The day I felt like a female version of Jim Corbett!
As we got down on a wooden bridge and waited for some action, we heard a shrill spotted deer alarm call. My guide was already at the other end of the bridge and he followed the call, while we were asked to sit inside the vehicle. Within minutes he returned and signalled us to get down from the vehicle and follow him. The driver followed me for safety reasons. As much as we tried we could not stop stepping on the dry Sal leaves that carpeted the jungle floor. With several feet making crunching noise we went ahead. At one point we stopped to hear. I saw the muddy river and pointed it to the guide saying, “something must have been here, the river behind this point has clear water and from here onwards the water is murky.” He nodded and we all went ahead. The path towards the stream was a steep slope, so the guide decided to go ahead first and check, while we waited. After checking, he signalled us to follow him. As we crossed the stream, he pointed to the wet pugmarks of a tigress. The pugmarks were a bit small for a male and the territory according to the guide was of a tigress so we concluded it was a tigress. I had the usual symptoms – goose-bumps on my arms and neck, heavy breathing, weak in my knees, heartbeat going haywire, followed by palpitations which felt like the heart was near my ears, dry mouth, shivers and momentary freeze. Trying to overcome the big cat withdrawal symptoms, I continued to concentrate on making less noise and follow the guide. Every once in a while we would stop and look in amazement at the wet pugmarks and the drops of water fallen from the tigress’ wet body on the rusty coloured dry leaves. We knew that the tigress was ahead of us as we heard alarm calls of langurs looking below. We went on until we could not see any droplets of water nor any wet pugmarks. By then the langurs looked relaxed and had stopped calling. We gave up searching for the striped feline and in a pensive mood we walked back to the vehicle.
Just imagine how it would feel, to not just follow a tiger or a tigress in this way but had we seen her – on equal terms, hands and paws bare, at ground level, staring each other in the eyes! I do not know what my reaction would be then. How did Jim Corbett feel? He must have had several occasions when he did something similar. Did he have the same feeling I did?
On hindsight, I am sure I would not have lifted my camera but would have just watched her from a distance. I am sure tears of happiness would have streamed down my cheeks. I am sure I would have walked back in a trance. I do not really know what I would have done but, I did touch the droplets of water that had dropped from the tigress’ body and I did touch her wet pugmarks. I did walk back in a trance and I did look above and thanked whoever is up there for this experience!
We did see a tiger, and yessss we were on foot. But as soon as he heard us he just leaped and vanished in the thick forest across the river.
That was one hell of an experience and now about the trip….
When a friend told me about the workshop being organised at Bardia Rastriya Nikunj (Rastriya Nikunj is National Park in Nepalese language), in Nepal, I wanted to go, especially because it was being organised by youngsters who are into conservation and I had never been to any forests of Nepal since I was a little girl. Boy, oh boy, was I glad that I made the decision!
At first four of us were to drive to Shuklaphanta Rastriya Nikunj, stay for two nights there and do a whole day safari and then head to Bardia the next day. However, friends decided to fly and I was left with the option of either joining them, or to drive. The drive, one way, is almost 500 km. During that time I was traveling to North-East India with very patchy network and I had no way of communicating in detail. Moreover, I love to drive and know more about the locals as we drive and stop, so I decided to drive.
Except for some patches where the roads are being broadened the drive went smoothly.
Before entering Nepal there is a metal bridge, which is kept open in turns for 15 minutes for each side to ensure smooth flow of traffic and for swift paperwork. However while crossing the bridge, driving in a car is a bit worrisome. It is a narrow bridge and you have to be an expert in squeezing past the scooters, bikes, autorickshaws and bicycles all overloaded with people or goods coming from the other side.
Shuklaphanta Rastriya Nikunj:
I was told that Shuklaphanta got its name from the Tharu word for Sukhiya (dry) Phanta (grassland). It is in total 305 sq km. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been upgraded from Wildlife Reserve to National Park in 2017.
It has a huge population of Barasingha (Swamp deer). The local saying is that Shuklaphanta is for Barasingha, Chitwan is for the Gainda (Rhinoceros) and Bardia for the Tigers.
What I loved about Shuklaphanta is that while being driven on the huge grassland, which at the time seems never ending, but then, all of a sudden you are in a heavy Sal forest! The Sal forest is so thick that the growth under the trees is minimal!
The animals are not used to tourists so even before you lift your camera they are gone! It is wildest of the wild! This is same for Bardia!
I spent only one day at Shuklaphanta and here are few landscape photographs and of the denizens of this huge grassland
Bardia Rastiya Nikunja:
It is the largest national park in Nepal and covers an area of 968 sq km. The Babai and Karnali rivers flow around and in the national park. It was upgraded from Royal Bardia National Reserve to Bardia National Park in 1988.
According to the last tiger census in 2016, there are around 56 tigers in Bardia.
The Rastriya Nikunja has thick Sal forest with giant counterclockwise Vines serpentining the trees. It is called Counterclockwise Vine, because it curves and twists around a tree from the left to the right. I have never seen such giant vines in my life. Just to give an idea here is a photograph…do you see me? And this is not the largest of those I saw!
Then there are many termite hills, just as the saying goes that if you see many termite moulds, be sure that you are in a healthy forest! They are large too, and here is a photograph to give you an idea. Just like the vine photograph above this is not the largest of the termite hill I found there.
The most exciting thing about both these Rashtriya Nikunjs is that you are allowed to walk on foot.
Just imagine, you are walking in a narrow path between around seven-feet high elephant grass on either sides, engulfing you, and all of a sudden you come face to face with a tiger! Well, I am one of those born in this generation, who may one day come face to face with a Tiger! Mind you this walk in the park is not going to last long!
The things you need to remember and drill in your head is to listen to your guide. They know the area, they know their job and in case of emergency, they may be in a position to help you more that you may be able to help yourself. So leave your stubbornness at home before you venture towards the treasures of Nepal, the pristine forests of Shuklaphanta Rastriya Nikunj and Bardia Rastriya Nikunj!
Anyway, here are few photographs of Bardia Rastriya Nikunj: