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We’re going on a rhino hunt!

Nepal day five

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In Chitwan National Park

Neither of us had slept especially well. The bed linen was slightly damp feeling and the sound of music from the nearby village hadn't helped. But we were up promptly when the alarm went off at 6.00, ready for breakfast at 6.30 and to set off on a safari drive at 7.00. And boy was it worth the early start!

Some years ago we were in Ranthambore NP in Rajasthan on my birthday and I hoped for tigers; we found one! Now here we were in Nepal and I was hoping for a birthday rhino; we found five! But I am getting ahead of myself...

Chitwan National Park was established in the 1970s in an area that was previously a favourite hunting ground for Nepal's ruling classes. They came to shoot tigers, rhinoceroses, elephant, leopards and sloth bears. Today’s visitors also come to shoot these animals, but thankfully with cameras rather than guns. Today the park has the second largest population of single-horned Asiatic rhinoceros in the world. And while poaching is still a problem here, in recent years the number of rhinos has increased thanks to strong policing in the park, from around 300 in the 1980s to 605 when last counted in 2015. There are also tigers here (though we weren’t to see any) and many other mammal and bird species.

Our safari drive

In addition to me and Chris there were just two others on the drive, another English couple Dorcas and Norman. When we set out it was misty, or rather, we were in moist low-lying cloud. It lent a mysterious air to the tracks through the forest but meant that photographing the wildlife was a challenge. We encountered jungle fowl, a peacock, several spotted deer and a wild boar, all partly obscured in the mist.

Jungle fowl


Spotted deer

Wild boar

Then we came across a rhino, an adult male, also half-hidden by mist. No matter, this was exciting, and I took quite a few barely-successful photos!

Rhino in the mist

Maybe a video would show him more clearly? No, but it would capture the sound of him eating, as well as the other forest noises.

Eventually we moved on, the mist slowly thinning. We saw more deer, including a muntjac, and some rhesus monkeys, the latter moving too quickly to be photographed.

Muntjac and spotted deer

Then we passed another jeep and it seemed to me that the guides were exchanging information about sightings. And probably they were, as soon afterwards we found rhino number two, another adult male, in the water. We were much closer than we had been to the first one, and the mist had cleared, but here it was reeds and grasses that partly obscured him. Our driver helpfully climbed out to bend some back, which improved the view considerably. As with our first sighting we spent some time here watching him eat and taking photos, and our guide Danny made sure everyone was happy before we moved on.

Rhino in the river

It didn't seem long before we met rhino number three, and again an adult male. And this time we were really close, maybe ten metres! He was eating grass near a fence, built around a village, not around the park. And he was being, watched not only by us but by three young local lads on the other side.




We spent a long while here too but eventually turned back. We stopped by a tall watchtower and Danny asked if we would like to go up. All four of us did so and it was worth the climb up the steep stairs as the landscape in front of us was beautiful.

Panorama from the tower

Then we realised that Danny, who'd stayed down below, was gesturing towards the undergrowth at the foot of the tower and we heard rustling there. The noise grew louder as we all speculated what it might be. We saw branches move before we saw the animal, which proved to be rhino number four. And not just number four but number five too, as this was a female with her calf!

Rhino and calf

We watched from above for a while then Danny beckoned us down. We had to move quickly and quietly as we boarded the jeep, as the rhinos were still close. Danny commiserated with us that the undergrowth had been too high to see the calf. But of course we had seen it, from above!

That was our last sighting of the morning but a great one on which to finish a very successful birthday hunt.

Afternoon activities

Back at the lodge there was time for a shower before a delicious lunch of dal bhat, a Nepalese staple similar to an Indian thali. We then spent some time catching up on messages, including some lovely birthday greetings from friends, before our afternoon activity.

We'd chosen to combine two of the shorter activities, as had Dorcas and Norman, the couple who'd been with us on the jeep safari. First, we had a short walk to the corrals. This is where their retired elephants are looked after. Until five or so years ago, Tiger Tops (like many lodges in Chitwan) offered elephant back safaris. They were considered the ideal way to visit the park as there was no engine to spook the animals. But these days they recognise that these safaris were cruel for the elephants, carrying loads of heavy tourists every day. So now they live here in the open, unchained in their corrals. Tourists still come to meet them as we did, they go on treks alongside them and they watch them bathing at sundown as we had done yesterday. But they don't ride them.

At Tiger Tops Elephant Camp

We met four of the elephants and were invited to help feed them. We learned how to make 'elephant sandwiches' with rice, nuts, molasses and straw, all tied together with fresh grass. Then we fed one of the elephants with our efforts and the rather better ones made by the mahoots.

Making elephant 'sandwiches

A finished sandwich

Feeding the elephants

After this we walked back to the lodge, quickly washed our hands and took a jeep down to the river for sundowners again. The sunset was as lovely as yesterday’s, but I managed not to take quite so many photos!


Sundowners by the Narayani River

On the way back to the lodge the elderly jeep broke down but there were other guests in another jeep not far behind, and they gave us a lift. As yesterday, there was plenty of time to freshen up before dinner. We sat with Dorcas and Norman and had a good chat over our roast pork. As a change from beer I had a glass of white wine and Chris had one of red. My white was nicely chilled; unfortunately so was his red!

Posted by ToonSarah 19:12 Archived in Nepal Tagged sunset wildlife elephants river safari nepal national_park rhinos

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How exciting! I have never seen an Asian rhino, so envious! The first picture of Rhino # 3 looks like a dinosaur. They are such strange looking animals. It looks like you had a great birthday! ♥

by Grete Howard

Rhinos were top of my list for Chitwan - I've seen African ones but only at some distance, so to see an Asian one and so close was amazing!

by ToonSarah

I actually really like your misty animal photos. Somehow the animals stand out yet the setting looks so natural(I know it is natural.I understand what I mean even if I can't explain it well). We have seen African rhino but not Asian rhino. This must have been a pretty special birthday

by irenevt

I know what you mean about the mist Irene, but I had to give the photos a bit of a boost in editing or you would have barely made out the first rhino in particular!

by ToonSarah

Amazing atmosphere in those misty photos! :)

by hennaonthetrek

Thanks Henna :)

by ToonSarah

the moist heat is what I remember the most of my visit to the place and of course the lovely animals we met along the way. Seems you guys met a few of them yourself. Nice pictures!

by Ils1976

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