Just wanted to say how good the drive was from Kathmandu down to Chitwan.
I would recommend driving either into or out of Chitwan as the scenery along the way is great! I hired a car and driver, and the trip took us about 5 hours with a couple of stops for photo's and a coffee.
You can get the tourist buses, but i'm not sure how comfortable they are and they do take longer, but i imagine you have a lot of interaction with local people on those.
Roads are quite good in places, but then other parts are terribly bumpy. Plenty of places to stop off if you need to for the restroom or food and drink.
After my white water rafting I had to catch a local bus from the finishing point to Chitwan. This was an experience! We were crushed onto the bus in the searing heat, but that somehow made it all the better! People were riding on top of the bus and it felt like I was finally experiencing the real Nepal.
I caught a tourist bus to and from Kathmandu for the 6 hour bus ride to Chitwan. Although it's not airconditioned, the windows open fully and you're not melting away for the whole trip. You stop once during the trip at a rest stop with toilets and shops as well as a cool place to sit down. It's not too bad an experience and the passing views are spectacular.
I was charged US$10 return for the tourist bus.
Well…the most practical, simple and natural means of transport in this part of the world since immemorial times…on the elephant’s back. Slowly advancing through the dense vegetation, balancing his enormous body at every step as if in an endless belly dance, the elephant ride seemed to me a mix of mystique savour and childish, innocent charm, to the point that the more I was doing it, the more I wanted.
However, I was explained that despite of clichés from Tarzan movies, elephants cannot work or carry people continuously throughout the day. And I felt quite comforted to learn that nowadays, the longest ride on back of the elephant lasts 2 to 2,5 hours. Hope this applies not only for “tourist” elephants, but also for the ones owned by the Nepali armed forces.
If you ever have the chance, don’t miss it under any reasons. You’ll most probably ride on a female elephant, as they are more obedient and calm. Try also riding her a few minutes without the platform, it’s a little bit challenging but definitely more fun.
For the first bus ride in Nepal I opted for the more “upmarket” option – Greenline bus company, operating tourist destinations such as Kathmandu, Pokhara and Chitwan. A rip-off as per Nepalese standards (10 USD one way instead of 4 USD / 300 rupees), the ride proved excellent in terms of first contact with Nepali mountainous roads and driving customs.
Secure a ticket one day in advance from the company offices in Kathmandu just outside Thamel.
The old fashioned air con bus, clean and comfortable, with reserved seats, leaves Kathmandu early morning (7,30-08,00 a.m.), manages to negotiate its way outside the Valley within the first hour, and then slowly follows the road through a nice mountainous scenery, on the two lane “Prithvi Highway” heading west to Pokhara. At half-distance, an all-you-can eat brunch was served (around 11 a.m.) in a tourist motel just outside Mugling, then I changed the bus with a minivan, with porters carrying my backpack (remember, this was a “tourist” bus). The air con minivan and its 3 passengers arrived in Sauraha around 2 p.m., after passing through another piece of nice Nepali scenery.
If you’re staying in one of the resorts inside the park, ask them to pick you up from the bus station.
You can easily raft into Chitwan National Park, several rafting/trekking companies offer jungle visits combinded with a refting trip on Kali Gandaki/Sethi/Marsyangdi or Trishuli rivers. Trishuli from the Kathmandu side is probably the easiest and cheapest option. You will need to look at packages here as the logistics is a bit difficult to organise by yourself and probably won't be any cheaper.
Tadi Bazaar (several writing styles) is the Sauraha/Chitwan road head. Tadi is right on the East-West Mahendra Highway. Get off your bus here, do your last minute shopping, post your mail (well, still risky...) and then look for transport from here to Sauraha some 8 km down a rutted road.
You can combine travel by raft or kayak with Chitwan visits. It can be done on individual basis, through a rafting package tour, or a resort package. You can raft 1 to 3 days on Trisuli/Narayani/Sethi rivers. The last day toward Narayanghat is on flat water, but it is a mighty experience coming out of the Himalayan ranges (Mahabharat) and to the flatland of the Inner Terai. You will be picked up at the landing spots and transferred to the Chitwan resorts if prearranged.
There are local buses plying Sauraha-Tadi Bazaar, Tadi Bazaar to Naryanghat, and more regional buses plying the East-West Highway covering entry points to the national park from the west such as Machan, the Sauraha hub, Kasauraha, Gaida, Tiger Tops, Bharatpur airport, Narayanghat and beyond. You need to ask local advice for itienraries and schedules.
Unless on a package deal that includes transfers from the airport or Narayanghat/Bharatpur/Tadi Bazaar, you have to fend for yourself to get to the lodge/resort or the Sauraha tourist hub.
Taxis is an ok option, sometimes resort vehicles are fishing for guests, but settle for passengers only. From Tadi you can also get a tonga cart for a calm and very quiet clopeti-clop ride to Sauraha. To get to the resorts inside the national parks you will really need to have safe transport, and to pre-order a pick-up from the resort is a good idea.
In case of transport strikes, rickshaws and tongas and ox carts will still ply the roads and ruts to the airport.
We didn't have a lot of choices for vehicles to Chitwan park as it's Maoist strike period. So we were very happy to find that there was, at least, this Saibaba bus company going to Chitwan. It took 6 and half hours from Kathmandu to Chitwan including lunch time.
The bus conductor will ask you where you stay in Chitwan then they will direct you to get off accordingly. Normally your pre-booked hotel will pick you up wherever you are off. It's amazingly well organized.
If you stay in Island Jungle Resort, You and your baggage will first arrive by this canoe. Then you'll also have a chance to have a one or two hour cruise on the smooth Narayani River during a still summer afternoon.
It was a great experience. We had about 10 people on the canoe, no one spoke for a long time, as nobody wanted to break the peace of silence.
The most popular way to visit the park, so you can't miss it. As different animals have diffent schedules for eating and sleeping, so it's better to do it at different times, early in the morning, late in the afternoon... Not in the same day, as it's quite tiring to ride the elephant going ups and downs in the jungles.
It's wise to wear long sleeve shirts and long pants as the branches could scratch on your skin. Be careful with your glasses, hats or cameras while on the elephant. Have all of them attach to you.
There are two airports serving Chitwan National Park. One is currently defunct because maoist guerillas blew up the tower, the one left is Bharatpur very close and serving Narayanghat. It is located right on the Mahendra East-West Highway.
The flight from Kathmandu is only 20-25 minutes. Everest Air, Yeti Airlines, Sita Air, Gorkha Airliens and Royal Nepal flew this stretch when I was last here in March '04. The price is about 60 USD one way. Since the road between Mugling and Narayanghat is partly destroyed by landslide and is frequently the scene of maoist attacks you will save time - up to 8 hours - by flying these days. But you will miss the scenery along the road.
From the airport you can catch a vehicle to a resort directly or make your way there independenly. Various transport options beyoned the resort-owned vehicles appear on the main road just outside the airport gates.
Scheduled buses run frequently from Kathmandu to the Chitwan gateways. These gateways are mainly Narayanghat, Bharatpur, Tadi Bazaar and between Narayanghat and Butwal.
From any of these points you can get transportation further toward the park boundaries. Most convenient for independent travellers who just chance to go to Chitwan and have no prebooked accommodation or arrangements is to go to Tadi Bazaar and get a jeep, taxi, horse cart or rickshaw from here to Sauraha some 7-8 km away. Ask for road and water conditions before setting out by taxi...