An important part of visiting a country is seeing its iconic sights and Nepal is no different. Famous across the world for the snow-capped Himalayas, it is also home to the extensive Chitwan National Park, home to a variety of wild animal species. The main way of exploring the park is with an organised package and Sauhara is home to many of the tour companies and accommodation lodges to host you during your stay. We decided to take advantage of the opportunity of being in Chitwan and, on a recommendation, went to the Wildlife Adventure Resort (WAR) for a three day, two night package.
The WAR Resort
WAR is located in the Badreni area of Sauraha near to the river which borders the Chitwan National Park. Away from the main town area, WAR consists of a cluster of bungalow rooms built alongside a private restaurant.
Each bungalow accommodates two rooms nestled amongst cultivated gardens with stone paths connecting each to the other. Each room is designed with a double and single bed, air conditioning, a fan and an ensuite bathroom. Terraces at the front and rear of the property allow plenty of space to relax during your time there. When electricity is not on, lighting is still available within the rooms and hot/cold water is also on.
Meals at WAR
Meals are provided three times a day at the restaurant, combining a mix of local and more western foods to satisfy all palettes. Vegetarian and non-vegetarian options are available and generally served in a two course format. We received waiter service throughout our stay although there did seem capability for a buffet format to operate. Meals come with complimentary tea or coffee – a range of other drinks (including alcoholic) are available for an extra charge payable on departure.
The food we were provided with was excellent with a good mix of local vegetables, salad and meat served in local styles. Alongside this you may receive a serving of pasta, noodles or fried potato depending on the meal. The starter was generally a thin soup, served hot, sometimes with meat included.
For breakfast, we had scrambled egg with toast and butter/jam whilst on the other occasion we had an omelette served with a pretzel-shaped doughnut!
The safari experience
Putting the resort aside, the purpose of coming to WAR was to visit the famous Chitwan National Park in the hope of seeing some of the wild animals – a number of which are endangered – for ourselves.
We were provided with the WAR guide who accompanied us on our trek on foot and bird watching activities. Using a dug out canoe fashioned from a single tree in the traditional Nepalese way, we floated along the river at 7:00 am in the morning, passing a variety of birds and crocodiles also using the river. Spotting the crocodiles was not easy as they often preferred to remain virtually invisible below the water’s surface: a keen eye was needed to see them.
Following the canoe journey to the other side of the river, we began to walk into the jungle area itself toward the elephant conservation centre. Passing along dirt tracks through the jungle, we came across herds of deer, multiple flocks of birds and even spotted a freshly made tiger print, marking its presence in our vicinity just hours before.
Elephant Conservation Centre
On arrival at the elephant conservation centre, we learnt from the information room how elephants have had a working role within Nepal for centuries and this continues to this day. Now, for many, the idea of working elephants is unpalatable and not without controversy. Whilst we can understand and share many of the concerns, we can also see the other side of the argument that makes solving this a difficult task.
Whilst in many SE Asian nations elephants have been used in lieu of machinery for commercial purposes (e.g. for logging), Nepal’s principal use is as a vehicle to move through the jungle areas – much as some would continue to use a horse. It is true that elephants are used for removing trees in Nepal however, this is not on a commercial basis but by the National Park itself on an annual needs basis.
In addition, Nepal has begun a process of change in the way in which elephants are treated. For example, posters showing support for the ElephantAid project eliminating the use of chains when holding elephants together are displayed widely across the centre. The chain free corrals are clearly visible in the conservation – there are however still a few elephants chained up inside these. When we asked our guide about this, he explained that it was due to the behaviour of some of the elephants and this was a way which they were kept safe; a response we found unusual. It is safe to say that, whilst there is a recognition of the need to change, there is still some way to go before the changes necessary are achieved.
Whilst not to everyone’s taste, the elephant safari provides an opportunity to explore the more difficult terrain of the jungle areas without resorting to noisy jeeps (we believe that jeep safaris are available as an alternative by prior arrangement).
Riding in a traditional box seat, visitors are transported across rivers and through undergrowth to areas of the jungle less accessible by foot. During such rides, people can see more examples of animals seen during your on-foot walk such as deer and wild hogs, often at closer proximity.
One of the more unusual aspects of our time at WAR was the dawn bird walk that we completed on our last day in the resort. Escorted by a trained guide, we were led through some of the woodland bordering the river next to WAR and introduced to a diverse set of bird life. Bringing an ornithologist guidebook to India & Nepal, our guide was able to explain the features and background to each bird type we encountered, especially the recognition features that defined each species. This meant that, as the walk progressed, we were able to begin to recognise some of the species for ourselves – a true learning experience!
Trouble in paradise?
As with the rest of Nepal, WAR has not been immune from the impact of the recent earthquakes. On our first day, we were the only guests and it seemed almost ridiculous that we essentially had our own resort with eight staff to tend to our every need. By the second day, an additional family came in and occupied a further room but that was all. This pattern was reflected across what is normally a bustling Sauhara: the majority of the 40+ guest houses and resorts have at most a party or two of guests and the main shopping area was in essence a ghost town. For an area which so clearly relies on tourism, the downturn that has followed the earthquake is clearly a major concern.
At WAR, the owner explained to us that the situation has become so serious, the choice facing him was between laying off staff or finding an alternative way of paying them in the hope that the visitors will return. In his case, he has opted for the latter, taking out a bank loan to cover staff wages and other incidental costs not covered by the few visitors still coming – a gamble for sure, but one that will hopefully pay off.
We are currently exploring the opportunities for volunteering in Nepal thanks to the support of VPO and will be blogging and vlogging about the projects, the people and the country throughout our time here. By doing so, we hope to encourage others to come to Nepal and make a difference themselves in a sustainable and appropriate way.