Chitwan literally means “heart of the jungle”. In recent years Chitwan tops the list of things to do in Asia. It is a truly wildlife adventure of a different kind – jungle safaris on elephant backs or jeeps, birdwatching, canoe rides and jungle walks.
The Chitwan National Park is Asia’s best preserved conservation area, where wildlife thrives and their habitats remain intact. Only half-hour flight from Kathmandu, the park lies in the Inner Terai lowlands and consists of Sal forests, tall elephant grasslands, hills, ox-box lakes and flood plains of the Narayani, Rapti and Reu rivers. Enlisted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (Natural) in 1984, the park spreads over an area of 932 sq. km.
The park is home to 56 species of mammals, 49 species of amphibians and reptiles, and 525 species of birds. Wildlife found here include endangered species like the one-horned rhinoceros and the Royal Bengal tiger, gaur, wild elephant, four-horned antelope, leopard, sloth bear, wild boar, rhesus monkey, grey langur monkey, wild dog, small wild cats, and many other smaller animals. Also found here are cobras, kraits and pythons. The swampy areas and numerous oxbow lakes of Chitwan provide a home for the marsh mugger crocodiles. In a stretch of the Narayani River are found one of the few remaining populations of the rare and endangered fish-only eating gharial, or Gangetic crocodile. Also found here is one of the world’s four species of freshwater dolphins.
The park is a great place to watch colorful birds like woodpecker, hornbill, Bengal florican and red-headed trogon. Winter birds such as waterfowls, Brahminy duck, pintails and bareheaded geese are drawn by the sanctuary of the park’s rivers. In summers, the forest is alive with nesting migrants such as the fabulous paradise flycatcher, the Indian pitta and parakeets. Winter birds include migratory birds from Siberia.
A typical 2-nights/3-days jungle safari includes wildlife safari on elephants, canoe ride to watch the crocodiles and water birds, rural tour to view the lifestyle of the indigenous Tharu people, and nature walks to see the exotic flora and fauna. Apart from the jungle safari, the Elephant Breeding Center and Gharial Crocodile Farm, where these animals and reptiles have been successfully bred in captivity, are worth a visit.