Even as the country’s rhino population bounces back with record numbers, a new jungle lodge by the Taj Group is seeking to redefine the wilderness experience in Nepal.
The jungle was so still that the snap of a twig sounded like a gunshot. I froze, hunched over in a half-crouch, and peered through a thicket of rosewood and acacia. A dozen strides away, a one-horned rhinoceros cow wallowed in a muddy stream on the edge of the tall grass. “Can you see the calf?” whispered my guide, Mankumar. I sank to my haunches and craned my neck as the rhino splashed toward some succulent reeds to reveal a baby version of herself, seemingly tethered to its mother’s hip.
It was a stunning moment. To my surprise and delight, I had glimpsed several rhinos here in Nepal’s Chitwan National Park the day before. But those sightings had come from the isolated safety of a safari jeep, which is why I hadn’t batted an eye when a big, nearsighted bull stared us down, weighing whether or not to charge. Today was different. Together with Mankumar and naturalist Dipu Sasi, I’d tracked the rhino cow through the jungle on foot, following colossal dung piles and flat, featureless footprints as big as dinner plates. Now, the only thing between me and the 1,600-kilogram animal was a stand of brambles no thicker than my pinky finger.
Mankumar and I watched in awed silence for a few tense minutes until the rhino and her calf lumbered deeper into the reeds. As we crept back to join Dipu on the game trail, our feet crunching in the apricot-colored fallen leaves of the sal trees towering above us, I knew this was one animal encounter that I’d never forget.