes in my travel diary. In the evening, I went to a Tharu Cultural Show at the Culture House in Sauraha. On a Saturday evening, all Nepalis came to the party and had fun there. Each dance consisted of a Nepali standing in the middle of the stage and playing the drum, while women or men were circling him during the dance. They had big or small sticks in their hands, pretending they were fighting, and all dances were pretty similar. At the end of the last dance, all Nepalis jumped on the stage and started to dance.
The fifth day in Sauraha
Short Description: I decided to try the elephant bath, and the rest of the day, I just relaxed.
In the morning, I went with Barbara through Sauraha and then to the river at the elephant bath place. Barbara worked with children with disabilities. She was during a Sabbatic, for which her salary had been decreased for the past five years so that she could be paid during her gap year. The following year, she intended to go back to school and continue with her job. She had been with a camper-van through the south of France. Then she was staying for two months in Nepal, from which one month at a Buddhist monastery.
When we arrived at the river, lots of Indians had gathered at the elephant bath place. I went to have a bath on a small elephant and enjoyed the refreshing experience. After that, we stayed a little more to see how the mahouts washed the elephants with a big brush for carpets.
In the afternoon, I went to the agency from where I had bought my ticket to Lumbini. I had to make sure the owner didn’t forget to give me a ride to Sauraha’s bus station the following morning.
Exploring Chitwan Jungle around Sauraha is the travelogue about my stay in the southern part of Nepal. You can find the version of this post in Romanian at ‘Jungla din Chitwan‘. If you want to read more about the trip through Nepal, here are all the Travelogues from Nepal (x12).
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