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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Royal Chitwan National Park - Tiger Top Jungle Lodge

Rhinos in the mist.
Feb 24 - Chitwan. 5:30 a.m.: Wake up call followed by tea/coffee.
6:00 a.m.: Bird watching / Elephant Safari / Jungle walk.
8:00 a.m.: Breakfast.
9:30 a.m.: Crocodile walk. A 45 minutes walk through grassland and forest upstream of the Narayani River. After the walk you will board a boat to observe crocodiles along the banks while floating back to the camp.
1:00 p.m.: Lunch.
3:30 p.m.: Elephant Safari /Jungle Walk / Visit Observation Tower/ Nature Walk
with Boat Ride.
8:00 p.m.: Dinner.
I've never let a limited grasp of the facts or a small base of actual experience get in the way of leaping to broad sweeping conclusions, and this won't be an exception. We spent two nights at Tiger Top Jungle Lodge, so I feel qualified to conclude: If you visit Nepal, the Royal Chitwan National Park is a must see destination, and the Tiger Top Jungle Lodge is the best way to experience it. It is a well run operation that strives for eco-friendly operations.

The umbrella Tiger Mountain organization has undergone a management shift since the death of founder and leader Jim Edwards last year. New CEO Marcus Cotton and Operations Director Tim Edwards (son of the founder) were on-site during our visit. Both were very friendly and interactive with guests. We learned the lodge had a rough spot last year, with a precipitous drop in American tourists. I'm not sure whether this was attributed to the financial crisis, the Mumbai massacre or both but we were very happy we made it part of our tour. Our countrymen need to get a book on rudimentary statistics, stop worrying about terrorist threats that are less probable than getting killed crossing any urban street, and visit this Nepalese treasure.

Located within the park, the main attraction of the Tiger Top lodge for us are the Elephant Safari's - forays into the park riding the back of an elephant. The elephant safari was one of many options afforded to explore the wildlife - including jeeps, canoes, boat rides and hikes. I arrived thinking the elephant safari might turn out to be a gimmick. Our first excursion disabused me of that notion.

After fording rivers, marshes, and bulling through thick grasslands that towered over our heads (even sitting on an elephant 12 feet off the ground), it was clear that the elephant permitted exploration of terrain that would be completely inaccessible any other way. Moreover, a little research confirms that this was a preferred means of hunting game in the park for a very long time before it was a park. These from a 1911 King George V hunting party in Nepal:

Ripped from "Old Indian Photos". More on this series linked here

We were scheduled for four game explorations during our short stay, and chose the elephant ride every time. This cost us a tiger sighting on the second night. A National Geographic tour group was staying at the lodge while we were there. An interesting group, we hung with them for most meals and excursions. On the second night, they opted for a boat ride down the river and spotted a tiger hunting deer during the jeep ride back. While there are more tigers here than Ranthambore, the sightings are more rare. There is more land, thicker cover, fewer trails, and the tigers are much less habituated to tourists. It would have been cool to see, but we didn't begrudge NatGeo group the tiger spotting. We had a great sighting in Ramthanbore, and in any case, were here to see the rhinos:

Rhino in the grass

Rhino in the water

Smiling Rhino

Laughing Rhino

Elvis Impersonator Rhino

We had so many great rhino sightings that it was easy to forget just how rare these animals are in the wild. They are even more endangered than the tigers. We almost became complacent about it. Almost. But not really.

A face only a mother could love.

Chitwan Park sunset from elephant back

MW RECOMMENDED: Royal Chitwan National Park - Tiger Top Jungle Lodge

This is a magical place.

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