A safari through Bardia National Park
A safari tour, booked at the Bardia Wildlife Resort, cost us a whopping 2,900nrs each, which included 2 meals in addition to the admission fee and guide service.
The sign at the entrance of the park sets the entrance fee at 1,000nrs, and the rental of a guide for a full day safari also costs 1,000nrs. (Our meals were NOT worth 900nrs so thats a tip to people thinking about coming out to the park: compare prices before choosing a tour. Yes, we did not.)
Nevertheless, I enjoyed our two guides, Udam and Hira. Both guides were unfazed (and curious) about my deafness and invented ways to communicate with me, so I had no problem understanding everything.
The youngster of the group at 20 years, Udam was full of energy and kept making jokes all day. And as the only female guide working in the Bardia area, pretty Hira is a diamond in the rough (her name literally means diamond). Having worked here for many years, she knows the park like the back of her hand.
When we set off on the dusty road to the park, it was not yet 7 am and the sun was beating down on us already. By the end of that short 1.5 km we were sweating, and I was wondering how we were going to get through the rest of the day.
Before I continue, it must be said that animal safaris are not as exciting as they sound.
I too invoked images of bushwhacking through Africa, looking for tigers and escaping close calls with rhinoceroses.
Before falling asleep the previous night, I imagined that a rhino, offended by our intrusion of his territory, would charge at us as we stood frozen with fear. Then at the very last second a hungry tiger, intending to make the gray dinosaur its next dinner, would come leaping out of the tall grass and latch onto his horns. They’d fight and eventually the bloodied rhino would drive away the tiger, bellowing triumphantly as the tiger slunk off into the horizon.
seen the battle at kruger? watch. you won’t be disappointed. its like 8 minutes long but the excitement happens just around 1:40 and make sure you also watch out for what happens at 3:30. Then at 4:45 there’s yet another twist and i promise it will touch yer heart.
Ok, so I knew we wouldn’t see anything that exciting. But I couldn’t stop imagining what the safari would be like. We’d watch herds of antelope grazing from the watchtower, and giraffes would ignore us as they munched on leaves of tall trees. In the afternoon heat we’d come across a family of elephants trumpeting happily as they cooled off at their watering hole, and they’d trumpet water on us.
None of that happened. To begin with, there are no wild giraffes in Nepal.
In fact, if it weren’t for the binoculars the guides brought along, I would have seen nothing except the barest outline a few rhinos and a few startled deer as they ran away from our thunderous footsteps.
There’s a saying: bad hunter chases, good hunter waits.
So, we waited. We spent most of the day waiting, though it was not all in vain.
As soon as we got to our first lookout, the guides excitedly pointed at the river and mouthed “rhino, rhino!” (I used the opportunity to show them the sign for rhino.)
But I saw nothing except faint orange figures that turned out to be deer. Udam handed me the binoculars, and I peered through them. At first I couldn’t see anything other than the heads and antlers of a group of deer nestled in the high grass on the riverbank. I kept staring, then I realized one of the tiny islands in the river was moving.
The island was the scaly backside of a rhino, more than half submerged in the water, and his ears were flapping around. I had no idea how big a rhino’s ears really were, it could’ve been Mickey Mouse soaking himself in the river for all I knew.
After we’d ogled his backside quite a while, Mickey Rhino finally emerged from his bath, covered in mud, and through the binoculars we were able to behold him in all his muddy glory.
Mickey Rhino grazed a bit on the tall grass then wandered out of sight. The deer, nervous without their guardian, ducked back into the woods. The only signs of life around us were now bugs, birds and a few fish in the water. We waited in the shade, sweating in silence.
When Udam climbed up a sandbank to take a look around, he immediately shushed us and bade us come look at what he was pointing at, an excited look on his face. As I approached him, I had brief visions of seeing a tiger ripping into the belly of an antelope.
Nope. Another rhino taking a dip, but not much closer than the last one. Eagle-eyed Xiker noticed he had no horn. A hornless rhino? The guides explained that sometimes horns break off in a fight, but it does grow back.
The guides were thinking about the fresh tracks they’d seen and thought it would be a good idea and double back to the first lookout. Nothing but a few deer, back in the same spot by the riverbank. So we unwrapped our lunches and sat down to eat fried rice, boiled eggs and potatoes. But after only a few bites, Hira came rushing through the underbrush and whispered, “tiger!”
