One of the rhinoceroses was so close to our jeep that even the driver started taking pictures. We knew this was no ordinary sighting during our jeep safari in Chitwan National Park.
The meadow was deserted except for our two jeeps and three rhinos. We were stopped while two of the rhinos were heading straight towards us. As they slowly approached us head-on, the park ranger stepped down from the jeep and took up a defensive position with his stout wooden staff. A slight man only about five feet tall, I trusted he had a strategy to prevent the rhinos from tipping our jeeps, something they are fully capable of doing.
Chitwan’s one-horned rhinoceroses are big and look like living tanks. Their horns are menacing and they have large plates of hide that give them an armoured appearance. We had plenty of time to observe them as they observed us. Later, after all three rhinos had calmly ambled into the forest, our ranger shared that one of them had a few human victims on his record.
Chitwan National Park is home to rhinos, tigers, leopards, deer, Asian elephants, crocodiles, monkeys, mongooses, more than 50 types of butterflies and hundreds of resident and migratory birds. Of the larger animals, the one you’re most likely to see is the rhino. Several times, we saw some in the river, bathing and escaping the heat. In every case, once they sensed us watching them, they climbed out and walked into the forest. I imagined they were mildly annoyed by our presence and simply wanted us to leave them alone. Quite different from the ones in the meadow, that we had yet to see.
Although Raja had asked us to include a request for a tiger sighting in our respective devotions, none showed itself to us. But we saw several deer, a few monkeys, a mongoose, and many beautiful colourful birds and butterflies.
Chitwan was the first national park established in Nepal and it’s the largest at 1000 square kilometers. Previously, it was a private hunting ground of the King of Nepal and before that the Ranas. In one day in 1911, 39 tigers and 18 rhinos were shot. Now, the animals are protected and populations are slowly rising. Still, there are only about 600 rhinos and 200 tigers in the park. Around 50 wild Asian elephants visit the park from time-to-time as they roam over the border from India.