Category Archives: Nepal

A walk in the wild at Chitwan National Park

(By Ankita)

It was during a wildlife sojourn in Pench, Madhya Pradesh that I first heard about a walking safari. Over a mesmerising bush dinner in the jungle, the naturalist Chinmay regaled us with tales of a German couple who quickly climbed a tree when they realised a tiger was nearby, and his own back injuries due to a surprise rhino attack in Chitwan National Park, Nepal. It was these accounts that played on my mind, as I embarked on my first walking safari in the very same park, courtesy the staff of Barahi Jungle Lodge.

Early morning boat ride across the Rapti River
Early morning boat ride across the Rapti River

We convened for some aromatic French press coffee and cookies at 8:30 AM. Even at that hour, the lodge was shrouded in thick fog, the cool temperature making us glad for the protection of our jackets. A quarter of an hour later, we were at the banks of the Rapti River, ready to cross over to the forest and begin our adventure. As we pulled away from the lodge, we saw what looked like dried logs lying on the slope leading to the river. But on closer inspection, they revealed themselves to be ghariyals, a crocodilian reptile known for its long, pointed snout.

A ghariyal
A ghariyal

The late winter fog hung over the river, turning the other boats into shadowy silhouettes and the way ahead into curtains of veiled mystery. But the boatman and the naturalist Saket – they didn’t fail to see a grey shape in the distance that spelt both danger and excitement. I grabbed the binocular beside me and feasted on the beautiful sight of a grown rhino sipping water from the river.

A rhino at Rapti River, Nepal

The only problem was that it was right on our path to the forest and there was no way to go around it, without risking a charge. We drew closer and closer, hoping against hope that the rhino would note our presence and move out of the way. I watched through my camera lenses as the rhino turned to look at us. There seemed to be a few moments of indecision and then the great horned creature went splashing through the water to safety, sending a million droplets of water into the foggy air. The whole surreal episode left us with renewed excitement for our upcoming tryst with the forest.

We climbed up an incline to plunge straight into the ‘rivering forest’, the part of Chitwan National Park bordering the Rapti River. The sheer thrill of walking through the wild coursed through me as dried leaves crunched beneath our feet, the trees formed a web of greenery whenever I looked up, and secret calls pierced the air intermittently. This was how our ancestors lived, I mused; wandering through forests and settling down for a meal of scavenged food in a natural clearing.

Wild flowers
Wild flowers

One cannot hope to spot too many birds on a walking safari, as the vantage point is not ideal for getting a view of them through the thick foliage. But we could certainly hear them. The ground was strewn with red cotton silk flowers, hill glory bower, poisonous giant milkweed and bright orange flame of the forest. Every now and then, we’d almost walk into a spider web, but for Saket, who’d stop and point out the little creator in the centre of the web. Spotting butterflies was a much more fruitful exercise and we pursued a fair few, including the cabbage white and the great Mormon. When you’re on a jeep or elephant safari, you barely look at the ground but on a walking safari, you are free to peer at rhino apples, called such because they are highly favoured by rhinos (but not fit for human consumption!) and little red sindure berries, which give off a colour akin to the ‘sindoor’ that married Hindu women smear on their foreheads. There are over 600 Indian rhinoceros in Chitwan National Park, so it came as no surprise that most of the ground was covered with mounds of their excreta! Incidentally, rhino excreta is supposed to have medicinal benefits for ailments such as cough and cold.

A clearing in the forest
A clearing in the forest

Presently, we reached a 360 degree clearing that allowed us an excellent 360 degree view of the forest. It was the perfect spot to assuage our rumbling tummies. Saket and the local guide busied themselves with unpacking the breakfast while we rested our walking sticks against an enormous fig tree and found a nice big log to sit on. Chitwan National Park is full of fig trees whose trunks are as massive as walls, and tall clusters of sal trees in patches. Interestingly, stranger figs are parasites, often wrapping themselves around the host tree until it is dead.

We enjoyed a charming breakfast of sandwiches, muffins and fruits, curated by Barahi Jungle Lodge, in the midst of the forest, possibly watched by creatures safely camouflaged by the vegetation. When we’d finished and packed up, careful not to leave behind any signs of our presence, the fog had cleared almost completely. It was mid-morning by now and we were halfway through our safari. And that was when we had the most exciting experience of the day – an encounter with a mother-daughter rhino duo! Our guide and naturalist spotted them in the distance, just in time to avoid a potentially unsafe confrontation. “Hide, hide!” they whispered, as we contemplated how we’d been sharing the clearing with the rhinos all this while without knowing it!