We abandoned our lunches and scanned the horizon for the telltale orange of the tiger. Again, I saw nothing until the binoculars were handed to me: the orange and black stripes were almost half a km away from us but that was definitely a tiger. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem hungry and only eyed the deer with indifference.
Rajah splashed down into the water for a bit then sat out on the riverbank to dry. As I stared at him with the binoculars, his gaze eventually settled on us and I felt as if he were looking straight at me.
Someone else grabbed the binoculars from me and without them, all I saw in the distance was a faint gray blur that was the tiger. The deer were barely visible through the tall grass, but I could see antlers turning this way and that. I was surprised they didn’t take off, but the guides did warn us–don’t run away from a tiger– they attack from behind.
Rajah stayed for more than 20 minutes, and the deer didn’t leave until he did too. We took turns with the binoculars (there were 2 of them and 7 of us humans) until the last of the animals were out of sight, then went back to our lunches.
After awhile Hira collected us from our individual viewing spots and led us on a 10 minute walk to the second lookout. It didn’t offer much of a view of the river vista, though, so we had to improvise.
Just when we were safely perched atop the high branches, we saw a rhino on the right side of the marshland amble off, having had enough of the river for now. After a bit, another tiger came to take a dip in the river. Rajah the second seemed to be really enjoying himself as the water swirled around him, and I found myself envying the king of the jungle.
He left after 15 minutes, the afternoon wore on and we continued to sweat in the intense heat. Even in the tree branches, the air was thick, and there was no breath of fresh wind.
Two wild pigs grazed their way to the water, took their fill, and waddled off again. After a long period of shifting uncomfortably on the tree branches, a deer wandered slowly (always looking around for danger) to the river for a drink as the same time a rhino, clear on the other end of the marsh, splashed into the water to cool off.
Finally, after sitting for hours in the damp, unyielding afternoon, we were roused yet again from our stupor and herded back the way we’d come. Udam took a detour into the tall grass, shushing us constantly, obviously listening for something in particular though I didn’t know what. The grass was taller than all of us and scratched at our faces and clothes.
Udam signaled for us to stop, and carefully tiptoed through a thick cluster of grass.
A second’s look then he leaped back, a bemused and excited smile on his face.
He crouched down and indicated that we should quietly walk back the way we came. A few minutes later, when we were safely away, he said it was a sleeping rhino and that it would be best if we didn’t wake him. (I quelled all potentially exciting scenarios that came to mind.)
So we circumvented the sleeping grounds and eventually made it back to the first lookout, where we scoped the area again.
Only a handful of deer on our side of the river, probably the same ones we’d seen that afternoon. As we continued on the trail towards the nearby watchtower, the deer scattered and splashed through the river, away from human danger. They eyed us cautiously and after ascertaining we weren’t going to give chase, they relocated far from us and settled into the grass again.
From what I saw, the life of a deer is really no fun. Throughout the day, every single deer I laid eyes on was constantly looking around, always on the alert for possible danger. Even when resting on the grass, their heads were swiveling around, their ears twitching and their noses sniffing the air. In complete contrast, the rhinos and tigers paid no mind to their surroundings, confident in their ability to defend themselves.
Nervous nellies aside, the views from the watchtower were amazing, a 360 panorama of the park, the green trees melting into a prairie of tall grass and shrubs, and far to the other side was the river and the park boundary. With the binoculars I could just barely make out the bright tin roofs of houses on the other side of the river.
Within 10 minutes we espied three rhinos ambling onto the scene, looking for tasty edibles in the prairie. One was a large male, and the pair was a mother and her baby (though it seemed like a young adult, the size of that thing). The mother originally paid no mind to the old rhino, but when the baby was spooked and came running back to her mother’s side, the two older rhinos stood off against each other for a good 5 minutes, at least 20 yards apart. We watched with anticipation, and for the hundredth time that day, I was silently hoping we’d see some fireworks.
Alas, the mother, sensing no threat, turned away, and the old rhino bent his large head back to the ground. The baby, still feeling apprehension, slowly inched up to the old rhino and sniffed him. The old rhino grunted and that was that, everyone was acquainted. All three went back to their respective grazing and slowly padded out of sight.
That marked the end of our relatively successful animal safari and we angled through the prairie of tall grass back to the park entrance. A pair of startled deer darted away from us into the underbrush, our closest encounter that day.
At park headquarters, we made a detour and visited the crocodile breeding grounds and the park’s official elephant sanctuary. The sanctuary housed three gigantic elephants and a captive rhino which was penned up and munching happily on its vegan dinner.