We have just spent 3 nights in Lumbini (Buddha’s birth place).
We now head to Sauraha for a Safari in Chitwan National Park …
Chitwan National Park was established in 1973 and granted the status of a World Heritage Site in 1984. It covers an area of 953 km2 (368 sq mi) and is located in the subtropical Inner Terai lowlands of south-central Nepal. In altitude it ranges from about 100 m (330 ft) in the river valleys to 815 m (2,674 ft) in the Churia Hills.
Chitwan National Park is one of Nepal’s most popular tourist destinations. There are two main entrances: Sauraha in the east and Meghauli Village in the west.
Since the end of the 19th century, Chitwan (which means ‘Heart of the Jungle’) was a favourite hunting ground for Nepal’s ruling class. Until the 1950s, the journey from Kathmandu to Nepal’s south could only be reached by foot and took several weeks. Hunters stayed for a couple of months shooting game animals. Chitwan National Park is home to 68 mammal species.
The “king of the jungle” is the Bengal Tiger. The alluvial floodplain habitat of the Terai is one of the best tiger habitats anywhere in the world.
Leopards are most prevalent on the peripheries of the park. They co-exist with tigers but, being socially subordinate, are not common in prime tiger habitat.
Chitwan is considered to have the highest population density of sloth bears. Smooth-coated otters inhabit the numerous creeks and rivulets. Bengal foxes, spotted linsangs and honey badgers roam the jungle for prey. Striped hyenas prevail on the southern slopes of the Churia Hills. Wild dogs were recorded in the southern and western parts of the park, as well as golden jackals, fishing cats, jungle cats, leopard cats, large and small Indian civets, Asian palm civets, crab-eating mongooses, and yellow-throated martens.
When the bush fires ease off in springtime and lush grasses start growing up again, Gaurs descend into the park to graze and browse.
Numerous wild boars, sambar deer, red muntjac, hog deer, and herds of chital inhabit the park. Four-horned antelopes reside predominantly in the hills. Rhesus monkeys, hanuman langurs, Indian pangolins, Indian porcupines, several species of flying squirrels, black-naped hares, and endangered hispid hares are also present.
The currency in Nepal is the Nepalese Rupee (or the ‘NPR’). I will refer to them as N$s. At the time of writing, the wholesale exchange rates were:
In reality, you won’t get these rates. Expect to have to pay 3%-5% in fees (read more, below). Over time, these exchange rates will change. Please check the current rates.
Many blogs provide inaccurate information … they talk about going to Bharatpur. You are NOT going to Bharatpur. Bharatpur is just a commercial town with little of interest. You are going to Sauraha!
The Tourist Buses leave from outside of the Lumbini Village entrance to the Temple Complex. There is no direct bus to Sauraha. You take the Tourist Bus to Kathmandu and get off at Narayangarh. This bus leaves at 6am and costs N$650.
We left on time at 6am. You are given an assigned seat number. We started with very few people on the bus.We stopped briefly in Siddharthanagar to pick up more people. We stopped at 7:45am for 30 minutes in Butwal to pick up more. The bus was, now, full. We had a ‘comfort stop’ at Bardaghat at 9:15am. Frustratingly, we stopped for a 30 minute Lunch Break 5kms short of Narayangarh. We arrived in Narayangarh at 11:45am.
Don’t believe the taxi touts who will tell you that the bus to Sauraha is 1km away. Walk 100m south and you will find a bus. This is a local bus that only takes you to Tandi Bazaar in Ratnanagar. We negotiated them down from N$200 to N$100 (US$1) but still over-paid. They were too happy 🙂 I suspect that the price should have been about N$20-30. We were lucky because it was the start of the journey and we got a seat. Before we left town, the bus was totally full (including the aisles).
We arrived at Tandi Bazaar about 12:45pm. Tuk Tuk drivers were waiting… I had already asked by hotel what the prices were. They said that a local bus from there to Sauraha (5kms) was N$30 and that a Tuk Tuk from Sauraha Tourist Bus Park to the hotel (1km) was N$150. The Tandi Bazaar Tuk Tuks quoted N$500 for the 3 of us. We negotiated this down to N$100 each.
The Tuk Tuk dropped each of us off at our different Sauraha hotels.
Most people will arrive at the Tourist Bus Park on the northern edge of town. We start there:
The area around the Rhino Statue is the heart of town.
This is what GRANDPAckers can expect to find at short notice in early November:
PLEASE NOTE: HOTELS usually display prices INCLUSIVE of TAXES. But many search sites (like HOTELS) don’t provide a ‘private bathroom’ filter, so be careful with some of the cheap hotels and make sure that you read the room details. HOTELS competes with BOOKING by selling their hotel allocations well in advance. They do so by offering discounts. At short notice, they tend to have few options left.
