Cloud of skepticism blankets my thought every time I head over to Chitwan National Park over the prospect of seeking a Tiger. So I begin my journey with no exception this time around either. I am headed to the heart of Chitwan National Park, Kasara. One glimmer of hope this trip is that it is spring season and Chitwan would be relatively warm. Rare animals such as Tiger and Rhino do make several trips down to Rapti River for water and bathing throughout the day.
Although the distance between Kathmandu and Kasara is only 154 km, it takes leisurely 5 hours to drive to get there. I am one of those who love to be behind the wheel so my friends, Dip or Roshan doesn't get a go at the wheel of the punchy Captiva. Our sense of adventure begins as soon as we cross Nagdhunga at 5:15 in the morning. The extra early start from Kathmandu is to avoid rush hour traffic at Thankot check post and make it past Naubise before all the night busses arrive at the notoriously bad section of the Tribhuwan highway. We are well on our way down Gajuri by 7:00am. That feels like a good sense of achievement and calls for the first tea stop at Highway Green Park. Our body feels energized after typical Nepali breakfast of Chana+bolied Egg and Nepali tea and we are ready for the rest of the journey to a brand new Kasara Jungle Resort located at the village of Kasara in Chitwan District.
We make it to Kasara Jungle Resort by 9:30am to the utter surprise of our host. They are used to receiving guests around noon only. Our side of the surprise and awe is due the sheer size of the property. Our first impression is ..Wow! After an early check in, our curious senses start to itch to know all there is to know about this sprawling property. We learn, the resort has 35 villas and two private villas beautifully architected and decorated to include water-garden courtyard, an indoor-outdoor bath area providing a living space of 130 sq meters. Jungle view villa suites boasts private swimming pool with Jacuzzi, king size beds and few other luxurious bells and whistle which is sure to delight you if you are the upscale visitor to the resort. We are more than pleased with the general villas and already feel pampered enough with whatever amenities they come with. An uninterrupted power supply and internet in this wilderness? We could not have asked for more.
A dip in the large swimming pool while sipping on the ice cold beer, that too before lunch and, on a weekday is sure the envy of some of my co-workers back in the office but that does not deter me from posting few "selfies" on my wall. Sumptuous buffet lunch await us in the large dining hall. Accompanying ingredients are the pure hospitality of the F& B staff that makes us feel we are all that important. Does anyone like a siesta after lunch? Well, I must have one after a good meal such as this. I am headed to my villa which has been temperature controlled to keep the humidity away at a cool 20 degrees Celsius to give me that comfort for an hour before my next set of Jungle activity is planned.
A dip in the cool Rapti River is all one needs to get a respite from the blazing heat of Chitwan. I am doing exactly that but I am not alone. I am surrounded by few 3 tonner friends all around me who are spraying water through their trunks. Bathing with Elephants could be one of the most amazing experiences one could have as they love to get wet and they very much appreciate your bathing them with your hands. After you learn some amazing facts about these giant mammals during Elephant briefing by the naturalists, you are sure to be moved by these gentle giants. After a refreshing bath in the river, both the Elephant and I are ready for an afternoon jungle safari in the community forest along Rapti River where I am hoping to catch a glimpse of some of the rare and endangered animals.
A quick change into the jungle outfit and I grab my 500mm tele and head to the Elephant mounting tower where others are also anticipating a great Elephant Safari. In no time, an entourage of Elephants driven by experienced Mahouts are in pursuit of the elusive ones. Everyone is anxious and focused not to miss the sight of any wild animals. Moments later, mahout from the other Elephant signals us to look towards the muddy sludge where a one horned Rhino is taking a bath as well. All of us ready and point our SLRs towards the beast and start the bursts. Not sure what makes the Rhino so happy that it starts to do a somersault side ways to roll his entire body few times. This is probably the only time I have seen a Rhino do this sort of act in the last 25 years of my visit to Chitwan. I am thinking, I am done for the day, I am content because I saw a Rhino roll over few times. On the way back, no significant sights of any wild animals were present except several herds of spotted deer.
Evening in Chitwan is always remarkable. I start to feel mellow first with the sight of the giant setting red and orange colored Sun followed by the drop of mercury by few notches. By this time, I head up to the open air bar above the dining hall. Lounging around comfortable sofas overlooking the swimming pool or, gazing at the setting Sun while sipping a cocktail is another fine moment of my stay at Kasara Jungle Resort. Now let's find out which other group of visitors saw what kind of Animal? I am envious to learn another group on a Jeep Safari encounters a Tiger. Dang! I must go on a Jeep Safari the next day. I immediately make a plan with my Naturalist Kamal for the longest Jeep Safari the next day, determined to spot a Big Cat. It has been 25 years since I last saw a Tiger in the wild.
Dinner continues around more talk of the Big Cat. It is almost hilarious to hear a guest offering US$100 to his guide for the glimpse of a Tiger. Well, good luck with that! I would like my dear guide make US$100. Why not! With that thought, I head back to my comfortable villa for a good night's rest.
I wake of to the cacophony of birds chirp. A step outside the villa and into the mist filled surroundings, I take a deep breath and welcome the morning in anticipation of another eventful day and the prospect of seeing a Tiger again. A hearty breakfast, a quick briefing by Kamal about the morning's activity and next thing we know, we are on a huge dug out canoe floating down the Rapti River watching hundreds of varieties of local and migratory birds. I wish I had a robotic head so that I could turn around all 360 degrees to see the birds flying in from all directions. "Migratory love birds mate for life. If one dies, the other dies as well as he/she won't eat anything." ,tells Kamal. They are popularly called "Chakewa" in Nepali. Sight of a Stork is pretty amazing as people in the canoe crack a joke telling us which popular past politician resembles the look of it. The most remarkable bird in this trip down the river this morning by a popular vote is - A King Fisher!
