Tiger Watching in Bardiya


“Chances of meeting a tiger here are pretty good,” said my guide, Santa Chowdhary, as we sat under the tree, facing across the river. It was 40 degrees and the sweat was pouring off us. I wondered at my sanity and how true the saying was about mad English(wo)men out in the midday sun.

A few months before, Santa had come with some clients, and they had sat beneath the same tree. Before long, beyond their wildest dreams, not one, but five tigers came down to the river to drink. The mother and her four cubs that had been born about six months previously were shot by Jakob with his camera, who couldn’t believe his luck.

Tigers are not usually as ferocious as they might seem, However, a mother with her cubs will be aggressive and so when she caught sight of her admirers, she gave chase. The group split and ran as fast as they could in opposite directions, Santa and the other visitor running one way – Jakob the other. Still looking shaky at recalling his experience, Jakob told how he could hear a large and heavy animal running to his right. As he turned his head, he saw the tigress 10 metres away gaining on him. Before she reached him, she gave a ferocious growl and returned to her cubs.

Two years on, the two males and two females have now left their mother, who in the meantime has produced another three babies.The male tiger however, will be out on the prowl again, looking for his male offspring. They pose a challenge to him and the male tiger typically tries to kill them before they can be a threat. This particular tiger has a ‘harem’ of four females, which live in smaller areas is his domain. The juvenile males will either have to find a new territory, or might fight to see who should take over. Mohan Aryal, owner of Forest Hideaway, a small lodge just outside the national park, originally comes from Chitwan. A nature guide there, he remembers how rare it was to see a tiger – and even walking in the jungle most days, he never saw the elusive big cat until he came to Bardiya with some clients who wanted a change from the more well-known Chitwan National Park.

“It is so easy to see tigers at Bardiya,” Mohan told me. On my fi rst walk in the jungle with him, he pointed to a junction of paths and said “I was sitting just here, taking a rest. When I looked up, there was a tiger just in front of me, staring straight at me.” He then proceeded to tell me that the worst thing you could do is to turn and run, but that the safest option was to stare at the tiger, and stay still or just slowly back off. “They don’t usually attack humans,” he said. Of course there are always the few rogues, the man-eaters who invade a village and attack people. But this is usually because they are old, sick or injured and can’t get their food any other way. Thus reassured, I started to walk with more confidence.

I didn’t see a tiger on that visit, but Mohan said “I can almost guarantee, if you come back in late April or May, when it’s hot, and if you have the patience to sit by the river, you will see a tiger.” Sure enough, on a return visit in late April, I was rewarded by a sighting. From under the very same tree where Jakob and his friends had seen the tigress and her cubs, I watched the male tiger for over an hour, sitting in the water,cooling off.

“But you have to be very careful of the wild elephants and rhinos.” Of all the animals, the elephant is probably the most fearsome, as it’s so strong and fast. They can be a serious menace in the villages, where they do untold damage to property and kill anyone that dares stand in their way.

Walking with Santa the day after seeing the tiger, he held his finger to his lips and froze, pointing to along a narrow break in the trees that led to a track. There, a procession of maybe nine or ten elephants, including babies were striding in single file. My heart in my mouth, we moved back quietly, hoping we were far enough not to attract their attention. Back by the river, we saw a dozen or so women, rushing away as fast as they could. They had been illegally ‘poaching’ timber and were running for their lives.

Tiger Tops Karnali Lodge is set beside the national park, and guests typically take elephant safaris to go to see the range of wildlife that Bardiya has to offer. Domesticated elephants are a delight to be with. They can be trained up to the age of about two and Tiger Tops Karnali has eight or so elephants. Part of the  larger Tiger Mountain group, that has a lodge in Chitwan, as well as a tented camp there and inside Bardiya National Park, this enables guests to stay inside the pristine and unspoilt wilderness. My night at Karnali Tented Camp in the middle of Bardiya National Park was enchanting. With strict instructions to wake me if anything came near the camp, I didn’t have to wait long to be venture into the night from my luxury tent to see porcupines and a civet cat, it’s eyes refl ecting the light of the torches. Although in total there may not be as many tigers in Bardiya as in Chitwan, the place is undisturbed and the chances of seeing them are much better here. Sightings of wild elephants, rhinos, deer and the critically endangered Gangetic dolphin are other reasons to make Bardiya a ‘must see’ destination.

The national park is home to over 50 species of mammals. Some 405 species of birds have been Bardiya is located in the Mid-Western Development Region of Nepal and was established in 1988 as the Royal Bardia National Park. It covers an area of 968 km2 (374 sq.ml.), making it the largest and most undisturbed wilderness area in the Terai plains of southern Nepal. Nearly three quarters of the park is covered by forest, with mixed savannah, grassland and riverine forest. identifi ed here, along with 839 species of fl ora. The wide range of vegetation types in the forest and grassland provides an excellent habitat for a total of 642 species of animals. The Karnali river system with its numerous small tributaries and oxbow lakes is home for 125 recorded species of fi sh. Mugger and gharial crocodiles can be found living in the rivers, along with 23 reptile and amphibian species.

From 1986, rhinos have been transferred from Chitwan National Park, with 58 relocated uptill 2000. Until then, poachers were largely unsuccessful, so by 2000 there were 67 rhinos living in the park. However, a survey six years later, revealed an alarming decline, which continued till by 2008, only 28 were counted. Further poaching since then has reduced this number still further. In 1985, two large elephant bulls were seen for the first time in the park. In 1993 a further fi ve elephants were seen entering the park, and a year later another 16 arrived. By 1997 there were 41 resident elephants living in the park, which had
increased to 60 by 2002.

Getting there
Bardia National Park is situated 600 km from Kathmandu and the journey by air takes 1 hour and 10 minutes to Neplagunj, followed by a short journey by road. Alternatively, by road it takes 14-16 hours, public buses leaving Kathmandu in the afternoon to reach Ambassa in the morning, 13 kilometres from the national park gate at Thakurdwara. For travellers coming from India, it is about 10 hours by road from Delhi to the border at Mahendranagar, and just a few hours further to Bardiya.

From the luxurious Tiger Tops Karnali Lodge or Tented Camp, to more standard lodges like Forest Hideaway, there is a range of accommodation at Thakurdwara, close to the national park gate.

The national park headquarters at Thakurdwara offer elephant rides, and there is a gharial crocodile breeding centre and small museum that are well worth a visit. As well as the full range of jungle activities: jungle walks, birdwatching, jeep and elephant safaris, the Karnali River provides great white water rafting a few miles upsteam, or nice relaxing river rafting through the national park. You will see a multitude of birds, animals that come to drink and you might be lucky enough to see the endangered Gangetic dolphins. An interesting excursion can be made to Tikapur, a couple of hours away, where there is the old winter palace of the former King Birendra with its attractive gardens.

Article By: Marianne Herdge

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