Bardia National Park
Bardia National Park is located in in Nepal’s western Terai, just east of the Karnali River, the longest river in Nepal. Bardia is the largest national park found in the lowland Terai. Bardia National park, which includes the Karnali flood plain, much of the Babai valley, and extends into the Siwaliks range in the north, covers an area of 968 square kilometers. Much of the parks southern border lies near the Mahendra Highway, also called the East West Highway. The nepaljung surket highway runs along the parks eastern border and the Babai River runs through the middle of the park. In 1997, a buffer zone consisting of 327 square kilometers of forests and private lands surrounding the park was created. This buffer zone is jointly managed by park officials and members of the local community. Together they have initiated community development activities designed to preserve the natural resources within the buffer zone and educate the local people about the importance of wildlife conservation and the national park.
Bardia National Park is a key element in Nepal’s efforts to preserve the Bengal tiger and its prey species, while protecting the related ecosystems. The park initially began as a small area known as the Karnali Wildlife Reserve in 1976. It was renamed the Bardia Wildlife Reserve In 1982, extended to its current size in 1984 and in 1988, Bardia was given National Park status. Today there are nearly 50 Bengal tigers that make Bardia National Park their home.
Bardia National Park has also become an important sanctuary for the greater one-horned rhinoceros. The rhinoceros was re-introduced into the area from Chitwan National Park in 1986. With careful management and several other relocations from the Chitwan National Park, Bardia National Park now has over 80 rhinoceros living within its boundaries.
Conservation efforts have also seen a return of the Asian elephant to the Bardia National Park. The elephant population has grown from a handful of individuals in the early 1990’s to over 60 today. Domesticated elephant rides are provided in Bardia National Park allowing visitors the opportunity to go off the main trails and enjoy the wildlife of more remote areas of this national park.
Nearly 60 species of mammal, over 400 species of birds, more than 50 species of reptiles and amphibians, and over 120 fish species can be found in Bardia National Park. The park, which is nearly 70 percent Sal forest, provides excellent habitat for many endangered species of animals including the tiger, rhinoceros, wild elephant, black buck, gharial, Bengal florican, lesser florican, silver eared mesia and Sarus crane. The Karnali River is also home to the endangered South Asian river dolphin (Platanista gangetica). Bardia National Park includes a thickly forested, sub-tropical jungle, as well as several open grasslands. Other animal species found in Bardia National Park include swamp deer, hog deer, spotted deer, barking deer, samba deer, Himalayan black bear, sloth bear, grey langur, rhesus macaque, civet, hyena, wild dog, otter, wild boar, nilgai, leopard, cormorants, egret, herons, wall creepers, stork, geese, jungle foul, kingfishers, hornbills, soft-shelled turtle, mahseer fish and marsh crocodile
The park operates a crocodile (both the rare gharial and the marsh mugger crocodile) breeding center that raises crocodiles for eventual release back into the national park. The Bardia National Park also has an elephant rehabilitation center for Asian elephants rescued from private owners, orphaned by poachers or sent to Bardia by other wildlife agencies.
The months of September, November, February and April are the best for birdwatching. During these months migratory birds arrive; increasing number of bird species that are present in the national park.
While most of the national park is covered with Sal trees, areas of grasslands and riverine forests can also be found in this national park. Over 8oo species of plants, including more than 170 species of trees, are found in Bardia National Park.
There are many ways to explore the Bardia Nation Park and the surrounding area which allow the visitor to target different wildlife and cultural experiences. Treks and bird watching walks into the park and surrounding areas usually take a half or full day. Elephant safaris (riding on the back of an elephant), usually lasting one or two hours, go into the park in the early morning and late afternoon. Rafting and canoeing trips are some of the best ways to see a variety of the park’s wildlife, including the endangered South Asian dolphin. Most rafting trips starts near the Karnali bridge, finishing near the Elephant stables. Jeep drives allow the visitor to see more of the national park in a shorter period. Cycling tours are also available to visit the areas around the national park.
There are three distinct seasons in Bardia National Park. From October to April the park is usually dry, with warm days and the cool nights. This is the best time to visit Bardia National Park. In April the temperature begins to rise and the days become hot and humid. The temperature can reach up to 45ºC in May. In June the monsoon rainy season begins and continues through September. It is unwise to visit the park during the monsoon season as the rains can last for days and transportation is severely limited by the extremely poor conditions of the roads.
Bardia National Park can be reached by bus, car or airplane. There is both bus and airline service from Kathmandu to Nepalgunj. The bus trip takes nearly 15 hours, however, the scenery along the way is beautiful as you pass through mountains and forests until you reach the flat Terai plains. The bus trips costs about the equivalent of US$20. Bardia National Park is about 90 kilometers from Nepalganj. Bus service is available from Nepalgunj to the park’s headquarters at Thakurdwara during the dry season. The trip takes two to three hours. Taxis are also available from Nepalganj and can reach Bardia National Park in about one and half hours. If you are traveling by private vehicle make sure that you have plenty of fuel, as there are no filling stations in the park area.
The Bardia National Park headquarters is located in Thakurdwara; where there is an information center, a small wildlife museum, and a Tharu ethnographic museum for visitors. The Tharu museum contains exhibits of costumes and household objects which highlight the culture, traditions and lifestyle of the Tharu people; an indigenous people native to the Terai area. Many Thar currently live on southern fringes of the national park’s buffer zone. Historically, the Thar have been subsistence farmers and practiced their own form of tribal religion. Visitors can take a tour to a nearby Tharu village to see the current lifestyle of these indigenous people. A dance and cultural program performed by the Tharu is also available for visitors to attend and handicrafts made by community members are available for purchase by visitors as souvenirs.
It is important to carry a comprehensive first aid kit, which contains medicines for intestinal problems, as there are no proper medical facilities available in or near the national park.