Rapti River is the life line of eco system for the flora and fauna in Chitwan. Mugger and Ghariyal are seen lying by the river bank. At first, both the species look dangerous to us but an explanation of differentiating behavior by Kamal encourages me to get up close and personal with a Ghariyal with my underwater GoPro cam to take some amazing underwater video of this fish eater crocks. I dare not even go closer to a sleeping Mugger in fear of waking him and having me for a breakfast. So I content myself with taking just the pictures from a distance with my 500mm.
Later, a trip to Ghariyal breeding farm run by the National Park sheds more light on the successful Ghariyal breeding program. It is a commendable undertaking by the National Park and several other agencies. A morning jungle walk combined with a canoe ride to watch the bird and marine life concludes the morning activities.
One of our friends, Roshan is a holiday maker who lives and works in Hong Kong who saw some local chicken running about in a village outside the resort and has been salivating ever since we reach Kasara. So we decide to treat him to the local feast, Nepali style Dal Bhat for Lunch. A young keeper of a little restaurant called Twins Cottage located just outside Kasara Jungle Lodge is eager to delight Roshan with his Rooster. So we skip the lavish lunch at the Kasara Jungle Resort and congregate at a little cottage on a balmy day. A full course Nepali Lunch consisting of Fried Chicken, thin gravy chicken, Gundruk, Tomato achar, Ningro ko Saag with mountain of rice are served. Oh and not to mention the raw onions, Fresh lime wedges and Green chili are the garnishes on the table. You can only imagine sitting at home what happens next. Roshan goes for four servings of rice. For me, a nice cup of Nepali tea made of fresh buffalo milk will just do the trick for my desert. And my wish is fulfilled. All I can think of doing now is take a nap until our next activity at 3 pm. It will be our ultimate adventure of this trip - Jungle ride deep into the heart of Chitwan National Park.
So a siesta follows. A quick cold shower and I am all ready for the ultimate ride. Exactly at 3:00pm a fancy purpose built Safari Jeep (supposedly only 2 available in Nepal) rolls in front of us. We all jump in and take our best seats and off we go into the heart of Chitwan Jungle. First few kilometers of the ride is not exciting at all as it passes through populated area and army check posts so we pick up the speed. But the jeep slows down and maintains approximately 5km per hour as it reaches the denser part of the forest occasionally crossing over bridges built over swamps. Flocks of wild chickens and peacocks roam around the jeep tracks as if they are used to the vehicles and humans. We start to snap away these ground birds as some of us have seen them first time in the wild.
Suddenly Kamal ask the driver to stop the jeep and signals to reverse the vehicle a little. He points us to a sloth bear at a distance of 400 meters across a creek. My heart almost stops at the first of the bear as I had never seen a Sloth Bear in the wild. I struggle to stabilize my uni-pod before firing a burst of clicks on board the jeep. Not happy with the angle I dismount the vehicle and slowly move forward towards the bear while still trying to take pictures. I must tell you, it is not easy to take a steady shot with a 500mm while still moving. As the bear sees my movement, he becomes alert and gallops into the woods and disappears. We all look at each other with our eyes sparkling and shouting in joy that we saw a Sloth Bear. It is our first for all of us.
What is next? We begin to up our expectations and start to focus our hope on a Tiger. We continue past the third Army check post towards Tiger Tops in search of a Tiger. There are one Army check post every 5 kilometers at Chitwan National Park to protect the jungle and the wild life. We spot 5 giant Rhinos just before crossing Rapti River near Tiger Tops. One of the Rhinos decides to have a close inspection of our jeep and comes literally 10 feet to our Jeep. It is little scary but provides a great photography moment. So we pull the triggers of our SLRs again in high speed continuous shooting mode with autofocus turned on. A visit to now closed and abandoned Tiger Tops Jungle Lodge makes us very sad to learn that the National Park authority has closed down all the hotel establishments inside the National Park, lock-stock-and-barrel. Conservation of wildlife is eminent but protection of private businesses is also paramount to develop quality tourism in this country.
Our jungle ride forks left from Tiger Tops road toward the Sivalik hills in search of Tigers who are known to like the shades of the bamboo forests found in this area. We scan the foliage for a potential sight of the elusive cat but in vain. By this time we are pretty sure he is not going to give us a sight today so we back track part of the road and decide to now search for Bison, another endangered wild animal.
Suddenly a large herd of Bison appear before us at a distance of 300 meters. I immediately dismount from the Jeep to take a better shot of the Bisons. As they are behind thick vegetation, it is difficult to take a clear shot so I push further in and try to make that ultimate shot but it becomes ever more difficult because by now they begin to move away in to the darker part of the vegetation. I take whatever shots I could from this distance and angle in the hope at least one of them will come out good.
The day is shaping out to be pretty amazing with the sightings of two very rare animals, Sloth Bear and Bison and sightings of several other wild life such as wild boar, spotted deer, Samba Deer, Barking deer, Peacock and Rhino. We decide to head back to the lodge as it is pretty close to 6:00pm which is the cut off time for all park visitors to report back to the park entry point.
As my stay at Kasara concludes, my skepticism to see a Tiger in the wild remains this time as well but I go back from Kasara a very happy and satisfied customer as my three days at Kasara were very eventful and had a chance to learn so many new things and make some amazing friends at Kasara Jungle Lodge.
To experience this amazing trip to Kasara, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org or call +97714701422
Story and Photographs: Sunil C. Sharma