No place like Chitwan

During my travels in Nepal I knew a visit to Chitwan – which literally translates to ‘heart of the jungle’ – was essential. It wasn't just the possibility of witnessing a Bengal tiger in its natural environment that fascinated me, it was the sheer unpredictability of its 932sq km of forest. Established in 1973 and granted a World Heritage site status in 1984, no trip to Nepal is complete without visiting Chitwan National Park.

Day 1

I travelled to Chitwan by bus, arrived at Sauraha’s delightful Hotel WestWood and was greeted with a hearty dal bhat meal – giving me the fuel I needed for the day of activities ahead! I was briefed by my experienced Tharu guide on my two-day programme and before I knew it, we were in a small wooden canoe rowing down the Rapti River surrounded by mugger crocodiles basking in the midday sun. As two beautiful white-throated kingfishers flew overhead my guide told me that over 540 species of birds have been identified in the park. Next was the jungle safari… on foot. Although my guide knew the jungle inside out, I could not help but feel pangs of adrenaline as we hiked deeper into this lush labyrinth.

After thirty minutes of walking my guide told me he would ‘be right back’ as he went and checked a watering hole for wildlife. As he disappeared I soon realised that I was in the jungle by myself and for a few moments I felt totally one with nature, a liberating – if not slightly unnerving – experience.

When he returned, we walked further and saw plenty of spotted deer, wild boar and exotically coloured birds but nothing had quite prepared me for the family of sloth bears. At first they seemed completely disinterested in us but when my camera flashed, the situation immediately changed and out came the mother bear’s sickle-shaped claws. The fear knocked me sideways but my guide controlled the situation beautifully and soon we were petting baby elephants at the Elephant Orphanage. The diversity of my two-hour trek in the jungle was both visually and mentally overwhelming.

Day 2

Up early for elephant ride. Three others and myself rode on a rather frisky young elephant that had yet to learn the rules of the road! This elephant’s occasional need for speed certainly made for amusing viewing amongst other tourists who were happily plodding along on the more veteran mammals. However, once this vast grey creature calmed down I was able to take in sights I had only previously dreamed of. We crossed the river on elephant back and saw sambar deer, red muntjac and plenty of mischievous rhesus monkeys.

The humidity of the jungle was intense so next stop was the elephant bath. Roars of laughter from tourists as the elephants super soaked them with the murky river water! Once dry from my shower with a difference, I was driven to Bharatpur on the banks of the Narayani River. I stayed at the luxurious Bharatpur Garden Resort where I reflected on my two-day experience at one of the best wildlife viewing destinations in Asia.

I felt a huge sense of achievement as I had thrown myself completely into the unknown, putting my inhibitions to one side in an attempt to absorb the vast array of biodiversity this place has to offer. There is certainly nowhere else in the world quite like Chitwan and with no tiger sightings this time there is every reason to return to this incredible place.

Louise Watsham left her London based job to pursue her dreams of being a travel writer. She now lives and works in Pokhara