AIRBnB / HOLIDAY RENTALS:
PLEASE NOTE: Other sites (such as Homeaway, FlipKey and VRBO are also worth a look). However, these types of accommodation options are not very popular in Nepal. Be careful with AirBnB: they usually add on a ‘service fee’ and / or a ‘cleaning fee’ during the booking process which can significantly increase the nightly price.
GRANDPAckers will easily find accommodation within our price range. Start in advance to get the best prices on HOTELS. Start looking on BOOKING then HOTELS for last minute deals. A couple should target a maximum of N$1,100 / US$10 per night including Breakfast and N$800 / US$7 per night without Breakfast.
It was a new, clean, sparsely furnished room. It had a nice hot water shower with lots of water pressure (which was a pleasant change from my hotel in Lumbini). The room needed a clothes rack or at least somewhere to hang your clothes; they plan to fix this. The wifi was excellent as were my hosts. The optional N$150 Breakfast was very average though.
WHERE TO STAY:
SUGGESTION: At your hotel, you should be able to rent a bicycle for N$100-N$150 per day. If you like cycling, you can stay anywhere in the area.
Have a look yourself:
EAT & DRINK:
Consumption of beef is very uncommon and considered taboo in many places. Buff (water buffalo meat) is very common. Consumption of pork was considered taboo until a few decades ago. The chief lunch / snack for locals and visitors is mostly Momo or Chowmein. Momo is a type of dumpling stuffed with a buffalo, chicken, or vegetable mixture.
The staple food of most people is Dal Bhat (aka a Nepali Set or a Thakali Set). This consists of rice and lentil soup, generally served with a curry, a popadom, achar, and (usually) Yogurt and Chutney.
PLEASE NOTE: In the corner shops, there are often Tourist Prices and Nepalese Prices. If you don’t know the latter, they will try and charge you the former. A typical example is a 1L bottle of water: Nepalese price N$25, Tourist Price N$40. TIP: The correct price is usually printed on the bottle!
For N$200 / US$2 you can get a simple Breakfast of 2 eggs, fried savoury potato, 2 slices of toast, jam, and a tea / coffee. You can get a plate of Momo or Chow Main for lunch for about N$100.
In summary: Budget an average of N$200 for a simple Breakfast, N$150 for a simple Lunch, and N$250 for a simple Dinner (excluding alcohol).
You won’t find any ‘Happy Hours’. A local 650ml beer in one of the cheaper restaurants will cost N$350.
In a supermarket, a 750ml bottle of local rum will set you back N$1,600. A 2.25L bottle of Coke / Pepsi costs N$210.
In summary: Western-style alcohol is relatively expensive in Nepal. If you want an alcoholic drink with your meal, the meal price more than doubles.
A Tuk Tuk from the Sauraha Tourist Bus Park to your hotel costs N$150-N$200.
ATMS seem to be limited to N$20,000 per transaction and they all seem to charge a standard N$500 fee for the privilege (a 2.5% fee). Most charge this N$500 even if you only take out N$10,000 (a 5% fee!).
INTERNET / WIFI:
Don’t trust your hotel to provide good wifi in our GRANDPAcking price range. Many hotel reviews say that the wifi is poor.
There are 3 main prepaid providers in Nepal: NTC, Ncell, and Smart Cell. The first 2 are recommended if you plan to get out into the countryside.
In Kathmandu, I bought an Ncell Tourist SIMcard (N$250) with a 30 Day Plan (N$650) that included 3GB, 60 SMSs, and 40 minutes talk time. I was also left with a balance of N$38.
To get the SIMcard I needed my passport (which they scanned) and a passport photo. The man in the store filled in the detailed application form for me. He, then, took my thumbprints to finalise the form. I guess that there is a very good reason for the service providers to protect you so stringently from SIMcard theft / fraud 🙂
I walked out of the store with a working phone and immediately downloaded the Ncell Nepal Mobile App. The App has an English option. With the App, you get easy access to your Plan status. You also get ‘App-only’ special offers and discounts.
My Ecuadorian Smartphone is not fully compatible with Nepal frequencies. I have never managed to get better than an H+ signal. Other tourists were able to get 4G.
HEALTH & SAFETY:
I got online and bought a 1-year WorldNomads Backpacker Policy for US$565. I don’t need all of the ‘bells and whistles’ that go with the more expensive policies. I, fundamentally, just need Medical and Personal Indemnity Insurance. Read more here.
There are a lot of smokers here (more so than you will find in Western Europe) – not a surprise when a pack of 20 costs as little as N$80. Smoking is common in bars and restaurants.
