Nepali Times
It's a jungle out there


Planning to get away this Christmas and New Years? Tired of over-touristified beaches and gawdy wats? A 20-minute plane ride away from Kathmandu is the Royal Chitwan National Park (RCNP) Nepal's wildest and most-famous nature reserve.

And the beauty of it is that you don't have to rough it: Chitwan has some of the best safari resorts in the world. And they are going for a song. A Chitwan vacation deep inside the primordial jungles of the Chure Hills is a vacation of a lifetime: a place you can see and feel nature as it was originally created.

This is not just about getting a glimpse of the elusive Royal Nepali Tiger, it is about getting away from the chaos and disorder of the outside world. Here, the only sounds are of the cicadas, the mysterious rustle in the undergrowth, a heart-quickening shriek from across the river and a deep rumble in the jungle.

A few days of being pampered by the resort staff, taking long jungle walks with expert guides, canoe trips and elephant-back jungle rides and you feel your batteries are fully recharged. Chitwan this time of year is also a bird-watcher's paradise. The Siberian hibernators are already here flapping about along with the ox-bows of the Rapti River, honking proudly or nesting in gaggles by the reeds.

The Royal Chitwan National Park used to be a hunting reserve for Nepal's royals. They nearly hunted the tiger to extinction, luckily it was declared a reserve in the nick of time and the tigers are now back to full strength as is the Greater Asiatic One-horned Rhinoceros (hereafter referred to simply as the 'rhino').

This 932 sq km of land is situated in the Bhitri Madhesh between the Mahabharat and Chure ranges and besides the celebrity mammals it has rich wetlands teeming with birdlife (over 450 species), crocodiles, the fish-eating gharials and the endangered fresh-water dolphins. It is Nepal's first national park and was enlisted by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1984 paying homage to its unique ecosystem.

Stay at any of the resorts and you can either just laze around or take part in back-to-back nature trips. "Our programs are designed according to each guest's requirements, so they get the most out of their time spent here," says Olivia Taylor, guest relations officer at Tiger Tops Jungle Lodge.

If you insist on catching up with your inner soul, a few minutes of jungle serenity is enough. As the sun goes down on the marshes, the denizens of the jungle come out for supper. But remember you need more than luck to see the elusive tiger. Anna Caplyton has been working at the Temple Tiger for more than two months now and she has yet to see the cat. "Plenty of footprints, loads of deer, rhinos, wild boars and the rest, but no tiger" says Clayton, who hasn't given up.

The thing to remember in Chitwan is that you're not the only one watching. There are bound to be cat eyes fixed on you from the undergrowth.

Machan Wildlife Jungle Resort
Located 2.5 km inside the RCNP 40 km from the Bharatpur airport, this is one of Nepal's premier jungle lodges offering elephant and jeep safaris, jungle walks, slide shows as well as the local Tharu dance. It's run by efficient and friendly staff that make you feel at home and the chef doles out great desserts. There is a swimming pool if you want to take a dip and the elephant stable has eight-month-old Sani, whose mother is a domesticated elephant, while her father is a bull from the wild. That explains her temperament but she's cute.
One night US$110
Two nights US$ 220
(National Park fees and tax excluded)

Temple Tiger
Approximately two hours from Bharatpur airport, Temple Tiger has one of the best views of the park from the lodge itself and is located about 4 km inside the park right in the middle of a dense sal forest. Deep inside the forest, the jungle walks offer a good chance to see tigers and an abundance of birds all pointed out by experienced guides.
One night package $250
(National Park fees and tax excluded)

Tiger Tops Jungle Lodge
Nepal's oldest and probably the most famous jungle resort, Tiger Tops is an experience in itself. About two hours from Bharatpur and an elephant ride from Meghauli, it is an eco-friendly place using solar energy for electricity and heating, serving fresh organic farm products and also providing education for villagers. Trained and experienced naturalists tell you what to look for. Wild boars, elephants, even rhinos sniff around at the edge of the lodge. Mangalay, a three-year-old rhino has taken refuge in the lodge ever since it lost its mother in a flood two years ago.
Two-night package: $250
(National Park fees and tax excluded)

Tharu Safari Lodge
Owned and run by the Tiger Mountain group and situated outside the park, the lodge is inspired by the indigenous Tharu people who lived in the plains long before malaria was fully eradicated from the region. The longhouses are constructed in the traditional Tharu style. In addition to the usual activities, it has its own stable of horses and ponies as well as a swimming pool and a lawn tennis court. A school run jointly by the resort and Swiss Airlines is nearby.
US$ 200 per night (National Park fees and tax excluded)

Machan Paradise View
A half-hour drive from Bharatpur airport and located just outside the RCNP periphery near the village of Jagatpur along the banks of the Rapti, it is perfect for those wanting to spend quiet hours watching ducks and rhinos along the Rapti bank.
One night US$ 80
(National Park fees and tax excluded) 4225001,4245402,4245529

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)