Chitwan: Heart of the Jungle

Chitwan: Heart of the Jungle
Photo by Vincent van Zalinge / Unsplash

Location

Introduction

Chitwan, the fifth-largest city in Nepal, sits in the southern region and is famous for its stunning wildlife and natural splendor. Its primary draw is the Chitwan National Park, attracting thousands of visitors annually who come to appreciate nature's beauty and the indigenous Tharu community's way of life. This unique blend makes Chitwan a favored tourist spot, offering a variety of refreshing activities in its vicinity.

How to get there?

  1. By Road

The distance by road from Kathmandu to Chitwan is approximately 180.4 kilometers and typically takes about 7 to 8 hours to drive. If you are traveling from Pokhara, the distance is 102 kilometers, with a travel time of around 4 to 5 hours by road, though these times can vary based on traffic and road conditions.

  1. By Plane

It takes approximately 20 minutes to reach Bharatpur from Kathmandu or Pokhara, where visitors can then opt for local or private transportation to reach Chitwan, which is located 16 kilometers away.

Places to visit in Chitwan

  1. Chitwan National Park
a rhino walking down a dirt road through a forest
Photo by Shreyashka Maharjan / Unsplash

Established in 1973, Chitwan National Park (CNP) was Nepal's first national park and is situated in the Southern Central Terai, spanning 93,200 hectares across four districts: Chitwan, Nawalparasi, Parsa, and Makwanpur. This rich natural area boasts 68 mammal species, 544 bird species, 56 herpetofauna species, and 126 fish species. The park is particularly known for its conservation efforts regarding the One Horned Rhinoceros, Royal Bengal Tiger, and Gharial Crocodile. Chitwan National Park represents the last remaining natural ecosystems of the Terai region, encompassing subtropical lowlands nestled between two east-west river valleys at the foothills of the Siwalik range of the outer Himalayas. Its core area lies between the Narayani and Rapti rivers to the north, the Reu River and Nepal-India international border to the south, stretching over the Sumeswar and Churia hills, and extending from the Dawney hills west of the Narayani. It shares a border with the Parsa Wildlife Reserve to the east.

  1. Elephant breeding center
elephants under a shelter
Photo by Samrat Khadka / Unsplash

Nestled amid the verdant surroundings of Chitwan National Park sits the Elephant Breeding Center, a crucial site for conservation and a testament to Nepal's diverse wildlife. This sanctuary serves as a safe haven for elephants, providing visitors with a glimpse into the world of elephant conservation. Established in 1985 to protect these majestic creatures, the center offers an opportunity to interact with them in a friendly environment. Visitors can learn about elephant diets, eating habits, and other behaviors. The center includes baby elephants, allowing visitors to witness the playful interactions between calves and their mothers. Located just 3 kilometers from Sauraha, the center provides a close-up view of elephants and insights into their nature. It also serves as an educational center, highlighting the ecological importance of elephants and the threats they face in the wild. Guided tours and exhibits offer visitors insights into elephant behavior, habitat conservation, and the importance of human-wildlife coexistence. Tourism plays a vital role in supporting the center's conservation efforts, with visitor contributions funding research, habitat restoration, and community outreach programs. This support ensures the long-term sustainability of elephant conservation in Chitwan, making the center a symbol of hope for the preservation of Asian elephants. Through its dedication to breeding, education, and community engagement, the center embodies Nepal's commitment to conserving its natural heritage for future generations.

 3. Tharu Village Tour

brown wooden house near green trees and body of water during daytime
Photo by Raimond Klavins / Unsplash

Chitwan serves as an immersive cultural experience, offering visitors an opportunity to explore and understand the Tharu culture, traditions, and way of life. The Tharu community, residing in close proximity to the National Park, has a unique relationship with the natural world, distinct from other ethnic groups. Engaged in farming, livestock rearing, fishing, and hunting, they live in mud houses with reed roofs. During guests' visits, a knowledgeable guide accompanies them, offering insights into the Tharu community's lifestyle, culture, practices, and cuisine. This provides visitors with a deeper understanding and appreciation of the community's way of life and allows them to easily comprehend and connect with their daily routines. Despite their busy schedules, the Tharu people warmly welcome visitors, always finding time to greet you with a "Namaste" and invite you into their homes.

