No1 Best guide to Bardia National Park
Imagine lush tiger filled forests that stretch as far as the eye can see. Now imagine a flourishing traditional culture that exists side by side with nature. That is what you will be getting we you visit Bardia National Park. Spanning a whopping 374 square miles this national park is a treasure trove of natural wonders and a must for any wildlife enthusiast.
This is one of the few places in the world where visitors are free to walk among some of the worlds most spectacular megafauna. That’s right ladies and gentleman this is one of two places I know of in Asia where it is ok to get a guide armed only with a small stick and take a walk on the seriously wild side. The other place of cause is Chitwan national park that’s further along the same highway. Strolling through the Sal forests of Nepal and encountering a Bengal Tiger will almost certainly be one of the most memorable experiences of your life. There are obvious dangers with this, and I will get to that later.
The land here forms part of the Gangetic plains, making it some of the world’s most productive soils. That, coupled with centuries of evolution, has created the vibrant biodiversity you see today. Bardia national park is sure to leave you enthralled to the point of ecstasy.
This post is not written from the experience of a single visit here. I have been more than a half a dozen times in different seasons so I can give you a coherent overview of what to expect. It is always useful to read the experiences of fellow travellers to get an insight into what will suit your needs. Because that’s the point of my blog. To help my readers find what they want to get the most out of YOUR time. Well, there is so much to get through here so lets jump straight in shall we?
I am including my video on Bardia for those who would prefer to watch something rather than read a blog.
About Bardia National Park.
The park is located in the far western district of Bardiya. It is bordered by the Karnali River in the west and hemmed in by the Churia range in the north. While the Babai River flows right through it. Bardia was established as a national park in 1988 by the Nepali government and today it is the largest in the terai. Bardia links on to Banke national park and that creates a corridor for the wildlife. They occupy an area of 555 square miles combined, and the Dalla corridor links Bardia even further to Dudwa national park in Utter Pradesh. In a nutshell, this is an enormous tract of the jungle and one you can spend a very long time exploring.
The fauna of this national park is staggering with 53 species of mammal recorded. Some are admittedly a little more inconspicuous than others. Animals such as the one-horned Rhinoceros, Bengal Tiger, Elephant, Nilgai, Barking deer and Swamp Deer are quite likely to appear on your Safari. However, the rest is down to chance. There are Sloth Bears, Gangetic Dolphins, Rusty Cats, Fishing Cats, otters and the ever-elusive Leopard floating around there somewhere. Oddly as big as the Sloth bear is, I have never met a single guide who has seen one and all say they live in the mountains where no one goes.
The Bird list is no less impressive at a burley 407 species recorded in the park. The bar-headed geese and the sarus crane are iconic to Bardia. although there are some pretty impressive birds compete within the park. Some of these avian beauties are critically endangered, so this is a critical habitat to preserve. Even if you are not really into birds, you will find it hard to be taken aback with all the wonderful species that will grab your attention.
There are also 25 species of reptiles and amphibians including the incredibly rare gharial. There is an impressive 836 species of flora for the botanists among us for you to indulge in and of cause an unknown number of insects.
When to come to Bardia.
Many people come here under the impression that this is the underdog and is vastly undiscovered. I want to clear it up for everyone that this little slice of heaven is very discovered. It gets quite crowded as tourism has increased dramatically in recent years. The guides here take a different approach to wildlife viewing as they tend to watch and wait in certain areas of the park that offer a vantage point over the landscape.
In Chitwan, it comes down to a long hike in the jungle. In Bardia National Park its a patience game and those points can become very crowded in the peak season. Despite the national parks staggering size most tourist go to the same few places for the good vantage points.
I will also point out that the peak season is definitely not the best time to see wildlife as the massive elephant grass will obstruct your view. Its the tallest grass in the world and is plenty big enough to hide even the most jumbo of creatures. The peak season is after the monsoon and over the winter months. This is the most pleasant time to visit but get ready to share the experience. If you get a jeep safari instead of walking at this time, you can easily lose the crowds. You can only walk so far in a day, and no, you can not sleep in the park anywhere.
The best season for wildlife viewing is during the dry season when all the grass is dead, and the local Tharu people come and cut it all down anyway. It is a valuable resource for them and this gives you a clear window to spot wildlife if you can put up with the heat. Grass cutting season starts officially in January, but it takes time to benefit from the widespread harvest. From March till May everything opens out and you can spot infinitely more abundant wildlife at this time.
Now let us talk about travel in the infamous monsoon season. It runs from June to September. I can not overstate enough that the wet season means wet! The rivers rise, and the jungle can become like one big water park. Initially, this might not sound like the ideal time to visit, but I have to say I loved it. I had unhurried authentic experiences with the wildlife as there is no one else here. In fact, these have been the most fruitful walks I have made here despite the grass being a whole piece bigger than me.
There is a much greater abundance of insects now, and I know it not for everyone. However, I love them all except mosquitoes of cause and going to sleep every night watching the fireflies hover over your bungalow is memorizing. As I said, you will get wet and stay wet for pretty much the whole time you are there but who cares when your experience will be so awesome.
The people of Bardia.
The local people are known as Tharu. Many of the locals still live in a way that seems timeless to an outsider. Many of these people have been moved from inside the park to let the wildlife thrive. Whole communities have had to relocate to the park’s boundaries. There is a mixed sentiment from the Tharu as you can well imagine.
Well, imagine what it is like having these huge animals for neighbours for a start. The Elephants alone cause enormous damage to the crops every year and greatly impact the people. Plus the land they used to collect resources such as fuel and food from is now considered a no go area, which is bound to cause some tension.
