Last of the sunsets by the river in Sauraha & Chitwan

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ October 22nd, 2012. Published in: Travel blog » Nepal.
Boatman comes in during sunset on the rapti river in Chitwan

Sunsets on the Rapti river bordering Chitwan National Park and Sauraha

Sunsets by the Rapti river in Sauraha

Sauraha is that town beside the huge tourist attraction Chitwan National Park. As such it caters accommodation and tourist services to everyone from 3-4 star guests down to the humble backpacker. And that’s about it. Welcome to my last night in Chitwan.

In the evenings there’s not that much to do. Indeed once it gets dark the town basically shuts up shop. Because Sauraha hasn’t really tried to expand beyond being “that town beside Chitwan”.

A walk down to the Rapti river that separates Sauraha and Chitwan National Park to watch the sunset is about the only thing one can do in the evenings. More than a tourist attraction it’s a great way to watch the sometimes bizarre world of Nepal go by.

Finding a place to sit down by the river in Sauraha

At the end of the main road in Sauraha lies the Rapti river. It’s a calm wide river that on one side has a dense jungle and on the other side a row of hotels, tables and chairs. The idea is that you can sit on the chair and enjoy the sunset over the river with the jungle in the background.

Empty tables along the Rapti River

All the tables and chairs are empty – but you still can’t sit here

Avoiding all manner of tout offering hotels, beer, hashish and seats I wondered if they also own all the tables running along the river front too? I walk to the end and find an empty white table to sit down on. A man approaches and asks me what I want to drink? I decline.

He comes back again and says the table is for his customers. I ask if he owns the land it’s sitting on? He puts on a confused face as he knows what I know.

His table really isn’t meant to be there.

He starts up a long spiel about his hotel behind us and before he continues on I get up put a finger to my lips and move on. It’s not worth the hassle.

The fact of the matter is most of the tables are empty. The hotel owns them. They are on public riverside land. We are both right. But it’s not worth the hassle to argue for a quiet evening. I just want to watch the sunset in peace.

Sitting with the boat men

The late afternoon canoes are coming in and the fishermen are tying up their boats by some large rocks. I finally have my place of solitude for the sunset. I’m a little early and well positioned to watch as random tourists come down the road for the over priced drinks at the aforementioned tables. An odd elephant and mahout saunter by. And finally the last of the fishermen silently come in.

At this end of the river I get friendly smiles from these fishermen as they walk past me to join some of their friends as they talk about the day. A few stop for a “Namaste” and ask the usual friendly questions of where from, where going, okay bye.

I enjoy it as I never have a problem with someone greeting me just for the sake of being friendly.

Then up by the white tables I see the tourists sitting down to beers and odd whoops of joy as an elephant and Mahout enter the river for an evening bath. It’s still all quite tranquil though.

Watching an elephant take a bath with his Mahout in Sauraha

Wading out into the middle of the river a mahout instructs his elephant to sit down into the water. The elephant obliges as the mahout stays on top of the elephant almost like a surfer on a board.

Elephant and mahout taking an evening bath in Chitwan

Elephant and mahout taking an evening bath in Chitwan’s Rapti river

The elephant lies on its side with only it’s trunk and large chest poking out of the water. The mahout stands balanced perfectly. Gently turning back to a sitting position there’s some trunk splashing as the elephant gives the mahout a quick shower.

The tourist crowd nearby rushes to the river’s edge to snap photos and clap. Some evenings these impromptu shows take place with a purpose. Other evenings like tonight it was just a man and his elephant taking their baths. As they emerge some paper rupee notes are handed out as if it was a show. The mahout isn’t that interested. It’s getting dark and he seems simply to be trying to get home before nightfall.

Sunset by the Rapti rivers evening show: elephant’s, camels and awestruck tourists

Back at my end of the river the fishermen are all in as the sun finally sets. More tourists are arriving, a little late for the sunset. But with their arrival the music is cranked up from the hotels and the atmosphere changes a little.

Camel in Sauraha

Yes there are camels in Sauraha

I’m thinking of what to do next as a camel saunters by. It takes me a minute to wonder what a camel is doing in Sauraha Nepal when I figure it must have something to do with the nearby proximity of India.

Two Korean tourist rush over to take photographs of the camel. They stand there with big grins and that little “V” pose. I see what’s coming next and look behind me. I am not alone. There are two older solo travelers set up in similar positions watching the show.

