Elephant Safaris in Nepal's Royal Chitwan National Park

Gorp.com

Nestled between India and China, Nepal has long lived in travelers' minds as one of the world's über-destinations for adventure. Its diverse landscape encompasses the Himalayas' snowy peaks to the north and the subtropical plains of the Terai along the country's southwestern flank. This narrow, long country balances 40 ethnic groups, innumerable dialects, and two of the world's major religions, Hinduism and Buddhism. Most adventurers understandably head straight to its much-heralded mountains and trekking routes. But exploration of Nepal's Royal Chitwan National Park, on foot or on the back of an elephant, will greatly further your quest to find true adventure nirvana.
The 260-square-mile Royal Chitwan, "heart of the jungle" in Nepali, was originally the royal hunting grounds for the country's Rana rulers. After centuries of being stalked, the park's dwindling wildlife found the protection it needed when Chitwan first became a wildlife sanctuary in 1962, then Nepal's first national park in 1973. The best way to explore Chitwan is on the back of an Indian elephant as you weave through the park's verdant forest. Some 43 species of mammals call Chitwan home, including the endangered Asian one-horned rhino. You may also see giant hornbills, striped hyenas, pythons, monitor lizards, monkeys, fish-eating crocodiles, deer, and, if you're lucky, the tell-tale orange flash of the elusive Bengali tiger. Try not to be alarmed when the driver—the phanit—strikes the leathery skull of your mount with an iron bar; they say the elephants feel nothing, although the elephants may tell a different tale.
A popular passage into the park is via the Trisuli River on raft, a three-day trip that will transport you between Mugling, easily accessible from Kathmandu, and Narayanghat, an hour's bus ride from Royal Chitwan's central area. The best rapids come on day one, but it is worth noting that this stretch of river is not Nepal's most enthralling. Shop around for a suitable outfitter and be aware that you can arrange separate accommodation once in the park. Nepal's rivers are justly famous for their extreme altitude drop and roiling whitewater. River rats should try one of the expeditions on the Sun Kosi or Karnali Rivers to experience the best the country has to offer, taking you to places even trekkers would be jealous of.

Published: 2 Aug 2002 | Last Updated: 3 Dec 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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