Bardiya National Park in Nepal: a travel guide
Bardiya National Park is the biggest proof that Nepal is much more than mountains alone. Besides the high peaks of the Himalayas, Nepal also has lush jungles full of wildlife. One of my favourite jungle areas is Bardiya National Park.
Bardiya National Park lies in the far western corner of the country and is in fact closer to Delhi in India than it is to Kathmandu. It’s isolated and remote location has preserved the parks nature and its wildlife like no other place in Nepal and its one of the few untouched wilderness areas left in the country.
The long journey to Bardiya National Park scares off most tourists and the park gets relatively few visitors, especially compared to the more famous Chitwan National Park. However, it is certainly worth the effort to get there.
Bardiya National Park is one of the best places to see wild cats such as leopards and tigers as well as wild elephants. Furthermore, Bardiya is not yet overrun by tourists like Chitwan. The tours in Bardiya are more sustainable and on a much smaller scale.
It’s tempting to spend all your days exploring nature in Bardiya, but you don’t even need to enter the park to enjoy the area. Thakurdwara is the gateway to the park, but this town is also surrounded by scenic and authentic villages of the local indigenous Tharu population.
The countryside might not be as wild as the jungle nearby, but has its own beauty. Watch children play in the streets, women working in the fields, men tending their goats and water buffalo’s seeking refreshments in the river. Cycling through the villages of Bardiya is just as rewarding as the spectacular landscapes of Bardiya National Park.
My experience in Bardiya National Park
While living and working in far western Nepal I was able to visit Bardiya National Park three times. Each time I did different activities and each time I saw other parts of the parks.
My favourite things to do in Bardiya National Park are definetly the full day jungle walks and the full day rafting tours. You get to see a large variety of landscapes from thick forests to open savannah and you can see lots of wildlife.
I didn’t see a tiger during my visits and you need a lot of luck, but the tiger population is increasing. In 2016 a dutch tourist narrowly escaped a tiger attack by hiding in a tree for two hours. Attacks are extremely rare though and I had to do with some tiger prints in the sand. I did see wild elephants and lots of deers, monkeys and birds.
Bardiya National Park versus Chitwan
During the time I lived in Nepal I went to both Chitwan and Bardiya. If I have to choose between the two I will always prefer the more quiet and authentic experience that Bardiya National Park offers. Even though the tourism infrastructure is not as developed as in Chitwan, this is part of the charm.
You will really feel you are in the midst of the jungle while there are still enough jungle lodges where you can arrange your activities. The chances of seeing wildlife are much better and it is one of the best places in Asia to see tigers and wild elephants. The only reason not to visit Bardiya is if you have limited time.
Bardiya is not the place where you come for just one day. I would recommend to stay at least 2 to 3 full days in the park. This does not include the time that you need to travel from Kathmandu to Bardiya that can take up to 16 hours. Therefore a trip to Bardiya can easily take up a whole week in your Nepal itinerary.
Bardiya is also not the place where you can simply turn up and pick your accomodation and activities. It is better to arrange your accomodation beforehand and let them know what kind of activities you would like to do.
If you have limited time and want all the comforts of set up and organized tours that you can arrange on the spot, Chitwan might be better. It is only 7 hours from Kathmandu and you will have a bigger choice of hotels and restaurants. Therefore it is also slightly cheaper. Just know you won’t be alone and that Chitwan is suffering from overtourism.
Things to do in Bardiya National Park
All activities within the premises of Bardiya National Park require you to pay the park’s entrance fee (1500 rupees per person per day) and a mandatory guide. Most lodges are happy to arrange the activities for you and provide you with a guide.
In my opinion, jungle walks are the best and most sustainable way to explore Bardiya National park. You can choose between half day tours and full day tours. I would certainly recommend the latter as you will go deep into the park towards the banks of the Karnali river where your chances of seeing wildlife are pretty high.
It’s a real adventure where you will have to wade through rivers and walk through thick forests where the monkeys are playing in the trees.
Costs: between 1500 – 4000 rupees. When negotiating a price always check if the park entrance fee (1500 rupees per person per day ) and lunch is included or not.
With a jeep safari you can get further into the park. Most full day tours include a picknick lunch and frequent stops at watchtowers and wildlife drinking spots.
I did a half day jeep safari. As the noise of the car scares away most of the animals we only got to see deers and monkeys, but it was still quite fun.
Costs: from 20.000 nepalese rupees onwards per jeep. This means you can divide the costs if you are with more people. It often includes lunch
River boating and rafting
One of my favourite activities in Bardiya National Park was my full day rafting experience over the Karnali river. It’s your best chance to see a crocodile and see the park from a whole different perspective than by car or on foot.
Even though they call it rafting don’t expect some scary adrenaline moments. There are some small rapids, but most of the day it is a gentle boat ride. If you are into fishing you can combine the river boating with a fishing trip.
Costs: from 15.000 nepalese rupees per canoe or 25.000 nepalese rupees onwards per raft. This means you can divide the costs if you are with more people. It often includes lunch
There are over 400 bird species in Bardiya National Park. The best way to see birds is during a jungle walk or rafting trip in the early morning and the late afternoon just before the sun sets.
Elephant breeding center
Bardiya has a small elephant breeding center that you can visit early morning or after 4 pm in the afternoon. During the day the elephants are grazing in the park or are used for patrolling.
Crocodile breeding center
The crocodile breeding center aims to preserve the unique gharial and marsh mugger crocodiles, but is also home to some turtles.
