After a few days of relaxing we got on the night bus from Pokhara to Nepalgunj. The journey would take 16 hours and because we did not know exactly what was awaiting us we were prepared for the worst. Arriving in Nepalgunj, the bus ride was a lot of fun, even though we spent the night on some less charming places in Nepal. Around eight o’clock, all empty spots in the bus were filled with bags of potatoes during a short stop and around 11 o’clock the usual stop for Dal Baaht followed. With a speed of no more than 40 km per hour we bobbed through the night and arrived early morning in a sleepy Nepalgunj. The city is no more than a dusty unattractive trading post with India at less than a kilometer from the Indian border. We decide to stay for one night, just to get an impression of the city.
The next morning we located our bus at the bus station in the direction of Ambassa, where we intend to change to Thakurdwara, the village near the entrance to Bardia National Park. Two hours later Ambassa turns out to be no more than a road crossing with a small stall and an army post. Traveling through the south of Nepal, army checkpoints regularly remind us of the long and brutal war in Nepal until 2006. We are a bit lost in Ambassa and have little hope that a bus will drive in the right direction any time soon. So there is only one option left: to walk, 12 km towards Thakurdwara. After about an hour of walking we get a lift from a jeep which turns out to run to one of the hotels in Thakurdwara. We expect to be escorted into the hotel after the ride and prepare for some fuss in order to reach our intended homestay afterwards. But nothing of all that! The owner kindly shows us the way to Bardia Homestay and even refuses the 50 rupee we wanted to give her.
The village of Thakurdwara is stretched over a few kilometres along a river and during the search for our homestay we were impressed by the charming and peaceful place. This is an entirely different part of Nepal. Life her e is even more traditional and basic than we experienced in the mountains. The rumour that we want to stay in Bardia Homestay spread like a fire and people spontaneously show us the way as we realize that we have only told two people where we are going! An hour later we are warmly welcomed by Budhi and Sonja who received the news about us heading for them. The Nepalese-Dutch couple has been renting out two fairly luxurious rooms for the last season, including their own bedroom and bathroom, which is fortunately still available. We spend five nights and experience a great time in the traditional villages Thakurdwara and Dalla, and the wildlife of the nature reserve.
We ride a bike to discover the area for an entire day and together with Budhi as our guide we head out the next day into the park to catch a glimpse of the wildlife that lives in and around Bardia National Park. We are on the lookout for spots along the river where chances exist that an elephant, tiger or rhinoceros will cross the water. While waiting and gazing over the vast grasslands, we discover a python less than 10 meters from where we are sitting, hidden in the bushes. From the size of the head and thickness of the body, we estimate that it is at least five meters long! During the day we see countless monkeys and different types of deer. When Budhi finds fresh traces of a tiger, the tension rises. The prints are clearly visible and we follow the trail. Not much later we hear the roar of a tiger in the distance and all of a sudden the thought we are not in a zoo, safely behind a fence, but in a forest among the wild beasts strikes us. While we are fully focused on the tiger, we see a rhino hidden behind the bushes, bathing in the river. Although only his head protrudes above water, we are aware of how big and powerful the animal is, and when we look for another spot an hour later, another rhinoceros crosses the river in the distance.
The tiger can no longer be heard or seen, but the experience of these kind of big animals around you is an impressive experience. On the way back to the exit of the park there are two crocodiles on the bank of the river. We approach them until we are some 20 meters away and continue our walk.
In order to experience the jungle and the animals even better, we spend a night camping in the forest on the edge of the park. We cross the river at night, set up our tents and make a fire to prepare food and keep tigers and elephants at a distance. The two previous nights we heard how elephants at a number of places destroyed the fencing around the village to feed on the fresh crops on the fields. The local farmers guard the town in high towers around the village and try to scare away the elephants with torches and large campfires. According to Budhi, every year a person is killed by an elephant attack. We spend some extra attention to our campfire! As the sun has gone down and we are enjoying a nice and peaceful evening there is movement in the boulders across the river. Budhi jumps up and throws a large pile of branches on the fire that flares up immediately. The sound seems to be approaching and when we hear a splash in the water, Budhi thinks of recognizing the speed of the steps an elephant is coming our way. We sit quietly on the shore while the high flames do not seem to change the elephants thoughts. When the splashing stops and we hear its steps in the boulders on our bank, we try to scare the beast with our torches and it turns to be a rhino climbing up the riverbank at about 25 meters away!
The feeling of being really among the elephants, rhinos and tigers is indescribable, just breath-taking. A statement from an American whom we met during the Annapurna Trek is perfectly in line with a stay in Bardia National Park: “All of a sudden you realise you are not on top of the food chain anymore.” The five days in Thakurdwara passed by like a breeze. Meanwhile, we are waiting at Mumbai airport to catch our flight to Bangkok and enjoy our last week in Nepal, which we spent in Lumbini and Tansen, but that update will be written in Bangkok!