I will tell you one word, and you will close your eyes and visualize anything related to it. So I say Nepal! You’re probably seeing white peaks, imagining the mighty Everest and all his younger brothers in the Himalayas, prayer flags waving in the wind, Buddha’s eyes, monks chanting, trekkers and climbers. But I’ll say another word – TIGER! And you’re now eyes wide open, giving me the looks. What’s the deal with tigers in Nepal? Well, I am here to tell about the jungle safari in Nepal, where you can spot a tiger.
Where exactly can you do a safari in Nepal?
Yep, I know. Nepal is a country full of mountains and incredible treks (you can even try a one month trek to Everest Base Camp). So perhaps me trying to convince you now that you should do a safari in Nepal isn’t quite what you would have expected from a Himalayas related article. But Nepal has two national parks where you can do a safari, and you will see tons of wildlife.
And of course, the icing on the cake – you might even see a tiger. You’ve read that right; you can come across the stunning royal Bengal tiger. And if the tiger isn’t enough for you, then you should know that there’s another superstar you could meet during a jungle safari in Nepal. The leopard is the other kitty cat that happily calls some areas of Nepal “home.”
But where exactly are these areas? Well, when I refer to Nepal’s jungle safari oasis, I mean Chitwan National Park and Bardia National Park. Among these two, the celebrity prize goes to Chitwan. It’s safe to assume that almost any traveler that reached Nepal has heard about Chitwan. Walking around Thamel, you spot tons of posters luring you to try a jungle safari in Chitwan. And apparently, Chitwan is the number one choice for travelers wanting a jungle safari in Nepal.
What’s the difference between Chitwan National Park and Bardia National Park?
There is one massive difference between these two parks. One that takes its toll and weighs heavily when choosing between them – the distance from Kathmandu. Unfortunately, most travelers/tourists coming to Nepal are on fast forward. Not a lot of people can afford to take more than two weeks off from work. But they will want to squeeze in as many places as possible in this small amount of time.
So that’s when traveling distances become decisive factors. It’s one of the reasons people choose to fly to Lukla, risking their lives on those scary flights, instead of making the seven day-trek there. And it’s also why most people will choose Chitwan over Bardia. Because Chitwan National Park is only a 4-6 (7) hour-bus ride away from Kathmandu, in the plains of Southern Nepal. And it also boasts the title of Nepal’s first national park (opened in 1973) and a UNESCO Heritage Site. You can also fly there, the nearest airport being Bharatpur, 10 km away from the park.
But if you do opt for a jungle safari in Nepal, would you really want to go to the most famous place? Sometimes, it’s better to go with the runner-up. And Bardia National Park is one heck of a runner-up. What makes it so unique? The fact that it’s not just a piece of cake to get there.
So how do you get to Bardia National Park?
For Bardia National Park, you need to get to Thakurdwara. And for this, you have two options (actually three) – car, bus, and plane. I guess you could also walk, but you wouldn’t exactly be trekking the mighty Himalayas. Bardia is located in the Western part of Nepal, at approx. 527 km from Kathmandu. If you think it’s not that bad, imagine that from Kathmandu the buses take around 14 to 18 hours, and from Pokhara 12 to 14 hours. Enjoying a jungle safari in Nepal does require some patience. Of course, you can also choose to fly to Nepalgunj, the closest airport, which is 80km away from Thakurdwara. A one-hour flight that will empty your pockets of around USD 300, round-trip.
Renting a car is also an option. But as with any jeep rental in Nepal, the prices vary, and they are close to the cost of flight tickets. So I would probably not recommend this option. The best one would be taking the plane, but you also need to consider your budget. A safari in Nepal is not exactly cheap, so I guess not everybody would want to throw away a lot of money on some flight tickets.
So this leaves us with the buses. And yes, this is how we reached Bardia as well. We decided to take a bus from Pokhara. It took us 14 hours to get there, and we paid around 3000 NPR for two bus tickets (approx. USD 28). However, on our way back to Kathmandu, the ride was 19 hours!!! NINETEEN hours. An excruciating bus ride. But I still don’t regret choosing Bardia for our jungle safari in Nepal, instead of Chitwan.
Where to stay in Bardia?
I know that I am here trying to prepare you for your safari in Nepal, so I should give you some accommodation tips as well. We decided to stay in Bardia for one week. I know, the perks of long-term traveling, being able to spoil yourself with the luxury of time. And as usual, I wanted a homestay. So, after some research, we decided to stay at Bardia Homestay. It’s a very cozy homestay owned by a Dutch-Nepali couple, Sonja and Budhi.
Our stay with them was very friendly, they took care of us and helped us with the safari. They have a cottage with two rooms in the courtyard that allows you to get a sense of countryside Nepal. To be honest, we didn’t really feel that we were in Nepal. Roosters would wake us in the morning, in the field behind our room, the elders were taking care of the crops each morning, the kids were playing outside with sticks and stones.
You can also check the Wild Trak Adventure Lodge owned by Johnny. He is an excellent zoologist, and he will fascinate you with his wildlife stories. So I am sure that a safari with him will be a hack of an experience! We met him at a barbecue at Bardia Homestay and had a great time together. However, there are plenty of other resorts and lodges that you can easily book online.
What to do in Bardia?
If you choose Bardia just because you want a jungle safari in Nepal, then you should know that there are other activities as well. But yes, the safari is the highlight. We cannot compare the safari with the one in Chitwan, as we didn’t go there, but based on travelers’ photos, we are glad we chose Bardia. During our 2-day safari, we barely met other tourists in the Park. The only moment we came across other people was when there was the tiger alarm. And even then, we were no more than 15 tourists.