4. Tharu cultural Museum

The Tharu community, influenced by various lifestyles and cultures over time, may not dress traditionally or use traditional equipment during village tours. To offer a glimpse into their past, the community has established the Tharu Cultural Museum and Research Center in Sauraha. This museum showcases traditional dresses, daily items, historical photos, and more, providing visitors with a comprehensive overview of Tharu history and culture. The museum aims to preserve and present the rich cultural heritage of the Tharu community through its exhibits and artifacts, offering insights into their history, traditions, and way of life. Researchers often visit the museum to study Tharu culture, contributing to its ongoing preservation and expanding its knowledge base. Additionally, the museum hosts cultural events and performances, such as Tharu dance and music, enhancing visitors' experience and appreciation of Nepal's cultural diversity.

5. Chitwan Chepang Hill Trek

The Chitwan Chepang Hill Trek offers a distinctive journey through the Terai hills, providing a glimpse into the indigenous Chepang community of Chitwan. Once nomadic, the Chepang now lead semi-nomadic lives, engaging in hunting, agriculture, fishing, and manual labor in cities. Despite their transition, this secluded tribe has steadfastly preserved their culture and traditions across generations. The trek typically spans 3-4 days, with accommodation in homestays along the route. While the main focus is on immersing in the indigenous culture, the trek also offers captivating views, including a sunrise vista from SiraiChuli and panoramic Himalayan scenery. It's a memorable journey where visitors can capture the essence of the Chepang customs and lifestyle.

6. Devghat Dham

Located 20 kilometers from Sauraha, Devghat Dham is Nepal's most sacred site, spanning 54.34 square kilometers and featuring shrines, temples, ashrams, and an old age home. The area is filled with the sound of temple bells and devotional chants, creating a serene atmosphere. Many Hindus believe that dying in Devghat ensures a place in heaven, leading to elderly devotees spending their final days here. Beyond its spiritual significance, Devghat is a popular destination for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. The town's blend of natural beauty and spiritual importance makes it appealing to those seeking both spiritual enlightenment and a connection with nature.

7. Jalbire Waterfall 

a small waterfall in the middle of a forest
Photo by ashok acharya / Unsplash

Jalbire Jharana (Waterfall), located in the heart of Chitwan, is renowned for its natural beauty and peaceful atmosphere. Situated near the southern border of Nepal, Jalbire offers a serene escape amidst lush greenery, a cascading waterfall, and captivating landscapes. Visitors can hike through the surrounding forests and hills on trekking trails leading to the stunning 100-meter waterfall. One of its unique features is its suitability for canyoning, making it a top spot for this adventurous activity in Nepal. The natural rockslide and jumping pool add to the excitement, attracting thrill-seekers and adventure enthusiasts. In the summertime, the waterfall offers a refreshing escape, inviting visitors to swim in the natural spring. For travelers on a Chitwan Jungle Safari Tour, Jalbire Waterfall provides an excellent opportunity to pause and appreciate the beauty of nature. Whether seeking the thrill of canyoning, the beauty of cascading waters, or a refreshing swim, Jalbire Waterfall promises a memorable experience on your Chitwan adventure.

8. Bish Hajari Taal (Twenty Thousand Lakes)

Nestled in Chitwan National Park, Bish Hajari Taal, or Twenty Thousand Lakes is a hidden gem for nature enthusiasts and adventurers. This interconnected network of lakes and wetlands is abundant with diverse flora and fauna, serving as a vital habitat for various aquatic species, including rare birds, amphibians, and fish. As one of Nepal's key sites, recognized internationally for its wetland importance, Bish Hajari Taal attracts wildlife enthusiasts and birdwatchers worldwide. Exploring this area offers immersive wildlife experiences, with guided boat tours providing glimpses of the endangered gharial crocodile and vibrant avian species like the Oriental darter and greater adjutant stork. Besides its ecological significance, Bish Hajari Taal holds cultural and historical importance for local communities.

When to visit

The elevation of Chitwan ranges from approximately 100 meters in the river valley to around 815 meters in the Sivalik hills. Like other regions of Nepal, Chitwan experiences four distinct seasons: Summer, Monsoon, Spring, and Winter. There isn't a single best season to visit Chitwan, as each offers unique experiences due to varying temperatures and activities. During the monsoon season from June to August, visitors seeking adventure can enjoy the lush woods of the national park in the rain. Summer, from March to May, provides opportunities to witness wildlife cooling off in the river as temperatures can reach up to 35˚C. The coldest period is from December to February, with an average minimum temperature of 7˚C. Despite the cold, this time allows for clear views of the Himalayas and enjoyable riverside sunbathing. September to November is often considered ideal, with pleasant temperatures and a variety of activities such as canoeing, jungle walks, and elephant bathing available. Each season in Chitwan offers a unique and rewarding experience for visitors. 

Things to do

1. Jungle Safari: Elephant/Jeep

four person riding elephant during daytime
Photo by Devaiah Mallangada Kalaiah / Unsplash

Jungle safaris in Chitwan National Park offer a choice between elephant and jeep rides, catering to visitors' preferences. These safaris take you deep into the forest, providing opportunities to spot a variety of wildlife including deer, leopards, tigers, and wild boar. Bird enthusiasts can also enjoy spotting birds that inhabit the treetops with the help of binoculars. Safaris are available in half-day and full-day options. Elephant safaris typically last 1 to 1.5 hours, offering a compact yet memorable wildlife experience. Jeep safaris, on the other hand, can range from 2 to 4 hours depending on the chosen package or tour operator, with prices averaging between $30 to $100 per person. Jeep safaris are guided tours through the park's rugged terrain, providing close encounters with iconic species such as the one-horned rhinoceros, Bengal tiger, Asian elephant, and sloth bear. Skilled drivers navigate the park's trails, offering ample opportunities for wildlife sightings and photography. Elephant safaris, on the other hand, involve riding on elephant-back through the park's grasslands and riverbanks. This traditional mode of transportation provides a unique perspective and allows for closer observation of wildlife. Elephants are accompanied by experienced mahouts who share insights into the park's ecology and the behavior of its inhabitants.

2. Jungle Walks

A jungle walk in the dense tropical forest of Chitwan National Park offers visitors an adventurous opportunity to observe animals in their natural habitat. This guided activity includes safety tips from knowledgeable guides. While encountering wildlife is possible, carrying weapons is prohibited. Lucky participants may spot rhinos, wild elephants, boar, gharial, and the Royal Bengal tiger. The jungle walk provides insights into the natural behaviors of various animals, including mating, nursing, and fighting. However, the walk can be challenging due to the heat, so it's advised to wear sunscreen and stay hydrated. Park entrance fees are currently Rs. 2000 for foreigners, Rs. 1000 for SAARC countries, and Rs. 50 for Nepali citizens.

3. Canoeing

Canoeing along the Rapti River in Chitwan National Park offers a peaceful and immersive experience in Nepal's lush wilderness. As you glide through the dense forest, you can spot crocodiles, gharial, and water birds. Your guide will point out different bird species and you might even see other wildlife drinking from the river. With prices ranging from $15 to $30 USD per person, this journey combines relaxation with adventure. The Rapti River, originating from the Himalayas, provides a picturesque backdrop and supports a variety of wildlife, including the one-horned rhinoceros and Bengal tigers. Local guides offer insights into the park's ecology, enhancing the experience. Canoeing allows for leisurely observation, perfect for birdwatching and wildlife spotting. Each moment on the Rapti River showcases the beauty and biodiversity of Chitwan National Park, creating lasting memories for visitors.

4. Elephant bathing

Elephant bathing in Chitwan is a popular and enjoyable activity where visitors can watch elephants bathe, play with them, and even ride on their backs during their bathing time. Despite sounding adventurous, it's a beloved experience for many. The interaction between humans and elephants is fascinating to witness, especially when elephants playfully splash water from their trunks or even gently toss riders into the river upon request. Visitors can choose to observe this activity from the Rapti riverbank or participate for a more immersive experience. Elephant bathing is a well-loved activity in Chitwan, drawing many visitors to join in the fun.

5. Bird watching

a bird flying over a river
Photo by Colin Hobson / Unsplash

Chitwan National Park boasts 576 bird species, accounting for 65% of Nepal's total bird population. Each year, hundreds of migratory birds visit the park, with some arriving in winter and others in summer and spring. Various bird species inhabit different areas of the park, such as grasslands, forests, lakes, and riverbanks. Visitors can spot birds like Large Warblers and Bengal Floricans in the grasslands, while Pheasants, Woodpeckers, and Great Hornbills are found in the forests, often during jungle walks or safaris. Wetland birds like the Black-necked Stork and Kingfisher can be observed around lakes and riverbanks during canoe rides. Additionally, rare and endangered species like the Slender-billed Vulture and Oriental Darter inhabit the park. The cost of bird watching in Chitwan varies based on factors such as tour duration, accommodation, and transportation. Bird watching not only provides excitement in spotting rare birds but also raises awareness about conservation efforts to protect these ecosystems. Visitors' support of sustainable tourism initiatives contributes to preserving Chitwan's avian treasures for future generations.

