Jungle Safari trek in Chitwan during the hot season
The first thing that hit me as we left the sunrise over the Rapti river and entered into the Chitwan National Park jungle was that it was still very hot inside the jungle. Normally it’s a shade cooler but with added humidity. In this case the heat seemed the same but had the added smothering quality of being that much more humid.
The second thing that hit me, one that I quite liked, was that we were not on any visible path. Chopping back dense undergrowth with his machete Pakaram was taking me on a genuinely new route it seemed. Kitted out with six liters of water, Nepalese brown bread, a block of yak cheese and a Nepalese apple I felt weighed down as we battled the undergrowth.
Am I ever happy? On the tourist trail it’s too touristy, off the beaten path and it’s too uncomfortable.
The truth is, this is as it should be and I was enjoying every humid, mosquito swatting knowing I didn’t have enough water moment of it. Rhinos here we come!
Tiger paw prints in Chitwan National Park
Bengalese Tigers do roam deep in Chitwan National Park. They are rarely spotted in this part of the jungle. Much less at this time of year as they prefer the cooler inner forest which also happens to be very far from the nearest human. Thusly I had no expectation in seeing a tiger in Chitwan.
So much to my surprise once we out of some dense jungle undergrowth and in some low-lying grass I found a hand rising up to my mouth. Pakaram raised one finger to his own mouth signaling us to be silent. Behind me the trainee guide, Shaan, stepped forward and broke a twig. It sounded loud and Pakaram didn’t look pleased.
He moved forward silently looking to the ground before scanning the area and signalling for us to follow. There on the ground embedded into fresh mud was the unmistakable paw print of a tiger. Up ahead more evidence. Tiger dung. Again, very fresh. Apparently it’s easier to spot nearby tigers from their excrement than prints.
Moving along in slow silence Pakaram examined patches of surrounding grass for evidence that something had passed through. It was a little nerve-raking as the grass is waist level and you honestly can’t see what could be lying in wait.
High elephant grass in the murderous humidity of Chitwan
We walked on and as the grass grew higher Pakaram finally broke silence and explained it was Elephant grass. We were now on a trail leading into an elephant grass plain which had the thick course vegetation reaching up to at least eight feet.
As we entered into this area the heat and humidity become overbearing. Something about the grass trapped all the moisture and heat. I was a soggy mess.
Make no mistake about it: at this time of year this is the hardest park of the jungle trek.
It was simply energy sapping to say the least. And that’s walking along a well-worn path. Thick giant green blades of course grass plains rising up high either side of us. There was a small wooden framed outpost along the way that we climbed to get some relied from the grass heat.
Only once up there the full heat of the day’s sun-baked us once more.
“Soon heat no problem,” said Pakaram. “Jungle coming up with river. Good chance of seeing rhino bathing today. Very hot.”
Rhino spotting in Chitwan
The guide was right. Forty minutes later and we were back in not so dense well shaded jungle once more. This is when we first spotted what looked like a compost heap on the jungle floor.
“Rhino shit!” beamed Pakaram.
Shaan went over to pick some up. He smiled. Yet again the best way to detect wildlife in Chitwan seemed to involve locating excrement. Leaving Shaan to figure a way to remove rhino crap from his hands Pakaram climbed the nearest tree of a certain kind to try to locate our loose-boweled one-horned rhino friend.
Coming back down we were once again signaled to go into silent mode. The jungle was thick. If we parted the wrong branches at the wrong time we could stumble upon a rhino up close.
Not a good thing as there were reports of a baby rhino in the area. And we all know how protective mother rhinos get around their young.
Rhino bathing in the river
More tall grass and one more tree visit when just like a pirate atop a mast Pakaram pointed out towards a muddy river. I looked through the jungle. Tall grass? I wondered what next?
Shaan stepped forward and Pakaram threw a twig at him to stop. What? Rhino about to charge or something else? This secret code of silence was nerve-wracking!
I’d previously been charged by a wild forest elephant in West Africa. It taught me the extreme raw reality of man vs much bigger angry beast.
Pakaram signalled for me to go forward slowly with my camera out. Either that or there was a sniper nearby and I was being sacrificed to him. Camera at the ready I squelched out into the river bank and eased as silently as I could through the tall grass.
As it thinned the river came into full view and there in the middle was our Rhino taking a cooling bath.
Watching a rhino in Chitwan national park taking a river bath
Aside from being slightly jealous of the lone rhino cooling off from the jungle’s heat it was a fantastic sight. Of prehistoric like girth and stature the grey beast acted much like a water buffalo cooling off. The odd ear twitch followed by a gentle shuffle of shoulder was about as active as it got. Aside from taking deeper dips every now and then as if in a jungle spa this was as good as it got.
We were behind the Rhino so I felt relatively safe as Pakaram reappeared and urged us forward a little more. Two birds were using the rhino’s back as a luxury foot rest of some kind. More practically they also fed off any annoying insects that might irritate a rhino during bathing time. A nice partnership.
With photos in hand I came to realize there really are only so many you can take of a wild rhino having a bath so we retreated back just as it let loose a waft of underwater bubbles from its rear end.
Something about Chitwan and defecating wildlife made for a good cross cultural laugh.
Mission accomplished in the jungle now to get back
There’s something about having come all this way, seeing what you wanted and then turning back which is a little tiring. Nothing better than a beast jumping out in the middle of the jungle to terrify you back into preservation mode.
A cracking of branches meant Shaan froze to the spot. Pakaram lifted his stick. Images of the bathing rhino’s husband coming charging through the jungle at us flashed before my imagination. Along with something to do with looking at trees that were near impossible to climb!
Another sound and near instantaneously there was a crashing of branches and we all jumped. I had my camera in hand but believe me I was not thinking of shooting photos more of dropping it like a dead weight. A brief glimpse of brown fur low to the ground and the mumbles of “Sloth bear” from behind and it was over.
It was low to the ground like a giant badger. That’s all I saw for a fleeting instance. Deer? Sloth bear? We don’t know. We didn’t stick around to find out either.
Best and the worst of a jungle safari trek in Chitwan
Going back to my post about choosing what trek to do in Chitwan. I’m very glad I chose only the full day jungle safari considering this is the worst time of year to go. Animals are hard to spot and the humid heat is at its worst.
I did meet a couple who went on a half day jungle trek who spotted a couple of rhinos too. So it’s not impossible there either. Just less of a chance.
A two-day jungle trek in this heat would have been too much for me to really enjoy. Considering I’ve spent a lot of time in jungles around the world it’s not a hugely exciting thing for me. For others the new experience might out weigh this.
I’ve written a full online travel guide to Chitwan National park. Do check it out for all the details on what to do, how to get there, maps, prices and accommodation.
The way back from the jungle
The way back was the worst for me. My six liters of water was not enough for the day so we had to locate an army camp and use their well water to re fill. Back in the elephant grass for nearly two hours was murderous. I take no shame in lying flat-out during our two fifteen minute breaks.
The highlight was of course seeing the wild one-horned rhinoceros bathing. However the other real highlight was actually the process of the jungle safari trek led by Pakaram.
The sudden call for silence in fear of a nearby tiger. The slow-moving stalking through the jungle ever wary of a rhino charge. And the sheer terror of thinking something is about to come tearing out of the jungle and kill you.
That alone was the real thrill of this jungle safari trek.
A good guide, the expectation of the unknown and the revelation of finding wildlife in the wild.
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