Chitwan is the name not only of Nepal’s most visited national park but also of the surrounding dun valley and administrative district. The name means “Heart of the Jungle” – a description that, sadly, now holds true only for the lands protected within the park and community forests. Yet, the rest of the valley – though it’s been reduced to a flat, furrowed plain – still provides fascinating vignettes of a rural lifestyle. Truly ugly development is confined to the wayside conurbation of Narayangadh/Bharatpur, and even this has left the nearby holy site of Devghat so far unscathed.
The best – and worst – aspects of Chitwan National Park are that it can be visited easily and inexpensively. It is high on the list of “things to do in Nepal”, so unless you go during the steamy season you’ll share your experience with a lot of other people. If you want to steer clear of the crowds, and don’t mind making a little extra effort, try avoiding the much-touted tourist village of Sauraha and base yourself in one of two villages along the park’s northern boundary, just west. Ghatgain and Meghauli are much quieter and less developed than Sauraha, but also have guesthouses, guides, elephants and entry checkposts (though jeeps are more difficult to come by). You can also do a jungle trek from Sauraha to either village. Or, if you’ve got the money ($200–350 per night per person, all-in), opt for pampered seclusion at any one of the luxury lodges and camps inside the park itself.