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Nice days in Chitwan National Park!


JayRon
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I been a regular guest at safaritalk for some years now and really enjoyed it. Especially the trip reports are a standout, so I thought I thought I would try to do one. I have to say that English is my second language, so there might be some “strange words “and some wrong grammar, but I will try my best.

 

I know that Nepal isn´t India, but the fauna is pretty much the same, so I included it in the Indian forum. Hope it is alright.

 

In 2001 I enjoyed my first safari, not in Africa, but in Chitwan National Park, Nepal. Back then we (me and my girlfriend, which later became my wife) were extremely lucky and saw tiger, sloth bear, leopard and 32 rhinos in 3 days. This was the start of my obsession with the natural world.

 

13 years later we were back in Nepal. This time it was a family trip. We brought along our 2 sons aged 10 and 5. Our visit in Nepal was part of a 4 months leave trip(we visited Dubai, Thailand, Cambodia, Nepal, Singapore and South Africa) and in total we were 25 days in Nepal.

We arrived in February 2014 after we visited Thailand and Cambodia. Of the 25 days we spend 11 days in and around Chitwan National Park.

 

The Nepalese government closed all the camps inside the national park in 2013, so the only option was to stay outside the park. Last time we stayed in a small village Sauhara. From this town it is possible to arrange all your activities such as canoe rides, elephant safaris, jungle walks and jeep drives. Even though Sauhara has grown a lot since our last visit it was still a nice and quiet town. It lies on the banks of the Rapti River. The Rapti River is the border for the National Park, so from the town you have a good view of the national park. The national park is unfenced, so the wildlife sometimes wander into the town. Especially the rhinos.

 

Chitwan National Park covers 932 km2 and together with its buffer zones around 2000 km2. Most of the national consist of sal forest around 70%, and the rest is savanna and grassland. The main problem with the game viewing in Chitwan is elephantgrass, it grows up to 8 m. high! The local tharu people start cutting and burning the grass in January, but when we arrived it was still very high and close. Sometimes it was just like driving through a tunnel. (so when people complain that the grass is too high in Kruger, they should try Chitwan ;) ) Chitwan is most famous for being a stronghold for the indian rhino(also called the greater one-horned). The parks holds around 500 rhinos. Around 120 tigers and also healthy populations of sloth bears, leopards, 4 species of deer,2 species of crocs, gaur and a small number of wild elephants.

 

The first activities we booked was an elephant safari and canoe ride. It was cheap, just around 50 US$ for all of us. But as usual, you get what you pay for! The safaris were conducted in the bufferzone, this way it was cheaper. We knew this, but when 100 chinese tourist also arrived near the starting point for the canoe ride I knew it would turn out bad. First we avoided a large group, so we ended up with just the 4 of us and 4 Chinese. The canoe ride could have been fantastic; we did see rhesus monkeys, mugger crocs, chital and lots of birds. But most of the ride was ruined by one of the Chinese. He talked all the time, smoked, answered his cell phone when it ranged, couldn´t leave my youngest son alone (think he tried being funny), couldn´t sit still in the canoe, so it almost tip over more the once and was just plain disrespectful towards our guide. We and the guide told him more than once to be quiet, but he never got the the message.

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The elephant ride was a bit better, but being surround by around 20 elephants with loud screaming Chinese tourist wasn´t a highlight. And we only saw a few deers.

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It turned out that most of the Chinese (and all other) tourist are on a package deal, that is very cheap because most of the activities are conducted in the bufferzones. So if you paid for safaris into the national park, you probably would avoid most of the other tourist.

 

The next day we booked a full day jeep safari into the park. It was again pretty cheap, around 150 US$ for the whole day. And it included a driver and a guide. And the best thing was that only 3 jeeps were allowed on a full day game drive. Most were going on the half day trip, but not big numbers. Only around 10 other cars. That meant that we had almost the entire park to ourselves. Pretty nice!

