Sometimes there is nothing worse for photographers than high expectations. So it was for me in Nepal’s Chitwan National Park. I went seeking images of even one of its 120 Royal Bengal tigers and came away with nothing, nada, zilch.
After two days traveling its bumpy, dusty roads in a noisy, uncomfortable, aging safari vehicle, all we had to show for it were sore butts, spinal compression and headaches from the exhaust fumes. On one of our days we traveled from 7:30 AM to 5:30 PM.
The issue here is that the elephant grass is so thick that a tiger or elephant could be three feet from he road and you’d never see it. At times our vehicle rode through canyons of the thick grasses. I often felt that the tigers had the last laugh, observing us without being seen themselves. That is truly disconcerting since every year 3-5 people are killed in tiger attacks in the small communities surrounding the park.
Part of the problem is that the grasses and dense forests work to the animals’ advantage, easily concealing them. A good part of the issue is the noise that the rattling vehicle makes on those narrow dirt roads. A tiger here will be seen only when it wants to be seen. In fact, our private guide and our driver had only seen one tiger in the past year, and they ply Chitwan’s roads six days a week.
We did manage to see two Asian rhinos, monstrous beasts with armored plates draped over their ungainly bodies. One was so hidden we could manage only a few decent images. The other was feeding on grasses in a riverbed, so it gave us only a few minutes of shooting as the sun had already set behind the tree line. With 535 rhinos in the park, I had also hoped for more sightings. Once again, our guide advised us that photographable rhino sightings are not that common.
Our lodging, ironically at Tigerland Safari Resort, was terrific. An attentive staff, clean, spacious cabins and good food made for a pleasant stay. But if you do go to Chitwan for a photo expedition, be advised to keep your expectations in check.