Chitwan or ‘Heart of the jungle’ is famous as one of the best wildlife-viewing parks in Asia and a classic example of the ‘Terai’ landscape. This dense jungle tract was declared a protected area in 1973 and a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984. Formerly called the Royal Chitwan National Park, it was once a favourite hunting ground for the Nepalese royalty. The protected area stretches over 900 kilometres square of subtropical forest. Combined with the Parsa Wildlife Reserve on the East and the Valmiki Tiger reserve in India on its southern boundary, these contiguous forests span over 3000 kilometres square. The spectacular landscape of Chitwan with the mighty Himalayas as a backdrop and the lush green riverine jungles makes for one of the most exciting safari holiday destinations in the world. The park is famous for its success in conservation of the rare and endangered Greater One-horned Rhinoceros. It is a matter of great pride for the custodians of Chitwan that no rhinos or tigers have been poached here in the last few years. There are over 600 Rhinos in Chitwan, affording excellent sightings and photographic opportunities to visitors.
Three rivers systems of Rapti, Reu and Narayani along with numerous lakes and streams form lifelines for animals and enable a rich floral diversity. The Chitwan valley is characterized by tropical and subtropical forests. Sal trees (Shorea robusta) is the dominant tree species. On the southern slope of Churia Hills, the Sal groves are interspersed with pine (Pinusroxburghi) while on the northern slopes one can find smaller trees like Rosewood, crocodile bark tree and Achar or Chironji with small berry like fruit whose kernel is used in garnishing desserts. Plants like wild ginger as well as wild turmeric with beautiful inflorescence and other medicinal herbs grow in profusion and the locals are allowed to harvest them from the community forests. The clean, moist and cool atmosphere of Chitwan is very conducive to wild orchids with over a 100 species recorded here. The grasslands are mainly located in the floodplains of the rivers and form a diverse and complex community with over 50 different types of grasses including the elephant grass, renowned for its immense height. Growing over twenty feet, the Elephant grass, as the name suggests, stands as tall as an elephant. The Kaleidoscope of different habitats and sub eco-systems all come together to make a whole that is most favourable to supporting a rich biodiversity. It is no wonder then that Chitwan continues to be a favourite among wildlife enthusiasts around the world.
The beauty of the dense jungles of Chitwan, is augmented by the fact that it is teeming with wildlife. Here one can find the world’s largest terrestrial mammal, a five tonne elephant; to one of the world’s smallest mammals the pygmy shrew, weighing under seven grams! Chitwan National Park has 68 recorded species of mammals; among them are Tigers, leopards, sloth bears, gaur, rhinos and wild dogs to the smaller species like porcupines, otters, martens and shrews. The rivers and ox bow lakes specially are fabulous spots to see the Marsh crocodiles (Mugger) and the iconic long snouted “Gharial”, a crocodilian species endemic to the Indian subcontinent. Several species of deer like the spotted deer, barking deer and sambar are common along with the shy hog deer, which often keep to the safety of the elephant grass. The proximity of Chitwan to the Himalayas gives the park a geographical advantage, making it an ideal shelter for birds migrating both in winter and summer. Indigenous and migrant species like Great Hornbill, Painted storks, Pied Kingfishers and Red Headed Trogon are a few of the most exotic birds seen here. Chitwan is a high priority destination for serious birders as the total tally of birds recorded here is over 600.