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3.02.2014

We went into the park, had a fabulous day and some good sightings. Didn´t see a tiger this time, but saw 4 rhinos, hundreds of chital, sambar, rhesus monkey, common langur, boar, mugger crocodile and a big group of gaur in the distance. I wish a could post a lot of awesome pictures, but I only use a canon 500 with a Tamron lens 70-300 mm. But at least you can see wish kind of animals we saw. We also visited the gharial breeding center. Very impressive and we saw some really big ones, around 5 meters. Pretty amazing since they only feed on fish. A local guide later told us, that the gharials that were captive breed weren´t ready for the monsoon so most of them would be flushed all the way to India. :)

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The following days we went on a jungle walk. The jungle walks are like a walking safari in Africa, the big difference is that the guides are not allowed to bring any weapons with them. They guides receive training and are licensed from the government. They are only allowed a big stick which they use against the animals. But in a park with so many dangerous animals accident sometimes happens. One of our best guides were attacked but a sloth bear in 2012 and spent 6 weeks in hospital. He couldn´t run anymore, so I trusted him. :)

 

We also did a jungle walk with our 2 kids, but in an area which they never saw dangerous animals. They guides told us, that they also use this area for Chinese tourist, because they couldn´t control them. The chinese were loud and didn´t listen to the guide. So they had a Chinese Route!

Nice walk and great for the kids not being stocked in a car for a full day.

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The following day I went on a jungle walk, I got a company by another Danish guy. He was the first dane I meet in over a month. A really nice walk. The guides where really professional and friendly. Most of them have worked as guides for years, so they know the local wildlife. The highlight of the walk was seeing a group of 5 rhinos. Never seen so many together. Also saw tiger tracks and loads of deer. The guide was sure that the tiger was close and was probably watching us. Did also see 2 hornbills, pretty nice.

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I will return later with the last bit of my trip report, this time with Dhurpe(try google the name and killer elephant) :)

 

 

 

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@@JayRon

Thank you for posting this - a really interesting start - it must be great to see those rhino while walking.

We have been to Nepal a number of times but never to Chitwan (so far!) so I will find your report very interesting. (And your English is excllent)

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@@JayRon thanks for posting this TR, haven't read anything of wildlife viewing in Chitwan for a long time.

 

Your comments regarding the similarities between Nepalese and Indian species are interesting for future trip planning.

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Thanks for the comments treepol and tonyQ.

 

@@TonyQ Thanks for the comments.Nepal has a lot to offer, but Chitwan is my favourite, so next time go ! But maybe you have been to Bardia National Park?

 

 

@@Treepol, most of the wildlife guides I seen about India Wildlife always include a chapter on Nepal. And Chitwan is only a few kilometers away from the India border.

 

Before I continue I have some info about Chitwan I think is important.

Chitwan have only had 2 poaching incidents the last 4 years. Both times it was rhinos, and the last one was actually killed in the bufferzone. No tigers have been poached in 6 years. That is pretty amazing since Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world. The reason why it is so difficult for poachers to succeed is that in Chitwan there are 53 military camps. If you wanted the same system in Kruger you would need around 1000 camps!! When you drive through the park, you have to go through some checkpoints. Normally they are located 5-7 km from each other. No pictures from the camp, not allowed.

 

Chitwan in the morning. You can get an idea how difficult it could be to spot the wildlife.

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As I wrote in the beginning there is a small number of wild elephants in the park. Normally it is bull elephants that cross in from India in search of cows. Just on the border to Chitwan the Nepalese government have an elephant breeding center. There are around 15 cows. But they have no bulls, but the wild bulls sometimes find the way to the center. The only problem is that the bulls are very dangerous.

They have had a lot of problems with the villages around Chitwan and over the years killed a lot of people. The two most infamous tuskers being Dhurpe (which have killed at least 15 people and is named after a soldier he killed) and Ronaldo, only killed 4, and named Ronaldo because he is fast. Dhurpe went on a killer streak in December 2012 where he killed 3 people form the surrounding villages. The Nepalese Army tried to kill him (they reportedly wounded him with machineguns), but he disappeared into India. No one have seen him for over a year.