Rent a bicycle
You can also rent bikes and discover the village and its surroundings. Don’t be shy and get on that two-wheeler and go on your adventure. You will see the Tharu people way of life, how they prepare vegetables in their courtyards, how they handle the animals, mostly goats, pigs, buffalos, and chickens, how they churn the rice and watch over their crops.
Check the village of Dalla
If you want to go further into the Tharu culture, check the small village of Dalla. It’s an authentic village that can easily be reached by bicycle. It’s a homestay village, supported by a program that is a joint undertaking between the Government of Nepal and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). And you can learn more about the region and its culture by spending your time in Bardia in one of the homestays. Dalla is famous for its ambitious community members that are working hard for the preservation of the region’s biodiversity.
Take a walk in the Community Forest
Speaking of Dalla, you can also take a walk in the Community Forest. It’s the buffer zone of the forest, and you can go for a walk there, but preferably with a guide. There are high chances for you to meet a rhino or an elephant there, and sometimes they are not the friendliest of all. When we were in Bardia, a rhino actually attacked two tourists. So it’s one activity that needs to be taken seriously.
So Bardia is more than just a choice for a jungle safari in Nepal.
But who are these Tharu people?
I’ve been telling you about the Tharu people, and I believe you deserve a proper explanation. The Tharus are one of the largest groups of people living in the Terai. Terai represents the lowland region in southern Nepal, home of both Chitwan and Bardia. The Tharus even have their own language, the Tharu language, which has been influenced by Hindi, Urdu, and Bengali.
They are peasant farmers, and while in Bardia, you will see how hardworking they are, always sowing the lands and taking care of the cattle. When we reached Thakurdwara, we couldn’t ignore the different features of the people. They resemble more their Indian neighbors and less the other Nepali ethnic groups.
Regarding beliefs, the Tharus practice their own tribal religion, one that represents a mix of Hindu deities and spirits. What surprised us was that the locals told us that they do not burn their dead. We were expecting them to perform burning ceremonies, similar to the ones we witnessed in India and which represent a Hindi particularity. But no, they actually have a common burial ground outside the village.
Your rendezvous with wildlife
I know that I have already told you that a safari in Nepal can bring you face to face with a tiger or maybe even a leopard. But there are also plenty of other wild celebrities waiting to be discovered. During our safari, we managed to see countless deer and monkeys, a snake which species we didn’t get to identify as it was too quick, elephants, rhinos, birds and even a jackal.
My favorite moment was of course when we spotted the tiger. I instantly got tears in my eyes, and my hands were shaking like mad. It’s impressive to see such an incredible animal so close to you. But there was also another moment that caught my heart: our night in the jungle. When we were having dinner, we were interrupted by the sounds of elephants. It was surreal to hear them in the distance, feeling like we were living The Jungle Book.
When is the best time to go for a safari in Nepal?
The locals told us that the best chances to spot wildlife in Bardia are from February to July. However, bear in mind that from March to July, the temperatures get really high. Sonja from Bardia Homestay was actually telling us that she prefers to travel during summer, as the heat is unbearable. But at the same time, Johnny was telling us that you have higher chances to encounter wildlife during that time.
The second best time of the year would be from October to December. We were there at the beginning of November, and the weather was great. It was sunny and hot during the day and pleasant during the night. I was honestly too afraid to visit Bardia during summer because of the increased number of mosquitoes.
Just a few medical aspects
When choosing Bardia as the headquarters for your safari in Nepal, consider that you are going in the land of mosquitoes. And malaria takes its toll, especially during monsoon. We took malaria medication, but that’s also because I am a considerable mosquito magnet. Otherwise, you should check with your doctor before heading there. We did a series of vaccines before we left, against typhoid fever, hepatitis A and hepatitis B and tetanus. We also made sure to buy some essential medicine from Kathmandu.
What should you wear during a safari in Nepal?
To be honest, I didn’t ask myself this question before reaching Bardia. But that’s because we were on our year-long trip so I couldn’t exactly be picky about my clothes. Well, we got there and realized that we only had a few outfits that could be worn on a safari. Why?! Because we love colors and we had tons of colors. However, animals also love colors, so if you don’t want to become a target, you’d better rethink your Bardia wardrobe.
So go with colors such as green, grey or brown. Just to blend in with the jungle better. I would also recommend long trousers, for two reasons. First of all, they protect your legs better from all the insects and crawlers around you. And secondly, it’s more culture-sensitive to cover your shoulders and your knees.
Make sure to take a hat or a cap with you (mine was red, so I wore a scarf), a torch if you spend the night in the jungle, sunscreen, mandatory mosquito repellent, comfortable walking shoes, and a binocular. We didn’t have one, so we had to share our guide’s, but if you do have one at home, don’t hesitate to take it with you.
But what about money?
The long-awaited issue – how much does it actually cost you to spend some time in Bardia? I will confess that for us, Bardia was more expensive than we expected it to be. But it was totally worth it, and we would return in the blink of an eye. And when I say it wasn’t cheap (compared to other areas in Asia), I mean it cost us around USD 530$ for our six days there.
The sum I told you includes everything: transportation, accommodation, food, and activities. Here you have some approximate amounts for when we were there:
- Bus tickets: Pokhara to Thakurdwara and then back to Kathmandu – around 2400 INR (USD 23) per person
- Our two days spent in the jungle – 16700 INR (USD 150) per person – it includes the National Park ticket of 1130 INR per day per person
- Bicycle rent per day – 200 INR (USD 2) per person
- Room per night – 1000 INR (USD 10)
- The average cost for a meal – 300 INR (USD 3) per person
Now, why are you still reading this and not looking for flights to Nepal? Don’t think twice and try a jungle safari in Nepal!