We passed through hilly countryside and lush green mountains. As we crisscrossed through the mountains, river Trishul flowed seamlessly highlighting the beauty of the peaks and surrounding scenery. We were heading towards Chitwan from Kathmandu. Looking at the beautiful scene, we almost forgot that we were traversing through bad roads in a dusty route caused due to road widening and land-slides.
Chitwan National park, a UNESCO world heritage site
Chitwan is a popular tourist destination of Nepal as it houses the wildlife reserve, Chitwan National Park, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. Also referred to as Royal Chitwan National Park, it was established in 1983. Located in the subtropical Inner Terai lowlands of South Central Nepal, it covers an area of 932 square kilometers.
Chitwan is a composite of the Sanskrit words, ‘chit’ and ‘van’ meaning heart of the jungle or forest. This dense forest was also named after its ancient ruler, Tharu King Chitrasen. Another belief about the name stems from ‘Chitri’ meaning leopard that populated this jungle or ‘van.’ Its inhabitants, the Tharu people, are talented artists who decorated their houses with drawings depicting their history and culture. Another reason why Chitwan got its name is from ‘Chitra’ meaning drawing and ‘van’ meaning forest.
Enter Chitwan town to tree-laden roads and sprawling hotels on its sides. Most of the hotels have rooms with a sit-out facing a garden where you can spot rabbits and unique birds. From the hotel, it is a mere 15 minutes to reach the outskirts of the jungle from where elephants take charge to tour you around the national park.
One can hire jeeps as well to explore the territory and even stay in tree houses to spot tigers at night.
Elephant safaris and
Packaged tours by travel companies include elephant safaris. It is tricky to sit on the elephant with three others but it is a unique experience. As the plump animal walks through narrow paths brushing aside tree branches, crushing leaves and sticks below, you can touch trees and admire the dense forest filled with a wide variety of foliage, wildflowers and hidden animals. All this while the mahout will relate tales of the jungle and his elephant as also answer your queries.
We spotted a nilgai sitting under a tree and staring at the elephants passing by. I adjusted the zoom of my lens to catch the curious expression of a horned antelope. As we passed through the dense woods, our mahout pointed out to a group of spotted deer in between trees. Before I could focus and click pictures only a few remained on the scene. We noticed birds chirping on branches and monkeys jumping around. On a narrow path, peahens were wading through. Being in the wilds and riding on an elephant was as thrilling as spotting animals.
We were not lucky to spot tigers but we did find a cute little rhino munching on leaves and wandering around in abandon. All the elephants surrounded the rhino. We too could go near and observe the animal closely. I was also lucky to click pictures of the one-horned rhino immersed in munching and fooling around! Even with tourists focusing their cameras on it and making exciting noises, the rhino remained busy with its activity unmindful of its curious admirers.
Sunset on Rapti beach and tribal dancers on stage
From the national park we drove towards Rapti beach to watch the sunset. In the north and west of the wildlife park the Narayani-Rapti river system forms a natural boundary to human settlements. We watched long row boats with tourists enjoying rides. Our guide informed us that visitors could go on rowing expeditions to the other side of the river. We also watched crocodiles peacefully sleeping on the shore. From a distance they looked like stones strung together!
It was beautiful to watch the sun set over the placid waters of the river with all the ongoing activities. Later in the evening we visited the theatre to watch tribal dancers gyrating and dancing to the tune of drums and pipes. Matching steps with sticks, it was interesting to watch the rhythmic movements of the graceful dancers dressed in white and red as they increased the tempo of their steps.
Next morning we were on our way to Pokhara. As the shorter route from Chitwan to Pokhara was blocked after a landslide, we took the longer route via Lumbini. We were treated to breathtaking mountain scenery. Green, brown and blue, the tall hills with water flowing through crevices and the stream, a tributary of the Seti-Gandaki river meandering through deep gorges and vast canyons was a visible delight.
It was awesome to view long stretches of terraces interrupted by gorges hundreds of metres deep. As we reached the outskirts of Pokhara a greater surprise awaited us! Yes, the Himalayan range was in clear sight.
It was unbelievable but true! Our driver-cum-guide pointed out that only a lucky few could get a clear view of the incredible Annapurna along with other mountain ranges. Whenever it rained and turned sunny soon afterwards it cleared the sky for a transparent mountain-view. I got down from the car to click pictures. Later after we reached our hotel, I went up to the terrace to view these gorgeous mountains. Once again we were treated to stunning views of three 8000-meter peaks those of Dhaulagiri, Annapurna and Manaslu along with Machhapuchhre meaning fishtail with an elevation of 6993 meters.
