My Chitwan jungle safari: river boat encounter with a crocodile

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ September 3rd, 2012. Published in: Travel blog » Nepal.
Guide on a paddle boat going down the Rapti river in Chitwan

Paddling down the Rapti river at dawn in Chitwan National Park

Chitwan jungle safari treks come with several options

After living in west Africa for several years I’m not overly excited about jungle excursions. I’ve been in Chitwan during hot season which is another problem. I’m here because Africa taught me this is the best time to see wild animals. They should come out to watering holes now.

But this is not Africa. This is Asia, or more to the point Nepal. It seems the best time to see Wildlife here is in December or January which is dry season in Chitwan. I’m also told March is quite a good time.

Right now it’s very humid and the animals are deep in the forest. If coming to Chitwan National park June/July/August is not the best time unless you like the idea of melting in humidity.

With that in mind I had to choose my options carefully.

Popular Chitwan jungle safari trek options

After getting to know this area very well I found the best prices and so I sat with Ali my guesthouse owner and looked over my options for this time of year.

The tall lush elephant grass plains and thick jungle of Chitwan National Park

A mix of tall lush elephant grass plains and thick jungle in the humid hot season can make trekking tough in Chitwan: Choose your trek carefully depending on season and experience

  • Half day trek – you probably won’t see much.
  • Full day walking safari tour – Rhinos, birds, crocodiles are pretty certain.
  • Two day overnight jungle safari – Same as one day but with night safari to see bats.
  • Five day jungle safari –  same as day one but a higher chance at seeing a tiger.
  • Then came the half 4×4 jeep and trekking tours. The prices were crazy and my gut told me there was an air of BS about it all.
  • Here’s a full list of things to do in Chitwan.

Not knowing what an actual jungle safari would be like in Nepal and knowing how humid the jungle can get I opted for a full one day jungle trek. If it was good, I could always fork out the cash for longer trek later. I made the addition of adding in a canoe boat to take us down stream early in the morning to get in as deep as possible to the jungle.

Ali had mentioned there were some Korean tourists arriving that night and I could go with them instead of alone with a guide. The price would be considerably cheaper. I waited to see them first but arriving late I was already asleep for our early start.

Rapti river tour goes from group to solo

Bird eating along the Rapti River in Chitwan

Crocodile? I only see a bird …

Starting pre-dawn I met Parakram one of our jungle trek guides fully kited out in beige jungle pants and vest. Everyone was eager to get going. Except that is for the Korean tourists who were still struggling to eat breakfast.

I suggested to Ali that I head off first and maybe he could then tell them that they would miss their boat. It seemed to work.

First down to the Rapti river Parakram was arranging for thin canoes when the Koreans arrived. It again took longer than it should. Something about two of them still not being ready. This had disaster written all over it.

Rapti river shoreline

What? Over there? Where? I better change me lens …

I called Ali on the phone and said we were already an hour late and it wasn’t going to work out. I would prefer to go by myself tomorrow. After a brief talk with Parakram there was a hustle of action. The next thing I know it was me and Parakram alone on a boat going down the river. I waved bye-bye to the Korean group who were left with a new guide who had shown up.

Solo tour after all!

Travel Tip:

If there’s one thing I really wanted in Chitwan but could never find it was a good map. With that in mind I’ve drawn up a map of Chitwan that’ll show you how to get to the various locations of interest. Including the jungle trekking zones, canoe ride & elephant breeding center.

Spot the crocodile on the Rapti river in Chitwan

Paddling down the tranquil Rapti river Parakram began pointing out various birds along the shore. The boat rocked unsteadily as he shifted positions to point out things from his excellent knowledge of the area surrounding the river.

“Snakes, crocodiles and many birds are always present,” he said listing out some ornithological names. “There! Crocodile!”

I looked over to my right along the shore. Nothing. A white bird. But knowing I’m not the most observant at wildlife spotting I took Parakram at this word.

“There big crocodile!”

I spun to the left  and Parakram pointed to the other shore. He was right. I struggled with my 50 mm lens to spot it so switched to my 300 as it seemed nothing was going to be up close. Not a bad thing considering the size of our paddle boat.

Then just as I was changing my lens Parakram shouted again. “Big Crocodile over there!”

This time it was to our right again. Slowly slipping from a muddy shore into the river before I had my lens on.

“I missed it.”

