TIP: Sit on the right hand side of the bus for the best views.
At the Chitrasali bus stop the scene resembles the first day of a Christmas Sale. 100 touts prepare for battle in the hope that you haven''t booked anywhere to stay. We were OK because we''d organised something from Kathmandu - wise move. We lugged our packs across a small bridge over one of the Rapti River''s estuaries to the lodge jeep, then it was a 10-minute drive into Sauraha.
The first two things we noticed was the lack of pollution and the temperature. It''s 28 degrees celsius, sunny and clear - compared to five degrees, foggy and smelly when we left Kathmandu.
The village is beautifully sited along the banks of the Rapti, adjacent the park border station and information centre. Straight away you respond to the peaceful, laid-back feel of the place. It''s a rural Tharu village, not very big, where water buffalo, elephants, oxen and cows wander and tables and chairs are informally scattered along the river at strategic vantage-points.
Bottom line - nothing too commercial and very relaxed.
The Royal Park Hotel occupies a prime position in the village. It overlooks the river in a nice pocket of bushland right next to the park border and visitor centre. The huge thatched-roof bungalows have high pitched ceilings, perfect for the warmer humid climate, fans, terracotta floors and a marble-tiled bathroom you could have a party in. Natural materials from the surrounding area have been used in their construction.
There''s an informal outdoor bar that provides excellent views of the river and abundant wildlife, and a central dining area where all meals are served. Breakfasts are an all-you-can-eat feast of western-style cooked meals, pastries, cereals and Nepalese standards. For lunch and dinner you can arrange to order ala carte or let them serve you from a fixed menu of specialties.
The hotel is a joint Nepalese/German venture that has established a solid reputation, allowing it to employ many of the area''s best guides. You will have a guide assigned to you for the duration of your stay and our guide, Padam, assembled a full 3-day program based on our preferences and the best times to undertake the activities we selected.
The 4-day package we organised from Kathamndu included return transport, accommodation, meals, non-alcoholic drinks, all activities and park fees for $140 each. We calculated we could have saved around 20% by organising everything ourselves - small price for the convenience.The walk-up rate for a room only is $25 a night, including the breakfast feast.
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
January 9, 2002
From journal Nepals Wild Kingdom