Next morning we went sightseeing in Pokhara. It was a sunny day as we started our tour. Climbing the steep steps to reach Bindebasini temple, we were breathless. However, it was worth the climb. The layout of the temple, as well as the beautiful view it provided of the city, was eye-catching. From here we drove down to explore the Gupteshwar cave. As the Pokhara valley has a porous underground it favors the formation of caves, thus one can spot several caves within the city limits.
It is tricky to climb down through the dark narrow passages of the cave to spot images, temples and the Davis fall (corrupted from David’s fall) trickling down through a crevice! Later we walked across the road to view the Davis fall falling down with its full force! It is believed that the tourist, David’s wife, fell down here accidentally discovering the waterfall!
Our evening’s outing was the most memorable. We walked across to the Fewalake, one of Pokhara’s most beautiful spots. Surrounded by a combination of forests, populated by monkeys and the mountain peaks forming a backdrop that appears from densely green to white icy hills, the whole scene is a visual delight. Walking towards the lake one can notice tree branches filled with flowers as well as herons and other attractive birds. It is refreshing to go on a boat ride to the other side of the river viewing the breathtaking scenery all around!
We reluctantly left Pokhara to continue our journey to Nagarkot. On the way, we spotted the World Peace Pagoda or ShantiStupa high atop Fewalake. The first Peace Pagoda constructed in Nepal, this attractive white-domed structure stands out with its stunning architecture. Also from the top, the beautiful view of the Himalayan range appears making the climb to the top worthwhile.
It’s a long road journey from Pokhara to Nagarkot as the route passes through Kathmandu and goes beyond to the high hill zone. On the northern fringe of the Kathmandu valley, Nagarkot is 32 km northeast of Kathmandu. It took us almost nine hours to reach our destination. Of course, we halted twice on the way, once to visit Manokamana hill and again for a late lunch break.
At the insistence of our driver, we halted a little before Kathmandu to take the cable car to reach the Manokamana temple high up on a hill. It is exciting to ride in the cable car and look down at large fields resembling cutouts on a design sheet, the meandering Trishul River, dense mountains behind and shelters with human activity. Once up the hill wading through human traffic to view the goddess is of course tiresome!
We suggested to our guide that the trip to Nagarkot should be combined only with Kathmandu in their future travel plans as it would avoid the long journey by car and also provide more time in the hill station. However, once reaching Nagarkot and driving to the resort at the top of the hill, we forgot our exhaustion as we looked around at the abundant hill layout. It was euphoric. Also it was exhilarating to feel the cool winds blowing and watch the sun dip down the Himalayan hills. We had an early dinner before we relaxed our limbs. We had to get up early next morning to watch sunrise!
Nagarkot, a dream
Nagarkot is surrounded by thickly forested hills of pine and other tall trees that provide it an idyllic look. It was chilly even as a faint light trickled through the room early next morning. I woke up reluctantly to watch sunrise. As I sat in the balcony of my room, the hill vision in front was stunning. Rows and rows of hills in layers were spread out in front just beneath the vast sky. Was it real or was I dreaming? I was ready with my camera as a flicker of sunlight appeared behind the hills. Slowly and steadily the glow increased. From a mere flash to a semi-circle and then a round ball of silver, the transformation was unbelievable. Suddenly as if the hill was lit with fire releasing the glowing ball, the sun appeared. It was miraculous!
My only regret was not being able to spot the Himalayan range. Should we return without viewing the famed mountain ranges of Nepal? I was in for a surprise as we walked back from our morning walk. I spotted the silver white hills far, far away. I focused my zoom and clicked the distant hills. Yes, they were the incredible Himalayan mountain ranges – eight out of the 13 that include Annapurna, Manaslu, Ganesh Himal, Langtang, Jugal, Rolwaling, Mahalangur and Number! They were not as clear as the ones we spotted in Pokhara but they were visible none the less. We had seen what we were craving for all this while. Satisfied, we got ready to leave after breakfast, of course with a heavy heart! When will we get a chance again to view the magnificent Himalayan range at close quarters?
Largest city: Pokhara
Lowland: Chitwan is known for its National Park.
Hill resort: Nagarkot providing a view of the Himalayan range.
Currency: Nepali rupee (1 Indian rupee = 1.6 Nepali rupee)
Best time to visit: March to May and Sept. to November.