If you’re thinking of going on safari, you’ve probably got brochures for Kenya, South Africa or Botswana spread out on your coffee table. Think safari, think Africa, the home of the Big Five. However other regions have cottoned on to the demand for safaris, and are fast snapping at the heels of Africa’s wildlife monopoly...
For example, have you considered Nepal as a safari hotspot? Long established as a world centre for climbing and trekking, Nepal attracts tourists from all over the globe. Some come seeking to conquer Everest, Mother Nature’s Goliath. Some come to trek Nepal’s other famous circuits or to experience the stunning natural beauty of this mountain nation.
However not many come to Nepal specifically to go on safari. But the moment you see what’s on offer, you’ll realise it won’t be long until hordes of wildlife enthusiasts are looking deeper into Nepal’s parks and jungles.
The oldest and most famous park in Nepal is Chitwan National Park. Established in 1973 and named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984, the park covers 360 square miles of the Inner Terai lowlands of south-central Nepal.
Chitwan is one of the last remaining habitats of the Bengal tiger, and when the park was established this “King of the Jungle” numbered just 25. Thanks to conservation efforts, there are now over a hundred tigers in the park, although it still remains one of world’s most endangered animals and spotting one in this vast park is no mean feat!
Another animal unique to this part of the world is the Asian one-horned rhinoceros. Weighing up to 3500 kg, it is the fourth largest land animal in the world. Thanks to their size, the rhinos have few natural enemies so can spend hours wallowing in puddles and ponds to keep cool in the middle of the day. This makes them relatively easy to spot, so get your cameras ready.
One of the best ways to see the jungle and its wildlife is from the back of one of its mightiest residents, the Asian elephant. Although smaller then it’s African cousin, the Asian elephant still stands at almost 3m tall and weighs in at 8000kg.
Elephant safaris are extremely popular in Chitwan and offer several advantages over travelling on foot or by jeep. Firstly, they are a lot quieter so you’re less likely to scare off any passing wildlife. Secondly, they are great fun, so even if you don’t spot any rhino or tigers, you’ll still have a memorable afternoon, and thirdly, if you do come across a rhino and he’s in a bad mood, there’s nowhere safer to be than on top of an elephant.
At the other end of the size scale are the thousands of colourful birds that live in the park. With 543 resident species – more than any other protected area in Nepal - and a further 160 migrant species, Nepal is definitely a twitcher’s paradise.
As many of the birds live in and around the wetland areas of the park, the best way to spot them is to take an early morning stroll down to the river. Or even better, take a trip down the Rapti River in a traditional dugout canoe, allowing you to relax and appreciate the beauty and tranquillity of the landscape.
So whether you’re planning a trip specifically centred on wildlife, or are looking for an add-on to your mountain trek, Nepal makes a great destination for a unique walk on the wild side