Holy smoke,” I shrieked as the big brown rock in the middle of river Rapti suddenly moved and a lot of water splashed from it. I realised that it was a rhino cooling herself in the morning waters and she had moved when I got closer to capture the egret sitting on her back in my camera.
The next few seconds seemed like infinity as she fixed her eyes on me and I watched her through my camera lens. The hypnotic gaze made my heart beat faster, but as my boat moved away from her, the rhino feeling safe, returned to her mud-addled bath. I was glad with the private exchange, but also heaved a silent sigh of relief as I had gone pretty close to her in my bid to get a better shot.
Saket, the naturalist at Barahi Jungle Lodge, a resort in Chitwan National Park, Nepal, where I was staying, pacified me saying encounters like this happen and that I need not panic. But how could I be quiet when the magnificent creature in her natural habitat was so close to me? Anyway, I was back to my senses after a few seconds and now my camera went wild.
In the heart of Chitwan, endangered one-horned Asiatic Rhinoceros and the Royal Bengal Tiger roam free and look straight into your eyes if you have the privilege of getting up close.
Chitwan National Park, a UNESCO designated World Heritage Site, is part of the vast Terai region that forms the Himalayan foothills across India and Nepal. A total of 68 species of mammals, 544 species of birds, 56 species of herpetofauna and 126 species of fish have been recorded in the park. It is especially renowned for its protection of one-horned rhinos, Royal Bengal Tiger and Gharial. The park spans over 932 sq km and is full of riverine forests, honey-toned grasslands and marshlands.
There are plenty of accommodation options around Chitwan area. Barahi Jungle Lodge at Meghauli is one such property which takes pride in declaring itself an eco-friendly resort.
Jungle safari on foot
While on a jungle safari, I always have an itch to get down from the vehicle and walk along the hooves, paws, rhino footprints and match my footmarks with them. No wonder I was thrilled to have this raw experience at Chitwan which truly was a one-of-a-kind. Unlike the national parks in India, walking is allowed in the forests of Nepal.
While tracking wildlife on foot is exciting, walking in the jungle, the habitat of wild animals, is scary too. I don’t know what would have been my reaction if a 2000-kilo one-horned rhino or a big cat would come too close for comfort. Thankfully, as we started walking, the fear started subsiding and my eyes started taking in the beauty all around me. I didn’t encounter any of the big animals as I went in the jungle for a walk. It was only some spotted deer, barking deer and a few langurs that came up to say ‘hello’. And yes, some insects were kind enough to do ramp walk and show me their kaleidoscopic features.
The jungle was teeming with all sorts of wildlife creating strange dramas. I was amused by the sight of two male Babblers fighting for the lone female bird near the river. The victor coolly flew away with the female partner, leaving the loser hurt. I fetched it, gave it some first aid and then released it in the jungle.
During the jeep safari, we also came across the most common and familiar bear here, the sloth bear. But it rushed into the grasslands without posing for my camera.
The Chitwan excursion was spectacular. People who know me would surely be amazed that I don’t have anything negative to say about Chitwan. It exceeded all my expectations. It’s only been a couple of weeks that I have come back and am already planning my next trip in October.