The Tharu museum shows a traditional Tharu home with tools that are still used by the Tharu people in Bardiya. The Tharu’s are an ethnic minority in Nepal and have their own culture and language. The museum offers a chance to see some traditional artefacts up close, but you get a much better insight into rural Tharu life if you walk or cycle through the villages near Bardiya National Park.
Exploring Tharu villages
Bardiya not only has spectacular nature, but can also give you an insight into rural life of the indigenous Tharu people. During one of my visits I hired a bicycle and simply cycled through the countryside visiting several villages on my way.
Not only is the rural scenery just as nice as the jungle it is also a very authentic experience with few other tourists around.
Wildlife in Bardiya National Park
The big three of Bardiya National Park are the Bengal tiger, the Asian elephant and the one horned rhinocerus. There are over 50 other mammals including lots of deers and monkeys, but also the rare gharial crocodile and the Gangetic river dolphin.
For birdlovers Bardiya National Park is a great place to be with over 400 species of birds such as the kingfisher and the great hornbill.
When to visit Bardiya National Park
The best time to visit Bardiya National Park in terms of weather is from mid September till mid december and from February till mid June when there are dry weather conditions.
Winters are short in Bardiya and bring cold and foggy weather in December and January. Therefore the chances of seeing wildlife in this time is pretty low. From late June till late September is the monsoon that brings lots of rain making trekking through the park muddy and difficult.
The best time to see tigers is right at the end of the dry season before the monsoon starts. This would be in May or early June. The hot weather and the lack of water forces tigers to come out to wildlife drinking spots. Do keep in mind that April and May are the hottest months of the year and temperatures can reach up to 40 degrees.
How to get to Bardiya National Park
You can take a bus to Ambassa From Kathmandu (14-16 hours), Pokhara (12 – 14 hours) or Lumbini (10-12 hours). Often you will have to take a bus that goes all the way to Mahendranagar, but you can ask the driver to let you out at Ambassa.
From Ambassa you can take a bus to Thakurdwara (15 kilometer, 45 minutes), the nearest village to Bardiya National Park where most lodges are. Local buses from Ambassa to Thakurdwara only leave in the afternoon. Most lodges can arrange a pick up from either Ambassa or Thakurdwara.
You can shorten the long bus journey by taking an internal flight from Kathmandu to Nepalgunj (1 hour). From Nepalgunj it is only 3 hours by bus to Ambassa.
Accomodation and food in Bardiya National Park
Most hotels and eco lodges are based in and around Thakurdwara, the nearest village to the park entrance. There is no accomodation inside the park, because it is not allowed so don’t believe anyone who claims you will be staying inside the park.
Lodges expect you to eat with them and arrange your activities through them. Considering the distance between the lodges this would also be the best option. The average price is around 1000 to 1200 nepalese rupees per night.
During my visits to the park I stayed in Bardia Jungle Cottage, Mr.B’s place & Forest hideaway hotel & cottages. I have very good experiences with all of them and the jungle walks they organized were excellent and reasonably priced.
Other options with very good reviews are the Sunset View Cafe & Jungle Bar for those on a true budget or the Anjali dolphin resort .For homestay options where you can learn more about Tharu culture I can recommend Bardia eco friendly homestay and Prem Bardiya homestay.
Some lodges can also arrange sleeping in a treehouse or camping trips inside Bardia National Park.
Safety in Bardiya National Park
Consider yourself lucky if you spot the big three (tigers, rhinos and elephants) in Bardiya National Park, but do remember that these are wild animals and walking in the jungle is not without its risks.
Animal attacks are rare, but do happen if you don’t take care. Don’t wander off in the jungle on your own. It’s not for nothing that guides are mandatory. Avoid wearing bright colours, especially red that seems to trigger a tigers anger. At last, always keep a safe distance from the animals you see and be very wary if you see a mother tiger with cubs.
I was told that rhino’s are actually the biggest danger. They don’t see very well though and the key is to distract them. Run away in a zig zag pattern, throw rocks and try to climb a tree. With tigers it is best to keep eye contact and walk back slowly unless the tiger is already running towards you. Then climb a tree as well. In case of an angry elephant run away as fast as you can.
That said, the biggest safety concern is getting ill. Travellers diarrhoea is the most common problem and therefore bring some kind of water purification system (filter, steri pen). Dengue and malaria outbreaks also sometimes happen so prevent getting bitten by mosquitoes.
What to bring on a trip to Bardiya National Park
Sturdy shoes or hiking shoes
Proffesional hiking boots are not necessary. However, you will walk along muddy and rocky paths that require a good pair of shoes. I would recommend closed shoes that are water proof.
A sunhat and sunscreen
The sun can be pretty strong if you walk through the open savannah. Bring a hat and sunscreen to protect you from the sun
Anti mosquito repellent
There are a lot of mosquitoes and although dengue and malaria are rare there are occasional outbreaks. Wear long sleeve pants and use mosquito repellent.
Take binoculars with you to spot wildlife easier.
Clothes in green, brown or grey colours
To improve your chances of seeing wildlife avoid wearing bright colours. Clothes in green, brown or grey colours allow you to blend in. The best is to bring thin and lighweight clothes with long sleeves. For women it is not appropriate to wear shorts or sleeveless tops.
There are no ATM’s so make sure you bring enough money with you in Nepalese rupees.
There are no general stores inside Bardiya National Park. It is best to carry some snacks with you.
Water purification system
Bring enough water with you. There is no need to add to the plastic waste problem. You can easily fill up your bottle with water from the river. However, do use some kind of water purification system. Giardia and other microbes are very common
Most toilets are of the drop down variety with no toilet paper in sight.
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