I would say the vast bulk of local people still are subsistence farmers, although many have wanted to get in on the tourist bandwagon. Remember that the massive luxurious lodges you see here are from outside investments. If you decide to not go with my suggestion for a place to stay, I will give in the next section remember to stay local if you can and support the community.
Taking a walk through these rural areas are a delight for any visitor and a highlight in itself. The Tharu people are warm and welcoming, and an insight into these people’s lives is certainly an eye-opening experience. I know we all come for the big animals, but culturally this place is extremely vibrant, and unlike Chitwan, the Tharu culture is largely unspoiled.
Getting a nights rest in Bardia.
There are oodles of places to get a nights sleep here, and I have stayed in a few. However, the one that stands out for me is Bardia Wildlife Resort Paradice. This place is really nice, and the family who owns it are so very hospitable. The food is good, and the rooms are very reasonably priced and comfortable. After a hard day trekking its important to be somewhere comfortable because treks last from dawn to dusk and can leave your mussels very sore.
The guides are seriusly experienced at finding the wildlife. That matters when you will be spending money and your safety are in their hands. You want someone who can both find wildlife and keep you safe. These people have been doing it for years, and in fact, the owner was the first female guide in the park ever!
Phone ahead to make sure someone is there to meet you from the bus stop as Ambassa is several kilometres away from any accommodation and nowhere near the park. The Pick up is completely free, and if you dont book something, you will be greeted by a wall of touts who want to get you to their chosen guesthouses.
Activities in Bardia national park.
Many things can keep you busy here, and now I will briefly run through the most popular. I am not including watching wildlife on the back of an elephant, as many of my readers will not be thrilled with their experience. However, there are far more ethical ways of getting to see a little of this parks incredible wildlife so let’s delve straight in then.
Firstly, no matter what activity you decide to engage in inside the park, you will all need tickets. At the moment it is 100 rupees for Nepalis—750 rupees for citizens of SAARC nations and 1500 rupees for foreign nationals.
This is far and away the best way to see wildlife anywhere as there is no noise and it is invigorating to be walking in the dense forest. It is just plain heart pounding when you are wading through the grass and have no idea what is coming.
You will always be with an experienced guide who knows the ropes, and you are sure to leave with memories that will last a lifetime. Treks last from sun up to sun down so this works out great value for money. However, be prepared for a long day and be being very sore afterwards. Stay close to your guide at all times as there are massive animals in here and realistically they may be around the next corner.
This will set you back a bit more, but it is a chance for you to get away from other tourists in the peak season. I have taken several, and it is possible to see good wildlife despite the engine as the drivers can take you to other vantage points far away from the main group. I recommend taking at least one to try your luck in the deep in the jungle. In fact, you will certainly need to do more than one safari of some kind to maximise your chances of seeing the animals as this is no zoo. The animals are free to roam a huge range, so it makes sense to spread the chances.
While you are not allowed for obvious reasons to camp inside the park, you can do so in the buffer zone if you have a guide. These tours normally include a full days hike in the forest and then a nights camping. What could be more exotic than sleeping out in the forest under the stars? It is possible to organise multi-day rafting and camping treks, but you will need to talk to the owners as you need many things for this to happen and it is very costly. It has always been a dream of mine to do this.
These are a good choice if you want to spot such animals as the gharial, marsh mugger crocodiles, otters or the incredibly rare Gangetic dolphin. There is also a good chance of spotting animals when they come to the river to drink or bathe. While I have not done one of these myself, I have got good feedback from other tourists. I have had multiple reports of tourists seeing tigers and leopards while floating lazily down the Kanali river. Of cause moving by the river will give you a fresh perspective of the jungles and grasslands.
Bardia – Getting there and away.
Bardia is a long way from anywhere yet still strangely accessible by public transport. The nearest big town is called Ambassa on the main highway and as I mentioned is a long way from the park. So I will state again it is far better to ring ahead with your chosen guest house.
There are daily flights to Nepal Gange from Kathmandu, and it only takes about an hour in the air. You can easily get a bus to Ambassa from there and make it by the afternoon if you get a morning flight.
You can make the journey from Kathmandu or Pokhara in about 14 to 18 hours by bus. If you want to come straight here and skip the rest of the whole country, I would strongly recommend taking a comfortable AC bus as that’s just good sense. If you are coming overland from India, you can use the Mahendranagar or Nepal Gange border crossing, although it is hard to get to the later from the Indian side. For more information on that check out my in-depth post on getting from India to Nepal.
Getting to Ambassa by public transport is possible from the main village by tuk-tuk or tiny bus. It is not plausible to make your way from the highway to the village as you would have your luggage and there is simply no room for that. Not to mention, you would have no idea where you are when you get out, and the lodges are spread over a massive area.
Summary of my post on Bardia National Park.
As you can tell, I am enthusiastic about this place, and I wholeheartedly recommend it. Nepal is a country where there are many contrasts, and it is blessed with a wide range of biodiversity. Few places are so far yet so accessible in Nepal. If you are an avid nature lover, you can’t go wrong by coming here. It is a chance for you to truly immerse yourself in all the splendour of the natural world. There are many treasures in Nepal to discover, and this is one of the best in the country and maybe the planet.
I think that covers everything you need to know to get started planning your dream trip into the wilderness. As normal if you have any more concerns or questions just leave your comments in the box provided and I will get back to you, I promise. With that said, I have done enough talking so, I will let you get back to your day and happy planning my fellow intrepid travellers.Follow me on social media 🙂