As our motorbike sluggishly pulled us through the dust-clouded road stretching from Mugling to Chitwan, I wondered several times if the journey was worth it. On reaching the destination, and even before that, the answer was—I would go through it all again in a heartbeat.
The broken-down road Mugling onwards is not easy at all, whether you are traveling via bus, private car, or like me, on a motorbike. The road is awful terrible, and so, it is possible that you will forget to admire the aqua-green river that follows almost all the way through, the free-falling waterfalls that are visible once in a while, and the mighty hills that in the beginning seem to be narrowing in, but eventually completely disappear. In the continuous but frivolous attempt to save my already dust covered self from the whirlpool of incoming dust, it took me a while to realize that the hills had transformed into flat lands. But the moment of realization was surreal. I was in the terai, and it was more than I had ever hoped it to be.
Chitwan welcomed me with thick forests on either side of the road, acres and acres of flatlands covered in emerald and neon green paddy fields, punctuated by farms of banana plants and a few houses. The picturesque town of Bharatpur is landscaped with two-storeyed homes with charming little front lawns, and clean, paved streets. To go from a congested traffic-filled Kathmandu, then a dusty highway, to a serene, peaceful town was already turning into an ideal vacation. It was nostalgic to see the Bikram tempo, which has, for a decade now, been banned in Kathmandu, sputtering up and down the streets. A few scenes of the city seemed to have popped right out of the textbooks. And, when I was still soaking up the beauty that is terai, we had already reached our destination: Jungle Villa Resort.
Situated on the northern bank of the great Rapti River, Jungle Villa Resort is a balanced amalgam of nature and aesthetics. The resort blends into its surrounding, which is easing to the eye, and pleasing to the soul. Every brick, every stone, and every plant in the resort is in sync with nature, and doesn’t feel out of place. Most of the resort’s landscape is dedicated to trees and grassland. What is remaining has been carefully carved in to make super luxurious residential rooms that complement the overall setting of the resort. The resort has of 30 guest rooms, a restaurant, reception lobby, a canopy-inspired hall, and a tasteful bar. The residential spaces have been given a traditional mud-house like outlook that have been inspired by Tharu culture. The interior and exterior walls are decorated with colorful handprints. To add the spirit of Chitwan and its jungles to the rooms, each room has been named after an animal. Our room was called Linsang.
The rooms are tastefully decorated, with a rustic feel. Although minimalist, each room has all required amenities in place. The attached bathroom is spacious and efficiently designed to be comfortable. The designer has to be applauded for the use of recycled wood to create a gorgeous mirror frame; the traditional slates instead of tile, and locally produced straw blinds. It is the seamless concoction of aesthetic pleasure and traditional values that strums a chord with you. It is the same concoction that is repeatedly visible and felt during the entire stay at the resort.
While the resort offers a 2-day, 3-night package with several activities lined within it, you can choose to have a custom-designed package depending on the length of your stay. The evening event at the resort is alternated with either an informative slide-show presentation on Chitwan, or an entertaining traditional musical performance by the locals. The musical event involves Tharu cultural dance performance, which ends with a body grooving dancing on the beat of “Chari Gudaima...” The song may be repeated every night, but it never gets old, and you will find yourself dancing to it again and again.
A tour to the neighboring Tharu village opens you to their rich history, culture, and values. Channu dai, who is a licensed naturalist at the resort, is the guide for the village tour and every activity on offer at the resort. The resort owns two elephants: Villa Kalli and Jungle Kalli. An elephant safari to the jungle on one of these mighty animals will offer you an uninterrupted viewing of the natural habitat of wild animals. However, a stupendous sighting of the magnificent tiger is very rare. I wish I could say I saw one, but that will be lying. But I did see rhinos, and not just once, but on six occasions. The fact that one of those occasions was at one in the morning on the resort’s premises is anything but a lie. Channu dai, upon our request, accompanied us to a 45-minute walk to Tamor Lake in Chitwan National Park. The walk itself was exciting, and although we didn’t have any encounters with wild animals, Chhanu dai’s narration of surviving a rhino attack made up for it. We did get to see many and different birds, and not two birds were the same. It was healing to the soul to hear chirping and singing of so many birds instead of the honking of Kathmandu traffic.
One of the main reasons people visit Chitwan is to explore the wild. Next time you visit this region, do it for its people; for their warm culture, caring values, and welcoming spirit. You cannot help but feel a sense of belonging at this place. As for wildlife sightings, just plan a few days’ stay at Jungle Villa Resort. A clear sighting of the one-horned rhino lazily bathing in the Rapti, deer hopping on the other side of the river, and the cold-blooded crocodiles basking in the sun on the little islands is guaranteed, even as you sip on a chilled beer or cool lemonade on the resort’s deck.