Skip to content

Chitwan: Rhinos and Tigers of the Terai

In Chitwan tigers, rhinos, and deer wander the warm forest mornings of the Terai in the meltwaters of the Himalayas.

Chitwan is perhaps the greatest wildlife destination in Nepal — perhaps all of South Asia. For most, Nepal conjures to mind the snow-capped Himalayas and the colorful culture of Kathmandu, but in Chitwan tigers, rhinos, deer, and leopards wander the warm forest mornings.

If you’re on foot and you smell buttered popcorn, you may be coming up on some tiger droppings, but rhinos are the much more likely quarry. The rhino is the prize of Chitwan. When travelers land at sparse Bharatpur airport, they’ll see a mother and calf statue at the entrance. Once, this area was a hunting ground for the Nepali and foreign elite, where they would kill tigers, bears, and rhinos by the dozen. Today the land is protected. Poaching is no longer an issue.

The rhinos of Chitwan are the one-horned variety, Rhinoceros unicornis, and around 600 of the only 2,000 in the world can be found in Chitwan. Other than Assam in India, Chitwan is one of the best places in Asia to spot these animals.

The animal’s thick skin maintains its imposing white hue up close, but it moves mechanically as the animal feeds, it’s plate-like armor shifting around its body. The beast seems almost like a clockwork creature. The rhino is placid – aware but unconcerned. When you weigh 2,000 kilograms, there are few animals in the forest that can frighten you, least of all a 4×4 filled with squishy humans.

The ideal way to see the park is by safari jeep, bouncing through the well-kept paths of Nepal’s most famous wildlife park. For those hoping to see Chitwan by foot, one word should matter more than others: early. Wake up with the sunrise for the best views and the most comfortable experience. In the cool morning air, the animals are all at their most active — herds of deer in the dewy forest, bathing rhinos, and chattering monkeys in the canopy.

There are a few other large animals of which travelers should be made aware. The sloth bears, another large predator of note in the park, are extremely difficult to spot, though their shabby dens can be found throughout.

There are some less cute fauna worth a visit in Chitwan, namely, the crocs. Frequent world travelers will be familiar with the look of the common mugger crocodile, but the curious snout of the gharial might be a new experience. In fact, there is a gharial crocodile breeding center where travelers can see these very strange creatures in every stage of their growth. 

Only one luxury hotel is worthy of the title in Chitwan, Taj Meghauli Serai. The peaceful jungle lodge, perched on the edge of the East Rapti River rapids, is in the heart of the action. Wildlife can often be seen from the deck of the infinity pool or while enjoying a fine dining dinner. For sunset, travelers can walk to take a boat for a champagne sundowner on the Rapti, where visiting rhinos compliment the orange skies of the Terai. 
Read about more amazing wildlife destinations in our wildlife issue.