We got the call and immediately all sprung to action. Gripping our water bottles, cameras swinging wildly round our necks, we ran through the tall grass. With bated breath we tried to make each step quieter than the last, not wanting to disturb anything or ruin the moment. Our hearts beat faster and faster with the effort, anticipation and maybe a hint of fear. We were in tiger country after all.
But this time it wasn’t a tiger we were running for, it was two black rhinos, a mother and her son, bathing in the river. We hid in the bushes, in the well established lookout point and watched them, in awe, letting our breath and hearts steady. It was an incredibly special moment.
Safaris may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Nepal, but they are certainly there and certainly not worth overlooking. I mean there aren’t many places in the world where you can walk with tigers, right? Safaris in Nepal don’t just mean riding on the back of a 4×4 racing through the bush, through herds of animals and trying to find a kill. The wildlife is less dense here and you can spend your time stalking the animals on foot, searching for and learning about the footprints and dung they leave behind. A Nepali safari means sitting on a tree stump, peering through the reeds and waiting with increasing excitement for a Rhino, tiger or maybe even a family of otters to wander by.
A safari in Nepal is unique. And totally freaking awesome.
Days of cities, small and large, had us itching for some wilderness, and looking out into the sunrise glinting on the mist between the trees, with not a building or soul around, it looked like we were going to get it.
Before leaving civilization and going on the hunt for some critters though we had to first settle into our digs, and sweet ones they were. We are so happy that we took the plunge and spent a little more on a pre-organised safari. Unlike our almost disaster of one in Kenya where we organized everything ourselves, this was luxury. We were met by a delicious breakfast and a long chat with the owner, were instantly upgraded to the most comfortable rooms and huge buckets of boiling hot water were bought over for us to bath with as the showers were only lukewarm.
Too excited to nap despite the lack of sleep on our crappy overnight bus, we opted straight in to a walking safari that afternoon and were rewarded by the sighting of the rhinos, a couple of baby alligators and a family of adorable otters. It was an excellent first day in Bardia National Park.
Wanting to take advantage of everything on offer, the following day we hopped on a rafting safari. Cue a day of lounging in a dinghy in the sunshine, seeing very few animals but becoming oddly obsessed with bird sightings. When you have an avid bird watcher in your midst, the gentle mocking can quickly become infected with excitement for each new sighting. Not just once did we question ourselves, “are we now bird people?!”.
That nights cultural show at the lodge could have been all sorts of awkward and cringey but instead it was cute, and fun, and dare I say it ‘cultural’. There was a lot of clapping, a tonne of random shouting and afterwards we got to have a hilarious photo shoot with flower wreaths.
Being totally honest, there was a lot of walking and driving with nothing of note to see, and there was even more waiting around. But it didn’t matter. Our guides were funny and knowledgable, and their excitement for the animal sightings rivaled ours, despite this being their full time job. On the third day we were hurtling along in the 4×4 for an hour before screeching to a halt. Our driver, while dodging trees and potholes, had somehow, by pure wilderness magic, spotted baby tiger prints in the path alongside us. It was almost as good as spotting a baby tiger in the flesh.
And on our last afternoon, 3 hours into a stakeout and half an hour into the sunset curfew, we got what everyone comes on a Nepali safari to see, a tiger. Our guide had told us he had a feeling it would be a special day and when the adult, male tiger crossed the river, a mere 200m from our hideout, we all agreed it had been. He was only there for all of 3 minutes, but we were all almost crying with delight, clutching on to our binoculars.
The nitty gritty
We chose Bardia National Park, a rough 18hour public bus from Kathmandu as we had heard that it’s out of the way location meant more animal sightings and less tourists. It was a great choice for us and we were rewarded, but Chitwan National Park is undoubtably easier to get to.
After much research we booked with Forest Hideaway who have an office in Kathmandu. For $250 we spent 4 days and 3 nights, all inclusive, in Bardia which included 2 walking safaris, 1 jeep safari and a rafting safari. It was worth every penny and the staff were wonderful.
While we went pre-organised this time, it is possible to catch the public bus and then organize everything else yourself on arrival at a much lower price. Just make sure to go with a reputable lodge or guide as their expertise in the park will make all the difference to your experience.
Have you ever been on safari? What did you see and where? Do you like the sound of walking with tigers??