Millennium Snapshot
About UsPast DispatchesGallerySponsorsLinksHome
Past Dispatch  
Bardia National Park, Nepal  |  May 23, 2000

  Current Dispatch
  Next Stop


  Contact Us
Searching for Tigers
Current Location
Map of where we are.

A graceful canopy of trees surrounded us as we started our trek through Bardia National Park. Nestled in the Terai, the southwestern lowlands of Nepal, Bardia is 368 square kilometer nature preserve. Our guide, Prem, gave us the rules of the jungle in these seemingly innocuous surroundings.

Searching for Tigers 1
Click to Enlarge.

"Be as quiet as possible; this way you will get to see the most animals. If a Rhino charges, quickly climb a tree; if there are no trees, run fast in a zigzag to the nearest tree. If a tiger approaches, look him in the eye and make a lot of noise to scare him away. Most importantly, always listen to and follow the lead of your guide, me."

Searching for Tigers 2
Click to Enlarge.

Carrying a long bamboo rod as a walking stick and our only defense, Prem led us further into the jungle. The first test was a stream. Prem pulled off his shoes and quickly navigated the rushing water and rocks. Our cushy Western feet were not quite up to the task. After some painful and lengthy maneuvers we finally made it across. A few steps more and the trees opened up into a savanna. Amidst the five-foot tall grasses peppered with the occasional gigantic leafy tree was where we made our first wildlife sightings.

Searching for Tigers 3
Click to Enlarge.

Spotted deer peered out at us inquisitively from the grasses. Rhesus monkeys, with baby's in tow, clamored up the trees. Yellow-beaked Kingfishers zoomed by, flashing their turquoise wings at us as they passed. Gigantic griffins, large long feathered raptors, building nests overhead were spied through binoculars. Emerald green beecatchers with golden wings and masked eyes swooped over the grasses. Golden breasted woodpeckers knocked on nearby trees.

Searching for Tigers 4
Click to Enlarge.

From the savanna we reached a river. An unusually strong current, caused by the ensuing Monsoon, complicated our second crossing. Prem graciously loaned me his bamboo cane as an aid. As we laced our boots back up on the opposite bank I saw an elephant down stream. Taking a leisurely bath in the river, his trunk sloshed water over his muddy massive gray body.

Our feet bruised and our pants soaked, we proceeded. Four meter round patches of grass were crushed level to the ground. In the middle were giant droppings. "Rhino's," Prem informed us. Right after he said that we heard the loud "humph" of the Asian one-horned rhino. I located my escape tree, but no rhino presented itself.

Searching for Tigers 5
Click to Enlarge.

As we continued to make our way through the jungle, smells changed along with the scenery. Spicy, mossy earthy smells, flowers, smells of dung and then the moist smell of the rushing river. We walked over to the border of the park, created by the mighty Karnali River. Langur monkeys, large and black with long prehensile tails and a ring of white fur framing a curious face, frolicked merrily on the banks.

Searching for Tigers 6
Click to Enlarge.

Prem pointed up in a tree. Two huge owls were glaring down at us. As we fixed our eyes on them they took flight. Having never seen them in the wild, I was shocked at their size and mighty wingspan. The tree that they were perched in was a marvel unto itself. It was actually two trees, one encompassing and using the stability of the other. Like in a fairy tale the giant tree was enshrouded by another, creating a beautiful embrace.

Searching for Tigers 7
Click to Enlarge.

Further down our freshly blazed path, Will spied a Mongoose darting out of the way. A fuschia-winged, brown-faced Indian Roller perched on a nearby rock and flew away. Then we heard a quick rustle in the grasses. We hoped, thought, it might be a tiger. But as we peered to the left it was a couple of mean-faced hairy wild hogs.

Searching for Tigers 8
Click to Enlarge.

Bardia is renowned for it's Bengal Tigers. More than 80, it is believed, make their home in the park. Tigers are what we truly hoped to see. We walked onto an island at the confluence of two rivers. Prem got down on his knees and studied the animal tracks in the sand. We easily spotted deer prints, but then saw why he was looking more closely. Gigantic cat prints. He looked up and said, "tiger." We quietly tiptoed towards a large lookout tree. My heart raced. Prem perched on the branches with his binoculars. Will and I looked around. One tree was bent over. Fresh claw marks indicated it was a scratching post. We waited with growing anticipation as Prem continued to scout. We kept our eyes on the river trying to get a glance of a Bengal going for a drink.

Then we heard a low rumble. We looked up to Prem to see if what we thought was true. I held my breath in anticipation. Prem nodded in agreement; it was a tiger's roar. We waited quietly and patiently for thirty minutes. Prem, looking a bit sad, then climbed down the tree and shook his head. Today the Tiger did not let us see it.

Searching for Tigers 9
Click to Enlarge.

Although we did not actually see them in the wild, just knowing the tiger was there with us was exhilarating. The whole jungle teemed with life. Having only seen these animals in zoos, it was a wondrous, even spiritual experience to be with them in the wild. We were in their home, in their habitat. The beauty was wild and pure, unmolested by human manipulation.

Searching for Tigers 10
Click to Enlarge.

Over a candlelight dinner Will and I reflected on our journey. We left the park rejuvenated, filled with energy and excitement. A little cloud of sadness and guilt dampened our joy though as we considered how few places like Bardia are left in the world. When we left, Prem bade us farewell and said he looked forward to seeing us in the future.

Searching for Tigers 11
Click to Enlarge.

Returning back to Katmandu with its traffic, pollution, and crush of humanity was claustrophobic. I longed to be back with tigers. A few days later, in the Katmandu Post, I read of a joint Nepalese-Indian plan to greatly expand the park, joining Bardia with an Indian park across the boarder and reforesting the land in between. My spirits lifted as I contemplated that maybe the zoo will not be the only remaining habitat of the tiger. Will and I will be able to go searching for tigers with our own children one day. And maybe next time, we will see one.

© 2000 Millennium Snapshot. All Rights Reserved.