Welcome back to another blog post,
This week is following my trip on to Chitwan National Park. This was the place on the top of my list before coming out to Nepal due to the huge array of rare animals that are found here. From Tigers to leopards, elephants to the one-horned Rhino which is very rare indeed! They have Gharials, mugger crocodiles, sloth bears, a host of antelope, rhesus monkeys and langurs and a whole host of birds! So this was abject paradise for me as someone that has been in love with nature and animals since I was a small boy.
My only wish was that I had a better lens for the job, only having a 70-200mm as my tele lens was very limiting, so I apologise in advance for the poor quality in shots. I could decide not to show you most of them due to them not being to a standard that I am 100% happy with, but then I wouldn’t have much to show you. Also, despite them being not the best, I am still proud of them and they mark the early stages of my wildlife photography journey.
Upon arriving in Chitwan off of the bus, as always in Nepal you are bombarded with taxi drivers all trying to get you to take their taxi. Along the way to Sauraha where all the hotels are predominantly situated they always tell you that “they have a lovely hotel, and you should go and check it out”. In this case it was a pretty nice hotel. And for 500 rupees a night we had two beds with mosquito nets, a big room and even a bath tub, though it looked like it hadn’t been cleaned properly for quite some time!
All hotels in this area can offer all the usual tourist attractions; forest walks, elephant bathing, elephant walks, 20,000 island visit, canoeing, rafting and the list goes on and on. After inquiring about the forest walk at the hotel we decided to go and check out some of the providers in town.
Unless you are intending on spending some really decent time here (which I would recommend) then for your average tourist that doesn’t have the luxury of time will really only have the option of going through these tour guide companies. This has always been something that I’ve not been that keen to do, I have always liked the idea of trying to get away from other tourists and get off the beaten track. Unfortunately in this case however time was not on my side and needs must as the devil drives. And if I am honest it was not as bad as I had worried that it could have been. I had booked myself in for a half days forest walk which in hindsight I wish I had booked in for every day that I had been in Chitwan for, as this was the absolute best way to experience the environment. Nothing can beat being on your own two feet and walking through the forest in the same manner as the animals you are hoping to see. We also booked for an elephant walk, this was something that was very against doing for the ethical reasons, but it was the only thing that my girlfriend wanted to do. So I said that I would do it with her, this is something that I regret greatly, but more about that later.
At around 5pm on the first evening in the hotel a local guide took us for a tour around the local area, all hotels offer this service for free, and it was a nice introduction to the area. He took us to an elephant holding area which was a bit of a grim place. Lots of adult female elephants changed to wooden posts, one of which had a flesh wound to the top of its head. In a small clearing off to the side of this area he showed us a one-horned rhino that he informed us was sick, and so was wallowing in he cool water. These animals are very important to the local populace as they are one of the key attractions that brings tourists to the area, so they look after these animals very carefully.
Moving on from here we picked up the river running through the village an followed it down. From the distance we managed to see the two species of crocodile that they have here, the gharial and the mugger crocodile. Unfortunately I couldn’t get photos due to the fact that they were a LONG way away. Gharial numbers are suffering a bit in Nepal, which is apparently due to the fact that they often travel down the river in to India where they do not have the same protection that they have in Nepal. The mugger crocodile however is a lot more successful here, not being so specialised like the gharial’s that only eat fish. The mugger will eat pretty much anything that it can overpower. This also means that it is not quite so susceptible to environmental changes like the gharial.
The following day I was up early to head out for my forest walk, meeting in town with the ranger who would be my guide who went by the name of Mike. Mike made the forest walk special for me, though we did not see a huge amount of animals during this excursion (as is often the way) his knowledge of the animals and the environment was enough to satisfy me. Unfortunately for the canoe ride downstream it was not just me and my guides, but a big group of Chinese tourists as well which would have been fine if they had been able to be quite whilst on the boat. The whole time they were shouting at each other and screaming if the boat took on a bit of a wobble. It was due to this that we missed a close encounter with a gharial, as soon as it heard the Chinese ladies it dived in to the murky depths. We did see some beautiful birds though including some egrits and a lovely little white-throated kingfisher.
