Welcome to the jungle: a luxury Nepal safari at Chitwan National Park

Her thick, bristled trunk bends backwards like a charmed snake, hesitating only a moment before emptying an arc of cool water over my body. It’s rather a strong spurt, and my thighs instantly grip a little tighter around the gentle giant’s torso, before her trunk swings back down to gather his next load. I’ve had interesting bathing experiences before; beneath waterfalls and in sea trenches and alfresco thermal baths. But being squirted clean by an elephant in Nepal’s Chitwan National Park, in the foothills of the Himalayas, really does take the cake.

Barahi Jungle Lodge owns four healthy female Asiatic elephants. From our perch on their wide backs and accompanied by Barahi’s resident naturalists, we explored the vine-choked sal forest, peppered with spotted deer, and the vast plains of towering phanta grass. We spied six greater one-horned rhinos (the largest of the rhino species) squelching through the mud by the riverbank and couldn’t believe our luck. 

Having such a prosperous safari experience on our first day, however, spoils us a bit. The next morning we head out with high expectations. And although the wildflowers, birds (there are 544 species flitting through the park) and soundtrack of cicadas are captivating, we don’t see much more than a tiger print in the moist dirt. 

The upside of the lack of activity, of course, is more time lazing by Barahi’s large kidney-shaped pool. We float in the water, shaded by overhanging frangipani trees, sipping iced sparkling water and gazing over the river to the jungle beyond.

Aside from being the land of rhinos and tigers and bears, Chitwan has also been home to the indigenous Tharu community for centuries. We have the privilege of meeting them, too, and get a taste of traditional life.

In between these activities, we duck off for treatments at Barahi’s spa or head back to our rooms. Barahi has 34 boutique cottages (29 individual and six interconnecting deluxe) scattered along the river, and one extra-luxurious family suite. The architecture blends seamlessly with the jungle, using local bamboo, wood and thatched roofs. 

As the sun starts to drop low in the sky, we take a canoe safari along the river. Our naturalist pushes his paddle through the sun-spangled water, and we wave lazily to the villagers gathering grasses on the riverbank. We shake off our stupor rather quickly, though, when we spy our first crocodile.

It’s a sight that’s almost as thrilling as the small alfresco bar we pull up to, at the point where the Rapti and Narayani rivers unite. We happily sip our drinks and munch grilled chicken skewers as we watch the setting sun streak the sky apricot and lavender. It’s a moment that’s hard to top, until we arrive back at the lodge where a feast awaits. We devour it all, vowing that we will be back to Chitwan soon. To glimpse a tiger. To further explore these luscious forests. And, most importantly, to take another elephant shower.

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