Watching the rhinos from our hiding spot
Watching the rhinos from our hiding spot

We stood among the trees, well out of the way of the rhinos. “They’ve smelt us for sure,” Saket said, as the creatures looked around curiously before resuming their grass munching. It was a while before they started moving and we watched in silent excitement as they walked by slowly, quite oblivious to the effect they were having on us. While rhinos look peaceful enough, they can weigh up to three tons run at 40 km per hour and cause significant injuries with their horns. So it was a good thing our friends that day were more intent on finding breakfast than chasing us way!

The eerie Nandbauzu Lake
The eerie Nandbauzu Lake

It’s not just the prospect of bumping into predators and being watched by strange pairs of eyes that make a walking safari at Chitwan National Park deliciously spooky. It’s also the presence of places like the Nandbauzu Lake, marked as the location of the suicides of two sisters in law. ‘Nandbauzu’ means sister in law in Nepali. The mossy, tree-framed lake looks peaceful and welcoming but chills are bound to run down your spine when you hear tales of the tragic deaths that occurred here and the subsequent haunting. One other story Saket told us was of the ferocious Kanchirua, a killer rhino responsible for the demise of at least ten people. He was such a terror that the forest department tried to relocate him. But Kanchirua returned, and lived to the ripe old age of 43. We were thus suitably awed when after some scouting and retracing of steps, we came upon the site of his remains. I had never seen a rhino’s skeleton so closely before, and nothing will erase the sight of the late Kanchirua’s magnificent skull and bones.

The remains of Kanchirua
The remains of Kanchirua

There are several military outposts in Chitwan National Park and we had to be ready with our permits whenever a group of patrolling officers accosted us. Poaching used to be a menace but the numbers have come down significantly thanks to their vigilance. We also waved at other guests occasionally. But by and large, it felt like we were all alone in the dark, whispering forest. Once or twice, we fell off the designated route in pursuit of a bird or animal but finding shortcuts and alternate routes was equally exciting. On our way back to the lodge, we glimpsed a herd of deer through the foliage. Our guides could hear their calls though I couldn’t. Thus ended my first walking safari. If you have more time and stamina, Barahi Jungle Lodge will arrange a day-long safari that takes you through the village as well, where you could enjoy a local meal. We however, thanked the forest for protecting us and returned to the lodge for a sumptuous lunch, followed by bathing in the river with Sundarkali, a grand old elephant.

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Barahi Jungle Lodge: Primeval Nepal

In another country
But one that feels like home
From the blankets of green to the drongo’s trajectory
Everything echoes of the forests I used to roam.

We move through life craving new experiences, but all the time unconsciously, seeking something that resonates with that which we already know and love. When I first encountered the forest, it wasn’t like anything I’d ever known. I’d been born and brought up in one of the world’s largest, richest and most populous cities after all. Yet, I knew I was home. The trees, the birds and the wilderness struck a primeval chord deep within my soul. That was when I realised that cities aren’t the natural habitat of humans either, a fact we are often lost to. And that’s why the mind quietens, the soul sings and the body rejoices in the scent of the wild when one is in the jungle. We’ve all left fragments of our selves with the trees but lucky for us, they are loyal gatekeepers.

I exited an airplane and found myself in Kathmandu airport, along with numerous other Indians, Nepalis and the odd white-skinned traveller. Catching a domestic flight to Bharatpur was like a mini-adventure. These are small and chaotic airports and while some staff speak a smattering of Hindi, you can’t really count on it. But the flight itself was twenty minutes of stunning mountain vistas and the best view of the Everest I could ever have hoped for. We flew higher than any bird and we towered over the highest creations known to man. I felt blessed to be in Nepal and even more blessed to be venturing into the Terai, the subtropical region known for its rich biodiversity.

A lilting breeze
Nudges the wooden chime into motion
The sweet cries of Tharu children
Enhance the rustic notion.

The first thing I look at when I enter any room, is the verandah. It is my own private window to the world, a limbo of sorts, where I’m home and still flirting with the outdoors. The verandah of my cottage at Barahi Jungle Lodge came with a pretty wooden chime that tinkled in the morning breeze and sent me rushing for pen and paper. I saw a jackal peek from between the bushes on one occasion and a bunch of local children enjoying boisterous games on another. Beyond the woods lay the Rapti River which is arguably the best part of the lodge. The ethereal boat rides in the morning fog and the dazzling sunsets unfolding over its shallow water will not be easily forgotten.