“No, it’s up here now.”

“Where?” I said struggling to peer out at the distant shore through my camera.

“No there beside you.”

Camera down my stomach lurched as the dark spined back of a crocodile rose silently above the water a mere four feet from our little boat. I uttered several profanities in a hushed manner as Parakram paddled away from the crocodile.  Now with my 300 lens I wished I had my 50. A wasted photo but one heck of an adrenaline rush.

Crocodile tail in the Rapti River Chitwan

What the F$@#! It’s right beside us!! And I’ve got the wrong damn lens on again!! (I hate blurred photos, my bad. But this was far too close for comfort not to include: if you’re looking for close up photos of crocodiles try my post on Crocodiles in Palawan, Philippines)

I’ve seen and photographed crocodiles before in Africa and The Philippines. But never have I been so close to a wild crocodile in a small rocking paddle boat in the water. It’s a very different feeling.

Into the Chitwan jungle we go

Animal watching from inside the Chitwan Jungle

Something is watching us … can you tell what? (click to zoom in)

On dry land once again we waited a short while for Parakrams apprentice Shaan to arrive by paddle boat. Apparently due to the Korean delay I would actually be joining them on a “Guide training / and find something like a rhino for the Koreans to spot later” jungle trek. No objections here!

Both guide and apprentice gave me a rundown on what to do in the event of coming face to face with a dangerous animal in Chitwan.

If we spot an elephant we should back away slowly. If we spot a rhino we should climb a tree. If we spot a tiger chances are we’ve already been stalked by them and should be okay. But just in case we should huddle in a group.

Finally should we spot a sloth bear, the most dangerous of Chitwan creatures, we should get ready for a fight.

Apparently Sloth bears are fearless bears about the size of domestic dog who will not back down from any fight. In fact they will aggressively attack you until death. The two guides held up their mandatory wooden trekking poles and said the only defense is to hit them until they die. If you haven’t been clawed to death first.

We turned to a wall of tress and Pakaram said we were always being watched in the jungle. And sure enough through the dense jungle our first creature was there watching us enter its domain …

Coming soon:

Rhino’s in the wild and tracking Tigers in Chitwan 

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19 Great responses to My Chitwan jungle safari: river boat encounter with a crocodile

  1. BB Travels says:

    I love this kind of story. Paddle boat vs crocodile. How strong was the river? Enough to flip a boat?

  2. Hahaha! Now we’re even, here is my experience:

    Apparently, because of the word “girl gone wild”, it became one of the highest search keywords in my blog. :-))))))

    But it was just me trying to shoot a croc in its uncaged environment. :-)

    Thanks for the funny article which gave me good memories. In Agusan Marsh, I didn’t bring my 50mm. Wide lens is important, particularly when these creatures come up close and you don’t have time to focus fast (or shift from within the narrow banca). (Wink)

  3. Anil says:

    Good to know there are still places you can go and see real wildlife in the wild!

  4. Dave, good to see you found a way of avoiding the maddening crowd … reminds me of travelling the Pampas – the Bolivian Amazonian wetlands – by canoe amid masses of caymans, piranhas, birds, monkeys and a few dolphins … but certainly no rhinos.

    • Not sure if it was me who found a way or them. I don’t think it would have been the same with that group there. They clearly wouldn’t not have made it and I imagine the group would have gone back and we’d have seen nothing.

      Wildlife spotting anywhere in the world these days expensive. Pro’s and con’s as to why or even if one should see wildlife in the wild.

  5. Ivy says:

    Like Anil wrote. ‘it’s good to know that there are still places where you can see wildlife in the wild’. It must have been so incredibly cool! :)

  6. Debbie says:

    Creepy. I couldn’t get into a boat like that with crocs swimming around!

    It’s a deer!

  7. Audrey says:

    Hehehe that made me laugh. Probably NOT so funny when you are in a flimsy boat with a prehistoric looking carnivore (probably hungry) just a hairs breath away from you…

  8. Sue says:

    You’re alive & well for your next adventure Dave! & you saw more than I did! Remember Chitwan well, had my first Nepalese chicken soup there so fresh they wrung the chicken’s neck in front of me – nearly went vegetarian!!

  9. Cool you ended up getting a solo tour! Sounds like a cool safari :)

  10. Haha, just realized how unoriginal that comment sounded. My vocab suffers when I leave comments after midnight :)