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Nepal Tourism

Nepal National  Parks

RhinoFor a small country, Nepal is incredibly
diverse. It has the greatest range of altitudes of any nation on earth. The terrain ranges from the earth's highest mountains to subtropical river plains.

In the high mountains, Sagarmatha National Park is the jewel. Designated a World Heritage Site, Sagamartha preserves the area surrounding Mt. Everest. While the world's highest peak is its key attraction, the park also boasts deep gorges and amazing bird and animal life. Other High Himalaya preserves include RaRa National Park, protecting a beautiful alpine lake in remote western Nepal, and the Annapurna Conservation Area, one of the most popular trekking routes in the country.

At the opposite extreme are the national parks of the Terai, the lowlands area of Nepal running along the Indian border. Most famous is Royal Chitwan, known for the famous Tiger Tops. Originally a hunting preserve for the ruling family, Chitwan was set aside in 1973 as a sanctuary for Nepal's few remaining Bengal tigers and rhinos. Its cousin Royal Bardia lies farther to the west, offering a great variety of smaller game, such as black buck antelope, spotted deer and leopard.

In general, Nepali parks are not "untouched" environments, but have a long history of use by humans. Many national parks incorporate grazing, farming, wood gathering, survival hunting, and human habitation into their boundaries, as well as tourism and trekking. These uses are not without their tensions and their environmental stresses. But there's also something wonderful about this close association of humans and the natural environment. A trip to a Nepali national park always involves interacting with other cultures as well as with the raw stuff of nature. 

The Sal Forest

Both Royal Chitwan and Royal Bardia lie in the jungley Gangetic Plain. Before the 1950's, Nepalese kings depended on the jungles as sort of Great Walls, southern version. Instead of vertical stone keeping out the Mongols, malaria kept out the British. The dominant tree of the region is the sal (Shorea robustia), a tropical hardwood which has some value as lumber. Teak also grows in the area, but the next most common big tree is the saj. The ecosystem associated with the sal forest is extremely rich. Many vines and creepers spring up from the forest floor. The trees branches and upper reaches are host to many different epiphytes, including several orchids.

The parks are a birdwatcher's paradise. It's easily possible to see over a hundred different birds in a single day. Over 440 different birds have been recorded at Chitwan, including the Indian peafowl, the tuneful blackheaded oriole, the openbill stork -- and, well, 437 others.

The sal forest stops at the lowest, floodplain regions of the parks, giving way to grasslands and riverine forests. At Chitwan, the floodplain also takes in several lakes, which are the preferred habitat of the rhino, as well as many different marsh birds. Pythons can mostly be found near the larger bodies of water, so when the deer come to drink. . . In the water itself are some unusual fish-eating crocodiles, called gharial, playful smooth-coated otters, and if you're lucky, you may see Gangetic dolphin, a freshwater mammal that chomps on fish and crustaceans.

The "big game" unfairly gets bigger billing over the parks other mammals. As usual, its the character actors who give the more interesting performances. Unknown to most  westerners is the mighty gaur, a hoofed beast that come down to the grasslands after the burns. Four different deer live in the park: -- the barking deer, the hog deer, the sambar deer, the spotted deer. You'll probably see a gray langur monkey, but you probably won't see a rhesus macaque -- but you might.

Bardia is hillier and drier than Chitwan. It has many of the same species as Chitwan, minus a significant rhino population, which has only recently been reintroduced into the park. A river gorge cuts through one corner of the park, and in the winter, wall creeper, a winter bird, fly up and down the face of the gorge.

Wildlife Spotting

LeopardThe point of traveling to both Chitwan and Bardia is to be on the lookout for wildlife. How you see it can very greatly. Th e classic thing to do at Chitwan is to take an elephant ride. This involves engaging a pahit, who looks after the elephants and rides behind the elephant's ears. You'll either be in a howdah, a little platform on the elephant's back, or, if you're traveling economy, on the elephant's back.

Even though riding an elephant is a must do, you'll have a more intimate experience of nature if you hike. You'll want to hire a guide, at least for you're first excursion, both to be safe and to increase your chances of seeing more interesting things.
You can also take boat rides on the Rapti river, which is a good way to see water birds and animals.

Some people consider Royal Bardia a more interesting park to hike in. The hilly terrain offers more diversity and interesting view. The Karnali River, which bounds the park's western edge, drains the region and is one of the main tributaries of the Ganges. At the park's northwest corner, the Karnali cuts through a gorge. Follow it to the end and you come out at a stunning view of the floodplain. A centuries-old trading route, cut directly into the stone of the hills, runs along the western bank of the Karnali. The Karnali is also a world-class river for paddle sports. You can plan a trek that starts upriver from Bardia, and spend a few days paddling down to it. The Geruwa River is another whitewater challenge that runs through the park.

When to go

The most likely time to see wildlife is after the February burns and before the monsoons start up again in May. Both parks close in May, and reopen at the end of September. October can be hot and lush, November less so, December and January are (comparatively) cold.

Sleeping and Eating

At Chitwan, you can stay inside the park at a variety lodges, from multi-starred to basic but comfortable. There are no campgrounds for rustic campers inside the park. Budget travelers stay at Sauraha, a nearby village that has some higher end accommodations as well. Meals are provided either by the lodges, or you can cadge something at restaurant.

Bardia does offer campgrounds for your own tent, as well as luxury lodge accommodations. However, there are no food markets in the park, so unless you stay at one of the lodges, you'll have to pack in your own.