I enjoyed wonderful French press style coffee in my room, thanks to the fragrant powder and plunger the lodge provided. Funny little frogs sat in sockets carved into the wall behind my bed, staying guard while I slept. The colours of the decor were borrowed from the earth and the elegant simplicity of the cottage gave me restful sleep and much poetic inspiration. The day we arrived, we caught a last glimpse of the luxurious pool before Meghauli found itself in the grip of darkness. But darkness was good, because it meant we’d get to sit by a bonfire and watch a series of beautiful Tharu dances, compered by the multi-talented in-house naturalist Saket Shrouti. They weren’t professional dancers – mainly members of the staff but their joyous faces and the stories interwoven into the performances were such a pleasure to witness. In the end, we broke into dance ourselves, while the women crooned softly into the night in lieu of recorded music.

Tharu dance at Barahi Jungle Lodge

A jackal peeks from between the bushes
While Chitwan forest stands sentry
Clouds of fog float over the Rapti River
What is this if not nature’s poetry?

Truth be told, we spent less simply soaking in the beauty of the lodge than we’d have liked. But what could we do, the treasures of Chitwan National Park were hard to resist and there were so many things to do, like bathing Ranikali, the elephant who enjoyed a good scrub, going on a walking safari and hunting for the remains of legendary rhinos, watching seabirds in flight and lazing crocodiles on a boat safari, visiting the local Tharu community and being treated to a peacock dance in the middle of the forest. But there was one night when I felt the spirit of the lodge come alive, as truly as the flames of the crackling bonfire. Varun Kumar, the respected manager of the lodge and Saket put together a glorious bush dinner for me and a few other guests. We tried the local beer Gorkha, talked about the transience of life and allowed the trance music to seep into our senses. It was my second night in Nepal and I was so glad there were two more before I left the Terai.

Sunrise at the lodge
Sunrise at the lodge

One morning, we took a birding tour through the lodge and in a clearing close to the river, we found a treasure trove of winged beauties, all fluttering around the cotton silk trees with their vivid red and orange blooms. Butterflies sporting enticing colours and patterns flew restlessly, pausing only for a moment or two, while we scrambled for our cameras. On our way back to the lodge, we chanced upon the living enclosure of the in-house elephants. They were feeding on their favourite ‘sandwiches’ rolled in hay that the elephants expertly untied and shook off with their nimble trunks. Food at the lodge was a melange of Indian, Thai, Chinese and Nepali cuisines but what I loved most was the sumptuous Nepali thali with many varieties of vegetables, rice, roti, the ubiquitous saag preparation, yoghurt, Nepali tomato chutney and dessert.

The blissfulness of Barahi Jungle Lodge extends far beyond the lodge itself. The neighbouring river, the surrounding forests and their exotic denizens are as much a part of the experience. While I’ll reserve the wildlife safari tales for another day, I’ll leave you with this beautiful video of a sunset we witnessed at the confluence of the Rapti and Narayani Rivers after a mellow boat ride. The wind blew fiercely, perhaps to compete with the passion of the setting sun. I stood on the edge of the cliff, listening to the merry sound of the water flowing between the pebbles. The river was far below me, flanked by a little stretch of white sand. It was enough to create the illusion of being at sea. But where we were was even more magical – the meeting point of two beautiful rivers, both reflecting the flaming sun. Two glasses of wine later, everyone else returned to the lodge. But we remained sitting there, unwilling to leave that world of glowing saffron behind. I might have never left, but for the promise of more adventures the following day.

Practical information

Barahi Jungle Lodge
Courtesy: Barahi Jungle Lodge

Barahi Jungle Lodge at Meghauli, Nepal is a premier wildlife luxury resort owned and operated by Pugdundee Safaris. All cottages at the lodge face the Rapti River and one has to cross the river to reach Chitwan National Park, a World Heritage Site. The park is best known for its rhino population. Read my concise TripAdvisor review here. All the activities mentioned in this post were organised by the lodge. Rooms begin at Rs 16000 per night.

  • Address: Andrauli, Meghauli-1, West Chitwan, Nepal
  • Bookings: http://www.barahijunglelodge.com/contact-us.html
  • How to reach: Fly to Bharatpur airport and then it’s an hour long drive to the lodge.
  • Best for: Wildlife enthusiasts and couples and families looking to relax in the lap of nature. A minimum of two nights stay is highly recommended.
  • When to go: Chitwan National Park is open throughout the year.

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