WHEN TO GO
Chitwan has a tropical monsoon climate with high humidity all through the year. The area is located in the central climatic zone of the Himalayas, where monsoon starts in mid June and eases off in late September. During these 14–15 weeks most of the 2,500 mm yearly precipitation falls – it is pouring with rain.
After mid-October the monsoon clouds have retreated, humidity drops off, and the top daily temperature gradually subsides from ±36 °C / 96.8 °F to ±18 °C / 64.5 °F. Nights cool down to 5 °C / 41.0 °F until late December, when it usually rains softly for a few days. Then temperatures start rising gradually.
WHAT TO DO:
You can do a 4 hour walk in the National Park with a guide. Some start with a 1 hour canoe trip followed by a 3 hour walk. If you want to canoe, choose the right one. The price depends on the number of people. The single person price is N$2,500. This drops to N$1,500 per person when you have 3 or more. Walking treks are available in the mornings (7am) and in the afternoons (1pm). Full day treks are, also, available.
A 1 hour canoe trip with a 1 hour walk back costs N$1,100.
A 2 hr Jeep Safari in the ‘buffer zone’ around the National Park costs N$900.
Expect your hotel to add N$100 to these prices as their ‘commission’. To avoid this commission, walk down to the National Park Ticketing Office and negotiate directly with a guide.
EXPLORE ON A RENTED BICYCLE:
You can explore the area around the National Park for free.
You should be able to rent a bicycle for N$100-N$150 per day.
GO ON A JEEP SAFARI:
A 4 hour Jeep Safari in the National Park costs N$1,500 (N$1,600 at your hotel). They only go at 1pm in the afternoon. They fill up quickly, so book in advance if you can … or, like me, you may have to wait until the next day. Th National Park Entrance Fee is an additional N$2,000.
The National Park Jeep Safari was disappointing. A lucky few might see something interesting. Most people will not. It is, basically, a jeep ride to the Conservation Area and back again … with thick foliage on the track-sides blocking visibility.
I actually saw more when went out for the day on my rental bike.
MY SUGGESTION: I hear that a Jeep Safari in the Buffer Zone is better because there is less foliage and more to see. If I went again, I would take a chance on that one.
Read About – GRANDPAcking Costs if you don’t know how to interpret my figures.
Lumbini is not really an Holiday Destination so, I have only provided a 7 day budget for comparative purposes.
My costs are broken down into:
- Cost of Existence: The basic costs of just being there;
- Cost of Living: The additional costs that make being there fun.
COST OF EXISTENCE (COE):
I EXISTED to GRANDPAcking standard. My accommodation averaged N$950 per night excluding Breakfast.
I already had the Ncell SIMcard & Plan that I purchased in Kathmandu. I did not need to top it up.
I have allocated 3 days of my 30 day visa cost.
I spent an average of N$688 per day on meals and water.
My COE worked out to be about N$1,365 per day.
COST OF LIVING (COL):
I LIVED to GRANDPAcking standard.
Living Costs: I averaged about N$0 per night on drinks … I was on a health binge drinking lots of water.
Entertainment: I spent N$1,600 on a Jeep Safari, N$2,000 on the National Park Ticket, and N$150 on a 1-day bicycle rental.
Shopping: I spent N$400 on shopping.
In / Out Costs: I spent N$650 on the bus from Lumbini, N$100 on a bus to Ratnanagar, and N$100 on a Tuk Tuk to Sauraha.
My total COL was about N$2,615 per day. This was 49% of my daily budget.
COSTS FOR 2 GRANDPAckers:
Again, costs are broken down into Cost Of Existence (COE) and Cost Of Living (COL).
COST OF EXISTENCE (COE):
Accommodation: I have booked you into something at N$1,100 per night including Breakfast.
Transportation: There is no budget for local bus trips. I assume that you are here for a National Park tour.
Communications & Fees: I have budgeted N$600 for an Ncell SIMcard and 7 day Package. I have apportioned N$2,534 of your two 30-day visa costs.
Food & Water: Your budget averages about N$1,280 per day for 2 people. This is to eat Lunch and Dinner in Cheap Restaurants. This includes sharing one 650ml local beer at Dinner time. It also includes water purchased in bulk.
Your COE is about N$2,474 / US$24 per day. This is 46% of your daily budget.
COST OF LIVING (COL):
This leaves you about N$2,859 / US$28 per day. This should leave you plenty to LIVE on … depending on your drinking habits 🙂
You come to Sauraha for the Chitwan National Park.
You can do everything that you want to do on a GRANDPAcking budget.
Could you afford to retire here on a GRANDPAcking budget? YES.
Is it a Retirement Location? NO.