Chitwan National Park
For a country known for its beautiful mountains, the Gangetic flat lands of the Terai that stretches through out the southern part of Nepal provide a wholly different experience. A visit to Nepal remains incomplete without seeing the beauty of the Terai.
And Chitwan is the best place to do so. The Royal Chitwan National Park, established in 1973, provides a great wildlife experience with its rich flora and fauna . The wildlife and the landscape are not as breathtaking as those found in Africa but still, the experience will stand out.
Chitwan is only 150m above the sea level. The place gets steamy from March-June, with peak temperatures reaching 43°C in the shade. Short grass makes Feb-May the best game-viewing season, but the autumn months are gorgeous, with Himalayan views, and in winter (December-January), Chitwan is pleasantly warmed compared to Kathmandu. The monsoon season (July-August) is intense, with pounding rain, swollen rivers, and luxuriant vegetation. While the rain isn't constant, the humidity is all pervasive.
Places Of Interest
Though one can visit neighboring Tharu villages in Chitwan, the major interesting focus of Chitwan is still the exploration of the Chitwan National Park.
Flora and Fauna
The flora and fauna of Chitwan makes it a great place for nature lovers. Chitwan has over 50 different species of mammals, 400 different species of birds, and 65 different types of butterflies in its hardwood Sal forests, riverine vegetation, and "elephant grass" savannah. More than 70 different species of grass grow here.
The most famous wildlife in Chitwan is perhaps the single-horned Asian rhinoceros. A few decades ago, their number had fallen to less than 100, but recent count puts them at 400. These animals have thick armor like hide that is hard to penetrate even with a bullet.
A fully grown animal can be as tall as 180cm. In spite of army protection for these animals and severe punishment for harming them, rhino poaching is still a problem as every organ of the animal carries some (probably superstitious) value. The horn fetches about US$10,000 per kilo and is believed to be an aphrodisiac. The dung can be a laxative, the urine cures tuberculosis and asthma. The blood can help cure menstrual problems. The hide keeps away evil spirits. And so on.
Chitwan has about 150 Bengal tigers left of the one time 3000 or so. Though poaching is a serious threat, the real threat for these majestic animals is the gradual loss of its habitat. A male tiger requires almost 60km space, and a female one requires a third of it. Chitwan is simply not big enough to handle many tigers. It is rare for one to actually see a tiger, though looking for one is an interesting part of the trip.
Other wild mammals one may see are leopards, various types of deer, monkeys, sloth bear, and antelope.
Royal Bardia National Park
The Royal Bardia National Park is the largest and most undisturbed wild area of the Terai region of the Nepal Himalayas. Similar to Chitwan park, but with a drier climate and a more remote location, Bardia encompasses 1,000-sq-kms of riverine grassland and sal forests.
The Terai or lowland hills and valleys of southern Nepal, nowhere over 1,000 feet in elevation, extend all along the Indian border. The Terai once supported a healthy wildlife population in a habitat of 25-foot high elephant grass and dense hardwood forests, but had very few people, due to virulent malarial mosquitos.
Bardia was a royal hunting reserve of Nepal's Rana rulers from 1846 to 1950. In Nepal, wildlife lost whatever protection the royal hunting reserve conveyed when the Rana rule ended in the 1950's. A well-meaning malaria eradication program in the 1950's and 1960's opened the terai for settlement, and transformed about 75% of the native Terai to agricultural land. Wildlife populations declined with the combination of increased settlement and widespread poaching. Bardia was declared a wildlife reserve in 1976, first measuring 134 sq miles and expanded in 1985 to 374 sq miles.
Natural Beauty of Bardia National Park
Today's Royal Bardia National Park is bordered to the south by the Babai River, to the north by the Shiwalik or Churia Hills, to the west by the Girwa River (a tributary of the Karnali), and to the east by a section of the East-West Highway which bisects the park. The Terai is only in the southwest corner of the park. Much of Bardia is on the southern slopes of the Shiwalik Range where the hills rise to over 4,000 feet.
From the base of these hills, the park slopes gently over highly porous ground for several miles to the rivers of the Gangetic plain. At Chisopani Gorge, the swift-flowing Karnali River emerges from the Shiwalik Range onto the broad plain and flows purposefully through the semi-tropical jungle. Where the river braids out, small riverine forested islands form. Wildlife frequent these oases - maybe you'll be as lucky as we once were to spot a wild Elephant swimming trunk-deep across the river to reach the island.
Fuana In Bardia National Park
What makes a visit to Nepal's Royal Bardia National Park particularly special is not just its large and intact habitat area and its isolated location, but also the presence here of one of the last known herds of wild Elephants in South Asia. The herd, numbering less than two dozen, roams these remote jungles in western Nepal.
The largest of the herd is affectionately called “Thulo Hati”, which means "Big Elephant" in the Nepali language. Seeing these wild Elephants greyish-white bulk rising above the morning mists and hearing them trumpet across the jungle clearing is one of the most remarkable wildlife experiences to be had on our planet.
Bardia also boasts the greatest number of deer species in Nepal. The six deer species found in the park are: Chital or spotted Deer with its ubiquitous white spots on a brown coat; Hog Deer; similar to but smaller than Chital; Sambhar, the largest Deer on Indian subcontinent with a shaggy coat and thick antlers; Swamp Deer; Barasingha; and reddish-colored Barking Deer, the park's smallest Deer.
Other large mammals are: Gaur, the largest wild oxen in world; wild Boar, an omnivorous black-coated creature with large tusks; the agile sloth Bear, a shaggy black bear with a distinctive white "V" on its chest; Blue Bull or Nilgai, the largest Antelope on the Indian subcontinent; and Himalayan Tahr. Serow and Goral, two goat-Antelope members, are also found. Small mammals include: Langur Monkey, Rhesus Macaque, Jackal, three species of cats (jungle, leopard, and fishing); yellow-throated Marten; Mongoose; and Indian Otter.
Two species of crocodiles swim in the Karnali, Girwa, and Babai Rivers - the blunt-snouted Marsh Mugger and the fish-eating gharial with its long thin snout. These creatures share the water with the fresh-water Gangetic Dolphin. The Karnali also supports the great mahseer, which weigh up to 90 lbs, an angler's prize catch.
Birds are the park's most conspicuous fauna with over 300 resident and migratory species. Avid bird-watchers will want to visit the park in November or from February to April when migrants arrive, depart or pass through.
Jungle Safari In Bardia National Park
To view the wild Elephants, you ride on the backs of specially-trained elephants, each guided by a driver. As you sit in a padded wooden platform on the Elephant's back with your camera ready, your Mahout steers the Elephant through tall grass. Mists rise off the nearby river, and you spot a mother Rhino leading her baby down to the river for a drink. Monkeys chatter and birds call in the nearby trees, signaling that an elusive Royal Bengal Tiger is stalking Deer through the high grass. It's a very special experience - a unique experience out at Royal Bardia - unlike any other wildlife setting in Nepal