 

We heard all the stories from the guides, but didn´t think too much about it.

 

8/2 2014

We again went on a full day jeep ride. We really wanted to see if we could see a tiger(or a sloth bear). This we brought along our favourite guide Ishwor. He was very friendly and had a lot of knowledge. He was also great with the kids. He had himself been injured form a sloth bear. It almost killed him, but he survived and was back guiding.

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The first couple of hours we saw 2 gaurs close by (didn´t get any pictures) one of them actually mock charged the car before it disappeared into the elephant grass. We also saw a lot of deers and one rhino.

Some of the military camps in the park use domestic elephants for patrolling the park. When we approached one of the camps it was peaceful. There were some domestic elephants grazing around the camp, Ishwor then suddenly screamed “wild elephant, wild elephant!!” and from the elephant grass a big bull elephant emerged and he came charging towards us. Our driver JP raced the 100 m. to the camp and where we jumped out and ran into the camp. The camp was surround by barbwire and a big trench. Around us there was complete chaos, the military personnel which were outside the camp where running for their lives, others were getting the guns. Luckily the bull elephant stopped near a cow, the cow was tied near the camp. He really wanted her to follow him into the jungle, she really tried to get free, but to no use. All the elephants made a lot of noise. One of the soldiers then told me ” that bull elephant is the most dangerous is Asia, he is called Dhurpe and he killed at least 15 people, the last one 3 days ago in a nearby village”. They were sure it was him, because he had been tranquilized, where they cut his tusks. For the first time in my life, I just wanted to stop looking for animals and just get out of the park alive! There were some problems with that. Dhurpe hated cars and would normally charge them. So if we just tried to go back the way we came from he would probably charge. We didn´t feel for at race with a crazy elephant. He then disappeared into the jungle and we agreed to carry on with our jeep ride. The main problem with that was that we would need to go back the same way. For next 5 hours I didn´t really think about the chances to see a tiger, leopard or bear, but all I could think about was the crazy elephant waiting for us in the elephant grass. I tried to convince myself that he of course had disappeared(I told my oldest son this). We arrived at the military camp, from the distance it seem peaceful, but when we came closer we again were told to get out of the jeep and get into the camp. 20 minutes after we left the camp, he came back and he stayed there since. All the big guys from the national park had arrived including the national park vet. They were about to tranquilize him. They would then cut his tusks and put a radiocollar on him. We were not allowed to see this and were told to get behind a house. We heard the shot, and saw “Dhurpe” running into the jungle. The vet then waited 5 minutes and then they went after him on the domestic elephants. 5 elephants with 3-4 military personnel on each. We waited further 20 minutes and then we continued.

 

Dhurpe with the domestic cow.

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We were rewarded with a close encounter with another rhino, but mostly we were just all happy to get out of the camp. When we came out and our guides told the locals about “Dhurpe”, they first didn´t believe them, but when they saw the pictures they were convinced.

Some wildlife from the ride

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Some afterthoughts, I been charged by elephants in Damaraland, Ruaha, Hwange, but I have never been so afraid as this time, what made it even more scary was that our guides also were very afraid. And it doesn´t help that I brought along my kids.

In most other countries he would probably just be shot (like Kruger), but the Nepalese wouldn´t do this. The problem was that he was in a national park, so if they shot him inside the park, a lot of NGO´s would withdraw their (financial) support. They couldn´t risk that. They later told us that he went back to India, but I realized that India was only 10 km. away.

 

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Wow, that really sounds very scary and I´m glad nothing happened (this time). A "killer elephant" ... I expect Dhurpe is the stuff of nightmares for many people in and around the park.

 

Thanks for this report, very much enjoy seeing Chitwan, a park I considered visiting twice already (in combination with Indian parks) but for several reasons nothing ever came out of it. Good to read that they are not giving poaching a chance, and also that it seems to be much less of a circus than the tiger parks with so few cars around.

 

Looking forward to more.

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