Unfortunately we actually saw very little on our short trip through the forest accept for a lot of insects, rhino apples and some footprints of a tiger and a rhino. What we did see however were some spotted deer and many many rhesus monkeys. But despite that it was still an amazing and fun experience, being knee deep in waters on the trail of a one-horned rhino is very exciting. This time of year is not the best time for jungle walks as the elephant grass it about 8-10 feet tall, you could be feet away from a rhino, boar or even a tiger and just never know of it unfortunately.
That afternoon we set off for our elephant safari, and like I said, this was something that I was not exactly excited about and something that I don’t really agree with. However in some ways I am glad that I did go, if for no other reason than to confirm all my reasons for not having wanted to go. Firstly it is possibly the most uncomfortable way to travel I have ever experienced, that may have also been due to the fact that as well as myself and my girlfriend, we were also joined by two VERY ample sized woman who had both my girlfriend and I hugging the wooden frame we were sat in. Also much to my GREAT displeasure I was sat at the back of the elephant facing away from the front, this mean’t that every time we saw anything, I in fact still saw nothing. This left me feeling very hard done by and not at all happy! I did however get to see a beautiful little woodpecker that no one else managed to see.
But aside from the woodpecker we spent a whole two hours on the back of this poor elephant, and we didn’t see a great deal. The only other animal I managed to see was another white-throated kingfisher that looked a little bedraggled.
So as well as seeing almost nothing or two hours accept the tail of an elephant and being painfully uncomfortable for the duration. My grim suspicions of how the elephants would be treated were unfortunately confirmed, every so often you would here a swish and a loud crack as the mahout (elephant rider) would use his long thick stick to hit the elephant on the head, more often than not for absolutely nothing that any of us could see.
So all in all this is not an experience that I would recommend to anyone and this is something that I would never do again, I was just left wishing that I had carried on my jungle walk for the full day.
The only other thing we did during hour short stay in Chitwan was to go to a place called 20,000 island, we were taken there by jeep with a tour guide that couldn’t really understand English very well at all, and about the only word that he could say was “yes”. He shall forever be remembered by me as “Yes-man”, as that was pretty much his only response to any questions asked. Despite our guide however this proved to be worth every penny spent! You are taken down a muddy track for the best part of an hour, stopping along the way whenever any animals are spotted and going through one or two security check points. Along the way we saw yet more deer and we also saw a small group of children diving off of a rickety old bridge in to the river. We also got much closer to a mugger crocodile which was a very thrilling experience, and it gives you a great deal of appreciate for how big and powerful these creatures are, even though compared to their larger cousins in Africa and Australia they are still small.
You get to the end of the track and the driver turns the car around, at this point I was thinking that we were just going to be returning back to Sauraha, however about halfway back down the track we stopped off at the actual 20,000 lake. I am not sure why it is called this and I couldn’t ask because Yes-man didn’t understand a word I said, however this place was amazingly beautiful, and it holds probably my favourite moment from my time in Chitwan. It was here that I had my first encounter with a Pied Kingfisher, this may not sound that amazing to any one else, but I love birds, and this little bird completely captivated me. I wish desperately that I had a lens that could have really captured its magnificence, but I didn’t and I had to make do with what I had. It was quite late in the day at this point and the light was fading, these were shot at a moderate ISO and at the full measly 200mm that my lens could manage and heavily cropped in during my edit, so they are not of the best quality.
The way this bird flies completely captivated me, it would circle around looking for fish in the lake making a very distinct and high pitched kawwing sound before hovering in the air for a couple of seconds and doing a completely vertical stoop and diving in to the water, only to emerge a few seconds later with a small fish in its beak. I was lucky enough to watch this happen twice whilst I was there, and I made my girlfriend and the guide wait for the second sighting. For me personally, this was simply the best moment in Chitwan and I will remember this for a long time. Since seeing this little bird I have thought many times about going back there and spending a lot more time in the area to try and photograph it properly, along with all the other animals, but this little bird is “the one”.
This pretty much concludes the short stay in Chitwan, I shall include all the other photos below.
Next week will be the last entry from Nepal and it comes from Bhaktapur, just outside of Kathmandu.
Thank you for reading.