Trundling through the Western Terai

The roads in Nepal are bumpy and cratered at the best of times, so choosing destinations that require traveling long distances are not to be taken lightly.

On our way to the Annapurnas, the buses bound for Chitwan National Park (only a few hours away) were packed solid with eager tourists.

Bardia National Park is deep in the Western Terai, an agonizing 14-hour trip from Kathmandu. But it offers a bit of solitude compared to the way-more-popular Chitwan, and lists the same roster of possible animal sightings. Possibly cheaper, we reasoned. So we went, despite our misgivings.

The girl seated in front of me vomited out the window five minutes after we’d left the bus station, and because my window was also open, I caught a bit of it in my face.

After toweling it off I monitored her behavior more carefully, but she didn’t throw up again despite eating masala munch chips, two gigantic pieces of cucumber and downing a whole lot of frooti mango juice. 

For me, that wasn’t the worst bit, though.

Our seats were 6 inches behind the seats in front, and even though we aren’t very tall by Western standards, we had no leg room to speak of. Even sitting straight up our knees kept hitting, with each brake and pothole, the metal rod that was jutting out from the seats in front. And the backs of our seats didn’t just not recline, it was set at a perfect 90 degree angle… Meaning even when resting our backs on the seat, our torsos were forced to lean forward.

Anyway, all that meant a lot of fidgeting and adjusting for 14 long hours. Xiker’s legs were out in the aisle most of the day so that I could have room to splay mine out. But when it came time to sleep, a huge family with four adults and six children under 10 boarded the already full bus and stretched out in the aisle. (I mean, really stretched out. They looked so comfortable I was jealous and even considered offering to switch places.)

So we tried to sleep first sitting up, then with our legs scrunched up, then we took turns stretching our legs out on each other. Nothing worked, neither of us were able to fall asleep, and so the night passed slow and painful. 

Just before 6 am, we found ourselves at the crossroad of the highway and the road to Bardia National Park. There are almost a dozen resorts set up near the park, but all of them were at least 13 km away from the crossroad.

Fortunately we soon found another tourist who’d been dropped off by a bus 10 minutes before, and he’d called ahead to his resort, so a jeep was already on the way. We agreed to check out said resort and hopped on for a free sunrise ride through the Terai.

Once we’d checked into the Hoopoe room at Bardia Wildlife Resort, Xik and I set out for a early morning walk. We’d already agreed to go for a full day safari, but chose to put it off til the next day because we didn’t want to walk 12 hours after our sleepless night.

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Bardia is surrounded by farmlands and villages, all mostly populated by the Tharu tribe. Despite their numbers and seemingly simple way of life, the Tharu have long suffered discrimination and oppression, and were reportedly once considered the lowest touchable (just above untouchables) in the Nepalese social hierarchy of the 1800s.

Houses are made of sticks and bamboo, with thatched grass roofs, and to protect against the elements, the walls are daubed with clay, mud and dung. Some interiors of the houses had daubed walls also, but many were left exposed. Though most of the houses had windows, they were just square openings built into the walls–only a prosperous few could afford mosquito screens for the windows. 

Almost every household had huge piles of hay; cows, sheep, goats and water buffaloes are all common farm animals in these parts. Hens and ducks crossed the road, adorable black or yellow hatchlings pattering after them. 

After an hour, beads of sweat were dripping down our faces already, so we turned around and headed back to the resort. After breakfast, we flopped down onto the bed and fell asleep. 

the hoopoe room at the resort– the art design on the walls can be found on some houses in the surrounding neighborhoods
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barn
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house
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garage and truck (atypical)
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two story house (also atypical)
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the average window
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exposed ceiling
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I woke up around one o’clock, sweating profusely in the intense afternoon heat, and got up to turn on the fan. Alas. No power. Managed to fall asleep again somehow. 

At 3:30 I bolted out of bed and turned on the shower full blast. Icy cold, perfect. And it was only a week ago, in the Himalayas, when I would’ve given anything for a bucket of hot water! 

After a late lunch, we set off to visit an elephant sanctuary, a 15 minute walk down the road from our resort.

There were about 10 elephants, and it was feeding time so they were all chained to separate posts and each given a mound of tightly wound grass. The gentle but behemoth creatures eyed us with indifference as they gobbled down their grass pellets, blinking slowly as we gingerly reached out and rubbed their trunks. Only the front two of their huge feet were chained, but I had no doubt they’d easily break free if they wanted.

Well, though the adults weren’t interested in us visitors, there was a lone baby elephant, who was an absolute dear. Turns out she was born on February 14, so I’ll call her Valentine. As Mommy focused on dinner, Valentine stretched her chain so she could investigate the new strangers. She was visibly disappointed we didn’t have any treats for her and kept nosing her trunk all up in our bizness. 

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poor fella didn’t know what to do with the gopro
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“hold it out like this…”
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take 2.
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gigantic grass pellets for dinner
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Cute lil Valentine
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if you’re interested, here’s a short clip of indifferent, hungry elephants and cute lil Valentine

many farms had similar watchtowers. i was ready to fall asleep!
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