Bardia National Park is the largest of Nepal’s Protected Areas, covering 968 sq kms in the western terai region of the country. It is one of the most undisturbed and least explored forests of Nepal, attracting hard core wildlifers and nature lovers who enjoy offbeat wildlife holiday destinations that are packed with unique adventures.
These forests are a wonderful mix of sal trees, open grasslands (called phantas) and riverine woodlands, with the Karnali river flowing from the east and the Babai river flowing through the Bardia District. Together, the land and water ecosystems support more than 50 species of mammals, 400 species of birds, 840 species of flora, and 125 species of fish. Bardia National Park, along with the adjoining Banke National Park, forms a continuous protected area network of over 2,231 sq kms which also represents the Bardia-Banke Tiger Conservation Unit, and is home to a large population of the royal Bengal tiger. In fact, this unit is Asia’s largest stretch of tiger habitat. The park’s open forests make for good tiger sightings, as well as good habitat for rhinos and a large number of migratory elephant herds who cross the border from Dudhwa in India. The two rivers support sizeable populations of gharial and mugger crocodiles as well as the Gangetic dolphins.
With the mixture of riverine and forest habitat, birdlife is also excellent and includes the rare Bengal florican and lesser florican, the silver eared mesia, and the increasingly endangered and elegant Sarus cranes, as well as many terai woodland birds and waterbirds. In addition, there is a good opportunity to see reptiles including the huge Burmese python.
Bardia is surrounded by many villages, and the community most well known in these lowlands of Nepal is the fascinating Tharu, who number about 100,000 living in and around this area. They have lived in these lowland forests for hundreds of years practicing shifting cultivation. They plant rice, mustard, corn and lentils, but also collect forest products such as wild fruits, vegetables, medicinal plants and materials to build their beautifully decorated houses. Before the Park was declared, they hunted deer, rabbit and wild boar, and went fishing in the rivers and oxbow lakes. Famously, the Tharu are resistant to the deadly malaria disease, which was why they could live in these areas for centuries unlike their highland countrymen. A chance to visit their villages is a must when visiting this western part of the country.
Bardia suffered terribly during Nepal's Maoist Insurgency from 1996-2006. A huge increase in poaching saw tiger numbers plummet from around 80 before the insurgency to just eighteen in 2009. When the Maoists won the historic elections in 2008, peace brought a renewed commitment to tiger conservation. As more patrols and army personnel became engaged in protecting Bardia once more, tiger numbers doubled: a count in 2011 identified 37 individuals here and researchers are optimistic that their number is now higher still at 50 today.
You can travel to Bardia National Park from the Kathmandu airport as well as the Nepalgunj airport.
From Kathmandu: It is a fifteen hour journey by bus from the Kathmandu airport through the low lying mountains of the Himalayas. Buses leave from here every day in the morning.
From Kathmandu airport: Travellers can also take a 55 minute flight to Nepaljung, and then move by vehicle to the park to shorten their journey.
From Nepalgunj airport: There are two buses that run everyday from Nepalgunj to the entrance of Bardia National Park, taking three to four hours.
Park entry fee for Nepalese: NR 100 per person (US$1)
Park entry fee for International tourists: NR 1,500 per person (US$15)
Fishing permit in Karnali river: NR 2,000 (US$20) (Foreigners), NR200 (US$2) (Nepalese)
Camping permit: NR 1,500 (US$15) (Foreigners), NR 200 (US$2) (Nepalese)
River safari permit: NR 2,000 (US$20) (Foreigners), NR 200 (US$2) (Nepalese)
Jeep Safari permit: NR 2,000 (US$20) per car; NR 4,000 (US$40) per jeep; NR 5,000 per bus (US$50)
IN THE FIELD UPDATE
Tourism numbers have been down badly this year since the earthquake having quite an impact locally. Nepal is claiming to be the only country in the world with zero poaching in 2014 and 2015, yet 4 tigers have been poached this year it is believed. However an increasing population of tigers is thanks to the protection from its Nepalese Gurkha Army. In March Bardia welcomed the first of three rhinos from Chitwan National Park as part of a government translocation programme. The arrival of the animals was greeted with much jubilation and a further few rhinos are expected to be moved into Bardia in the next phase. A July 2015 report citing surveys conducted by park officials claims that around 70 adult tigers and 13 cubs have been observed in Bardia National Park. A tiger census in 2013 had put the number of big cats between 35 and 50. Spring time (March, April and May) the chances of seeing Tiger are high.
Karnali Lodge (PUG Quality Practice)
Though tourism is down to this western part after the earthquake, much has changed that should make a visit very special. Jeep safaris, walking safaris and river trips are the best way to get out and about to enjoy the flora and fauna. A combination of the three works well, a packed lunch and an all day excursion will give you the best chances of viewing the wildlife. The lodge can now apply for special permits to camp inside the national park, as they could in the old days – and this is very special. Recent clients had 9 nights and saw tiger almost everyday! The lodge only has two elephants now and Tiger Tops made a commitment now to only use them for elephant trekking, moving others to Tharu Village and a nice chain free corral.