Chitwan National Park is situated in a plain at the foot of the Himalayas, right on the border to India. The area in which the park is located is called Terai and has not only the highest precipitation levels, but is also the warmest and most forested part of Nepal. Once, Terai was sparsely populated, hard to reach and dominated by thick forests, swamps and swarms of mosquitoes. Wild animals lived here and the malaria risk was omnipresent. Still, it was the favorite hunting ground for Nepal’s wealthy as well as monarchs from abroad and they arrived in droves from Kathmandu to hunt rhinos, elephants, bears, tigers and leopards when they were still plentiful here.
After much destruction and heavy agriculture in the area, the Nepalese government declared the former hunting grounds in Terai the first national park in the country and today, visitors can luckily once again enjoy the jungle landscape and its fauna. In fact, Chitwan National Park – the name literally means “Heart of the Jungle” in Sanskrit - has become one of the most spectacular sights in Nepal. The jungle is left completely natural, with a constantly changing vegetation due to flooding and erosion by the river Rapti. Of particular interest to visitors are the Bengal Tigers, which thanks to this park, were just barely saved from extinction. Their population has recovered from only 25 animals to about 100 tigers, but it is still extremely rare to spot them in the dense jungle foliage. The population of rhinos has grown even more to over 500 animals and there are now so many, that some of them could be relocated to other parks. Apart from the rhinoceros, the Bengal Tigers share their habitat with hundreds of other species, among them 40 other cat types such as the Bengal Cat and leopards, Tiger Pythons, King Cobras, Yellow Headed Turtles, Sloth Bears, Golden Jackals and a myriad of insects that haven’t even been fully catalogued yet.
There is regular bus service from the capital Kathmandu or from Pokhara to a stop called Chitrasali about five kilometers outside the village of Sauraha, where the national park entrance is located. The journey takes about 6 to 7 hours and the busses leave from the Thamel end of Kantipath in Kathmandu and from the main bus station in Pokhara. From Chitrasali, jeeps take the visitors the rest of the way. It’s also possible to fly to Bharatpur and take a taxi for the remaining 10 kilometers.