It was the evening after I’d been roared at by a wild tiger that I met British zoologist, John Sparshatt, in Thakudwara, Nepal. I quickly grew to know him as Jungle John and he told me we could trek through the jungle to a village homestay not too far from here. We were sharing a starlight drink and talking about the day’s trek when he mentioned that he was about to embark on that very trip up to a ridge-line with Jock, a Scotsman. I was instantly interested!
There were some villages at the northern end of Bardia National Park overlooking the entire Karnali River basin. We were currently in Thakudwara, a village on the edge of the national park’s lowlands teeming with wildlife. I’d just seen some tigers, elephants and rhinos so didn’t mind that John predicted we wouldn’t see any of the big game on this trek.
Jungle Trekking is one of the best things to do in Nepal!
When I arrived in Nepal I, like most people, had no idea how diverse the country was. I thought it was just beautiful Himalayan peaks but Nepal’s southern Terai region gets all the rain from a massive Himalayan rain shadow. The lowlands become overgrown with greenery making Bardia “the largest and most undisturbed national park in Nepal’s Terai” and arguably, the best place on Earth to see tigers in the wild!
Bardia is one of the best places for hiking in Asia!
In spite of Bardia being full of big wildlife, today we were heading away from those tigers, elephants, and rhinos to a remote village called Gainekada. Our trail started at a shrine a near Chisapani, the only town nearby with paved roads and a bus stop, but not developed enough for an ATM.
Our trail was clearly marked when we began and as soon as we stepped onto it, a curious lizard snatched a cricket out of the air in front of us! Cicadas droned in and out between the caws of magpies and everything else alerting the jungle to our presence. This lively ensemble was great background music for our stroll past a ground covered in greenery with dazzling flowers curling out of the cracks. Saplings sprouted at eye level while larger trees sported leaves bigger than your Christmas platter. Glancing upwards I noticed many of the sounds were coming from the canopy but all I could see was branches blowing in the wind.We took a right following a riverbed straight towards the ridge, with any luck Gainekada was just above us and the map showed the trail following this river. We started with a few smaller stones which then turned into climbing over the larger ones left here by the last monsoon. Thinking we might lose the trail in the rocks we swung off to the left and a little ways up the bank before realizing a river bed full of boulders would be easier to navigate than the steep landslide-prone hill. The higher we climbed the more this trail turned into an actual river with a few pools of water starting to appear amid tiny trickles.
Turning back around you could still glimpse the top of the Chisapani Bridge but beyond that, we were immersed in the jungle. When I glanced back, John was pointing out dozens of leaf pods created by weaver ants.
Climbing the next boulder I planted my hand firmly and pulled myself forward. But instead my handhold broke loose and tumbled onto my foot! I uttered a few choice words and shouted ahead to let John and Jock know to be careful with the rocks. A few seconds later John shouted back expletives of his own and we all laughed before continuing on a bit more cautiously than before.
The trail swerved past a gentle waterfall with 2 red crabs hiding behind it and then snaked back around turning into a pile of scree left by the last landslide. John led the way carefully planting his feet in footsteps that I tried my best to mimic exactly. We snuck past this first real obstacle to find ourselves staring at a series of ledges with a river running past them. Okay so maybe it was a waterfall but it wasn’t that big and we didn’t really think about NOT climbing it.
The river turned vertical on us as we climbed closer to the ridgeline. When the boulders disappeared we vaulted over dead trees scampering up the thicker branches to the next rocky perch. Its hard to say how long this continued on for, but eventually the novelty wore off and one of us suggested that “nice looking log leaving the river,” so we headed up the right side of the trail and quickly found a deer path.
Our climb through the riverbed left us near the top and opened up to a thin brown line cutting between young undergrowth. Glancing down a whole new world appeared to me with huge ants flittering along the grasses. A colorful spider patiently waited near a yellow flower and a few meters away a white praying mantis convinced me to try out John’s macro lens with my Nikon.
We stopped for a quick lunch as my full attention switched to some of the biggest, smallest creatures I’ve ever seen. The ants looked like they could be fried up like popcorn and mites were the size of your fingertip (which back home would be no bigger than a needlepoint!). Another praying mantis appeared, this one more yellow than white and with two elongated antennae. At first, I thought it was a stick bug but John noticed its arms bent in “prayer.”I could have stayed and watched them for hours but we still had to figure out where we were sleeping so I said goodbye to my macro photography playground as we hustled on. Within minutes the ridge ahead of us burst into a road and we were in for some luck. A goat herder and some friends were coming up the path right next to us!
John asked them about Gainekada only to discover that we were quite close and two of them lived there! Another half hour on the trail and we finally arrived; the entire village only had a few houses and certainly nobody who spoke English. Just a few cottages had solar panels and the nearest water source was a 30-minute walk back down the mountain. This was officially the most remote village I’ve ever been in and we still had a few more days of trekking!
We met a husband and wife with two daughters who had never seen a map before and enjoyed showing them the region. Sitting down, John explained how we’d just come through the jungle and “we just wanted to see what it looks like up here on the ridge,” they laughed inviting us to stay for the night before taking us to a lookout over the Karnali River.
A tiger had come through Gainekada last year and killed one of their neighbor’s buffalo. Livestock gets attacked every once in a while but usually, leopards kill goats and they hadn’t heard of any tigers attacking people. Like elephants and rhinos, tigers tend not to climb up the steep mountains and are rare to see up here on the ridgeline so we were surprised they told us one had eaten a local buffalo.
The peacefulness of these hills on the northern end of Bardia National Park was wonderful. As sunset cast its glow across the ridge a natural lullaby began. Frogs, birds, and bugs serenaded our village as some of the local women came by to chat with John. I wrote in my journal by moonlight as the waxing moon and a smattering of stars illuminated the cornfield and cottage. Today was a good day!
Stay tuned for day 2 of this wild trek! Oh, and if you’re still reading you might be interested in visiting Bardia National Park. Well it just so happens that Johnny and I are organizing an expedition down the Babai River starting March 3rd, 2018. We only have 3 spots left so sign up today!
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