Exploring Chitwan National Park in Nepal with Safari Narayani Hotel
Crouching behind a tree, I watched in silence as a rhinoceros munched its way through the grass towards me.
“What if it sees us and charges?” I whispered to my guide, Tulsi. I’d read in Lonely Planet’s Nepal that if a rhino charges, the best course of action was to run hell for leather in a zig zag motion – and if all else fails, throw a jacket over its eyes. Except in 30-degree heat, I hadn’t brought a jacket…
“Rhinos have poor eyesight,” whispered Tulsi. “Besides, they’re vegetarian. So they only charge if you give them reason to.”
On foot, with just sticks for protection, all I could do was trust Tulsi as the rhino came within 70 metres of us. I watched in awe as it crossed the road then strolled down a bank into a pool to cool off in the midday heat – just as Tulsi had predicted.
I was staying at Safari Narayani Hotel on the banks of the Rapti River in Chitwan National Park, a six-hour drive from Kathmandu in Nepal.
Narayani lodge’s 52 cabins are rustic yet comfortable, each bordering a lawn. Most visitors stay two nights, but I stayed for one and comfortably fitted in all the activities into one day. Meals and activities are included.
I woke around 6am for a breakfast of Cornflakes and bananas overlooking the river, before a 6-kilometre canoe ride deeper into the park. I spotted kingfishers, storks and egrets, and Tulsi pointed out sandpipers – and crocodiles.
“The endangered gharial crocodile has a distinctive thin snout and only eats fish,” he explained. “The river is also home to marsh muggers and they eat everything – including humans.”
Climbing out of the boat, I visited a gharial crocodile sanctuary before embarking on a two-hour jungle walk, during which I saw deer, macaque monkeys, elephants and the rhino.
Back at the lodge, I met the hotel’s four elephants. A ride is included in your stay, but animal charities condemn elephant riding because it damages their spine and can cause sores and foot injuries. Instead, I fed them cabbage and cauliflowers.
After a lunch of fried fish, garlic rice and rice pudding, my friend and I napped in hammocks in the sunshine.
Feeling rejuvenated, we were ready for our next activity: an ox cart ride to a nearby village. While no faster than a brisk walk, I clung on as we bumped over a dirt track past rice paddies and traditional straw and mud dwellings, which are rebuilt once a year after the summer monsoon.
We were the only tourists in the village, and because Tulsi knew everyone, we popped into farmyards where we saw children playing, mounds of rice drying in the sun, kid goats and chicks. We were also lucky enough to witness a calf being born and attempting its first wobbly steps.
As soon as night fell, we gathered around the lawn with other guests to watch a traditional stick dance by Tharu locals. Wearing white, women danced barefoot while clapping sticks in time to double-headed madal and dhimay drums. At the end, they encouraged the audience to join in, so I held hands with the other guests to form a circle around the campfire.
Carnivores might enjoy the barbecue dinner but while the lodge caters well for guests with dietary requirements, the alternatives (macaroni and cheese, deep-fried fish) are disappointing.
But if Cornflakes and fried fish mean I get to come eye to eye with a wild rhino, then I’m OK with that.
Safari Narayani Hotel, Ghatgai, Patihani, Bharatpur – 28, Chitwan, Nepal.
Tel: 056-693486 / 056-694441
A driver can collect you from Tribhuvan Airport in Kathmandu (six hours away and £105 extra) or from the nearest town, Bharatpur, which is 30 minutes away.
Type of Hotel: Rustic Jungle Hotel
Number of Rooms: 52 rustic cabins. Wi-Fi is free but patchy, but you don’t really need it.
Price Band: £354 per night, includes accommodation, all meals and activities, taxes, guide and park fee.
Insider Tip: I recommend that you take plenty of mosquito repellent.
Reviewer’s Rating: 9/10
Photographs by Sarah Riches