6. Watch the sunset 

Picture a getaway in nature, unwinding at a riverside restaurant, watching elephants bathe, enjoying canoeing, and observing rhinos relaxing in the water. This dreamy scenario is a reality in Chitwan, where riverside restaurants offer a serene setting. In the evening, visitors gather to witness the sunset, savor drinks, and spend time with loved ones. The atmosphere is lively, with people dancing, singing, and appreciating the beauty of nature.

7. Cycling in Chitwan

Cycling is a great way to explore the surroundings of Chitwan, offering various routes that provide insights into the local culture and lifestyle. Visitors can rent bicycles from hotels or travel agencies and ride to destinations such as Tharu village, Narayani River, Bish Hazari Taal, or simply along the main road. Cycling on the outskirts of Chitwan offers a mesmerizing experience, passing through agricultural fields and small villages, providing opportunities to learn about the area and its people.

8. Tharu Cultural Dance

In addition to savoring Tharu cuisine and exploring the Tharu Village, visitors can enjoy a vibrant cultural experience through traditional dances performed by the community. These include Danda Nach (stick dance), Mayur Nach (peacock dance), and Ago Nach (fire dance). Lasting 45 minutes, the performances feature both male and female participants dressed in traditional attire, showcasing the community's unity and harmony. Through these cultural shows, the Tharu community shares their cultural practices and uniqueness with visitors, spreading awareness about their heritage.

Customs and traditions

Chitwan is famous for its dynamic local culture and a variety of festive events. Among these, the Bisket Jatra and the Tharu festival of Maghi stand out for their vibrancy and colorfulness, drawing visitors from across Nepal and around the globe.

Authentic Tharu Dishes one must try

cooked rice with vegetables on plate
Photo by Abhishek Sanwa Limbu / Unsplash

The authentic cuisine of Chitwan is a must-try, distinct from the offerings in Kathmandu or Pokhara. Local delicacies like Ghongi (snail), Taas (spicy-fried mutton), Patushni, and Dhikri with Sidra have garnered widespread acclaim. Ghongi, in particular, is not only about the dish itself but also the unique way of eating it- sucking the snail from its shell, which is completely safe. Taas, although available in various cities in Nepal, has a distinct flavor in Chitwan. This spicy fried goat meat is a popular snack, especially when paired with Bhujiya or Chiura and pickle. Patushni, also known as Khariya, involves deep-frying steamed colocasia leaves (Taro) filled with a mixture of rice beans or legume (black lentils) paste and spices. Dhikri with Sidra is a common dish among the Tharu community, made by steaming rice dough and serving it with lentil soup or curry, or even Sidra. Sidra chutney, a dried fish pickle, is prepared by mixing dried fish with rich spices, leaving a lasting taste on your palate.

Places to stay

As one of Nepal's top tourist destinations, Chitwan offers a range of luxurious hotels with diverse activities and services for visitors. Whether you prefer shared dormitories or rooms boasting stunning Himalayan views, Chitwan caters to all preferences. Many hotels provide pick-up and drop-off services along with complimentary breakfast.

Conclusion 

Chitwan presents a different aspect of Nepal, distinct from the Himalayas or urban centers like Kathmandu and Pokhara. It offers a mix of natural beauty, cultural diversity, and wildlife encounters, making it a destination worth exploring. From the dense jungles and diverse wildlife of Chitwan National Park to the tranquil surroundings of Rapti River and the enriching experiences at the Tharu Cultural Museum and Research Center, this region caters to every traveler's interests. Whether you're seeking adventure, spiritual enlightenment, cultural immersion, or peaceful retreat, Chitwan provides it all. With its unique blend of natural wonders, indigenous culture, and outdoor activities, Chitwan ensures unforgettable experiences. So, prepare for an exceptional journey and uncover the charm of Chitwan, Nepal's heartland!