In Search of the Bengal Tiger in Asia’s Richest Wildlife Sanctuary
Royal Chitwan, 360 square miles that were once the private hunting grounds of the king of Nepal and his guests, is now one of the finest protected forests and grassland regions in Asia. Boat and jeep safaris and treks by foot, led by naturalists and expert guides, explore the river kingdom and its prolific wildlife and bird species, said to number more than 500.
But the best treks are a more traditional affair: A cadre of gentle elephants and their skilled mahouts are ready to take you in search of the great one-horned rhinoceros or the near-extinct royal Bengal tiger – of the hundred breeding adults left in Nepal, about fifty live in Chitwan and the adjacent Parsa Wildlife Reserve.
Tiger Tops Jungle Lodge, a cluster of stilted treetop-level thatched huts, sits within the parklands. In the early morning, it’s like a chapter out of Kipling’s The Jungle Book; at night, candlelit dinners (Tiger Tops has no electricity aside from solar- powered fans and reading lights) are simple, reminiscent of the safaris of Nepalese aristocrats and the Raj’s great white hunters, who didn’t confine their shooting to photographs.
Elephant polo matches – once the sport of maharajas and kings and today an eccentric relic of colonial days – are resurrected during Tiger Tops’ annual international tournament in December.