Bardia National Park, Nepal
As surprised as we were to find ourselves in Nepal, we had at least an idea of where we could stay. We didn’t have any money though, so first we went into the border town and drew out some cash. This afforded us some much-needed noodles and a less-but-really-more-needed beer. We then drove via the “airport” to the nearby national park, catchily named, Shuklaphanta. It was only once we were here that we could take stock of our day and relax.
It was not an ideal time to visit the park as the monsoon had sprung the grass upwards and this made it easy for animals to hide, and probably also easy for snakes to bite. Additionally it was marshy underfoot, so the normal jeep tours were impossible. After our mad rush to get to Nepal it was energising to take a long walk in the park with our guide, Bishnu. During our 10-hour visit, we still got to see many different deer types, monkeys and birds but a smelly tiger close-by eluded us. At one point when we were tracking the tiger I did experience a moment of clarity: Why were we trying to locate a 200kg wild cat with only a bamboo cane to defend us? Luckily Richard Parker never showed his whiskers, just his footprints. We were absolutely shattered after this 24km round trip on foot but Bishnu was worse off. His gum boots had given him horrific blisters during the day and could only really hobble by nightfall.
We relaxed for a few days near Shuklaphanta and easily achieved some admin tasks that would have taken weeks in India. The ATMs were proving troublesome though, possibly due to the effect of power outages on the comms. Many would just refuse to work with our cards. We devised a walking tour of the town to try every ATM and eventually we filled our pockets. But there was a moment of fraughtness when a cash machine counted out some cash then didn’t dispense it; PARTIAL DISPENSE popped up on screen. Once again Nepalese efficiency fixed that, the bank next door triggered an immediate reversal and the mess never even showed up on the statement.
Having begun to tune in to Nepalese life a little, we moved up in to the hills to stay with Bishnu’s brother. The west of Nepal is so rarely visited by foreigners (as it is hundreds of kilometres from Pokhara and Kathmandu) that many people were quite shocked to see us. Where we stayed with Bishnu’s family, the children would burst into tears when we came nearby, then run and hide. I know we are bit funny looking but this did seem a little extreme! It was a beautiful ride up into the hills and refreshing to be out of the humidty of the jungle and the heat of the Terai. It was still a bit monsoon-like up there, but we did get some beautiful views of the Himalayas from our rooftop when the clouds parted.
There was no (tarmac) loop we could do to return to the east-west highway, so we dropped down the windy, cliff-edged road back the way we came. We continued east and crossed a huge suspension bridge into the next big national park, Bardia. The road into the ‘eco village’ was not as expected. We emerged out of the woods and off the tarmac onto a sandy bank, dropping down to what appeared to be a lake. This was the road. I didn’t mind waiting to see what others did on this ‘road’ and this gave us a chance to plan a route across and judge the depth. However the weather changed and we realised if we didn’t get on with it we’d be soaked from above if not from below. Compared to our previous flash-flood crossing in India, this was a piece of cake. We just had to hope the engine electrics were still waterproof!
Bardia is much bigger than Shuklaphanta and thus there are more tigers, elephants and rhinos to see. However the costs of eating and drinking in these compounds was pretty steep. We toyed with the idea of a boat trip through the park to see these large mammals, but Nickiy had implemented a strict budget. With the nearest ATM 50km away and the resort card payment system disconnected for the low season, a boat safari was unlikely. They also seemed to disconnect the power most of the time too, so the rooms were stifling. The spot was amazing though, bordering on a lush paddy field with the sun setting behind the swaying fronds every night. Our first week in Nepal had been everything we hoped for; relaxing, beautiful scenery, cold beer, friendly people, sensibly-priced accommodation and no one trying to fiddle with the bike. This is why people come to Nepal!