Back to the Korean girls and there’s a shout from a mahout that sends them squealing away as an elephant walks up right behind them. The camel grunts crankily and starts to graze on the grass. The elephant continues on his walk home. Show over.

Enjoy the sunsets, I’m going now

That’s it for Sauraha and Chitwan for me. It’s been an interesting and somewhat confrontational time here for me. Years ago I avoided coming to Chitwan. I’d already seen a lot of jungle and wildlife in Africa. The kind that isn’t frequented by tourists. Chitwan National Park didn’t appeal to me due to that more than anything.

In the off season it’s a dry/wet place with not much to do. Good for a book to be written or some solitude. Bad for independent adventure seekers.

On my return to Nepal It was surely a shame to miss out. So I went for it throwing all expectations to the wind. I approached it all more on a business level than for personal enjoyment. That was the right thing to do for me.

Sunset over the rapti river Chitwan

Sunset over the rapti river and Chitwan National Park from Sauraha

Highlights of Chitwan and Sauraha for tourists

That said, I also explored what it’s like to confront your own beliefs in tourist towns like Sauraha. Took a canoe on the rapti river Went jungle trekking in Chitwan to see a rhino. Bit my pride and took a couple of  elephant safaris. Learned about the elephant breeding center.

I also wrote a series of  free guides to Chitwan National park, including a guide on taking an elephant safari in Chitwan &  a guide to jungle treks in Chitwan.

After a sunset, I’d return to a very quiet little guesthouse with a generator and WiFi. It didn’t always work, but then that’s Nepal.

From a personal standpoint I enjoyed the challenge of proving myself right and finding out what it’s like to go against one’s own grain so to speak.

As a tourist I’d have to say the highlight for me in Chitwan National park was the jungle safari trek. More so due to having the opportunity to not be a part of a tour and the excellent park guide making things exciting.

Now its trekking season again. Only this year my boots broke apart before the trek not during …

Coming soon:

Everything breaks after nearly 8 years …

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15 Great responses to Last of the sunsets by the river in Sauraha & Chitwan

  1. Jan says:

    A fitting end to a wonderful adventure. You’ve proven there is always something to find, even in a place you were never to sure about.

  2. James says:

    Great photos, looks so peaceful!

  3. Jason says:

    Hey Dave. I’m slowly getting back to the wired world. I have caught bit’s and pieces of your Chitwan series. I’ve visited the place a couple of times over the years. Once with Liza and another time with a couple of mates.

    I did enjoy my time on both occasions and with a few years in between those visits I did notice a slight uptake in it’s popularity and it appears that it is getting even more so. (I can’t say I saw any camels though…)

    Those sunset images are exactly as I remembered it and on a clear day you could make out the Himalaya to the North.

    What I do remember strongly is how quiet the Elephants were whilst around tourists and then how loud and noisy they’d get when back in there holding area. (I’m not sure if you’ve written about that on pervious posts or not?).

    • Hi Jason, good to hear from you. Am nearly enroute to going off the grid again here too.

      Yep, Chitwan’s changed a lot. Both in the off season and peak season. One’s deserted aside from tour buses the others full with tour buses and people.

      The elephants are really quite. These days there’s a few wild elephants that were making noise near the breeding center but they’ve chased them back into the forest as they were coming in at night where the females were. So these days it’s all very “civilized”

  4. Malcom says:

    I can reiterate enjoying this series. Really enjoyed your insight. If I had a way, I’d pay you to go and visit out next holiday and give us a write up before hand.

    You caught me on a good day today. I don’t always comment, but always read. Keep it up.

  5. Delfi says:

    You make it all seem so easy. I struggle to comprehend such a journey. How to keep a mind active and stay the course.

  6. Jesse says:

    I basically learned from this post that you call the one that rides an Elephant “Mahout”

  7. Never have I watched an elephant taking a bath. Sauraha I think has those unique and fun activities that any other place cannot offer to tourists.

  8. Clay says:

    At least the pictures are truly amazing, thank you for sharing! Even in tourists’ places, the beauty of nature makes it definitely worth visiting

  9. Anamika says:

    I was Pretty SURPRISED with the camel! I did not know they had it there! O_o By the way, your pics look great! The sunset looks awesome and I would like to take a look at it there myself someday. :) Thanks!!

  10. Muz says:

    While planning for Nepal trip I come across your website (browsed it earlier also) and found it the most helpful resource for independent travelling around Nepal, especially Chitwan. Thanks for sharing such useful information!