Into the Bardia jungle at dawn
The day begins at dawn with an early shower. No deodorant, no cologne and no soap. In other words, no chemical smells. Tigers and other wildlife can smell you from miles away. If they smell something as disgusting as fragrance chemicals they are less likely to come out and investigate.
So basically, Jack my jungle guide was telling me to smell as natural as possible because tigers prefer to eat people that smell like … people.
I took this as a joke until Jack said that Buddi, a trainee guide, would be walking behind us as tigers always attack from the rear. So Buddi was paying his trainee dues by sacrificing himself in the event of hungry tiger hunting us.
The truth about tigers and the jungle experience in Bardia
While all of the above may seem a little “exaggerated”, it’s all pretty factual too. Moreover, it’s this sort of experience that makes ones trip to Bardia so exciting. It’s the real jungle of Nepal, where it’s very likely just going to be you, a guide, a trainee guide on foot in the jungle with wild animals.
There is a real and proven possibility of a tiger attacking you. Just this year a guide and tourist were attacked in Bardia. This is not Chitwan nor a relatively secure safari with lots of rangers with guns.
Bardia is one of the very rare places left in the world where you enter the jungle on foot with a guide, your senses and a lot of animals that you can both spot and at the same time they can spot you and may want to also eat you!
Into the jungle
With Jack leading the way we entered Bardia National Park on foot through the main gates in the hot and humid March weather. An hour later and we were into the grasslands.
The deer were out and visible in the morning fog as grazing nervously near a tree boundary. We walked past a tall watch tower which had the look of something long since abandoned.
Jack turned around and raised his fingers to his lips, “From now on, we whisper. Maybe tiger come for breakfast here. Or rhino grazing up ahead.”
We walked on and the sweating started long before we reached the shade of tall jungle trees ahead. Monkeys from all around chattered and the sounds of the jungle became real.
The Karneli River
We soon reached the main river in Bardia for our first look out. It was hazy and I feared the weather was not in our favor. But Jack was ever positive.
“Don’t worry about the weather,” he said in a characteristic Nepalese accent. “It’s hot, tiger like to drink in this weather. And rhino like to bathe.”
We walked up and down the meandering and surprisingly wide Karneli river. The riverbank was rocky and strewn with stones making it a hard walk. I thought we’d be rewarded at the end, but alas we saw nothing. Not even deer.
Jack was born in Bardia and has grown up a guide to some of the biggest resorts and was deemed one of the most knowledgeable in the area. Today he owns his own resort and is the main guide. I’ve met many guides in Nepal, but there are few quite like Jack. He’s knows the jungle of Bardia like the back of his hands. And he had a plan.
The waiting game
We walked through dense jungle to the river to the northeast. Nothing was too strenuous only for the heat. We stopped by one small clearing where the large trees hung precariously close to a tall section of the river bank. Jack brought me through some foliage and down low to the ground so we could look out over the river.
“This is where we will see tiger today,” he grinned. “Rhino and maybe elephant too. But later. Right now, it’s too hot for them. So we must wait.”
With that Jack and Buddi unpacked our lunch. Eggs, bread, rice and vegetables. While Buddi and I ate Jack climbed a tree to look out over the area. He came back down. And we waited.
Whispered stories of past jungle encounters passed away the time. Tales of other resorts going too far into the jungle with impatient guides only to return seeing nothing. Other tales about face to face tiger encounters and having to stand in a circle with sticks to scare the tiger were more common than one would expect.
And so, we waited some more. Sweat trickling from every place I had pores meant little. Jack’s stories and ability to climb a tree in mere seconds every time he heard something kept me on edge for the duration.
The wading rhino
Our silent wait was broken when Jack suggested we go back to an area we’d visited earlier as it was hot enough for rhinos to bathe now. Glad for a leg stretch we headed off back down the river, through some tall humid grass and back to the river again.
Sure enough, up ahead was one large one-horned rhino wading into the river. Jack was right. The rhino paid us no attention as we drew closer and stooped down low in the grass.
Enjoying the cooling water the rhino did what they do a lot of and left out some long bubbling gas under the water.
Rhino’s are very nearsighted but have an excellent sense of smell and hearing. We were upwind so although I’m sure he occasionally heard us by pricking up his ears. He otherwise pretty much went about his bathing and gaseous duties.
Jack became anxious to get back to our lookout spot so we moved with purpose. Not easy in the dense humid heat.
“It’s hot enough for tiger to drink now,” Jack said and we near on jogged through the grass and back into the dense jungle to our spot.
We sat down and waited. The anticipation was growing. All my Nepalese friends laughed at the idea of seeing a tiger in Barida. But they were basing their assumptions on Chitwan where it’s rare to see a tiger. They had never been to Bardia. It wasn’t commercial enough for them and it was harder work.
Jack suddenly grew rigid, “Listen.”
I heard nothing but jungle.
“Can you hear it?” asked Jack.
I strained to hear anything that might resemble a tiger, “Hear what?”
Jack grinned, “It’s quiet. The monkeys have gone quiet. It means a tiger is nearby.”
I gripped by camera in anticipation. But I had one problem. I’d been drinking a lot of water. “I need to pee!”
Jack pointed to some bushes to the rear in a small clearing and off I went before suddenly thinking there was a tiger nearby.
“Slowly”, Jack whispered.
From behind the bushes
I’ve never quite been so conscious about walking as silently as possible in the jungle as I was trying to make my way to place for a pee. Twigs crack with surprising ease. My zipper never sounded so loud as well. The rest, well, I tried to muffle the tinkling sound by aiming for some leaves. This worked.
I was in mid flow when Jack ran by in incredible silence whispering, “Tiger! Come quick!”
The irony was not lost on me. As I hurriedly finished, zipped up and ran in one fluid motion to try and catch up with Jack and not have an accident along the way.
Royal Bengal Tiger!
I caught up with Jack just in front of a small shallow stream leading to the river. The jungle seemed unnaturally silent now. Only the water could be heard. I stared ahead, eyes flitting from one side to the other in search of this elusive tiger.
Then from the left the unmistakable orange coat and black stripes appeared! It was the type of moment you know will live with you forever.
A majestic Royal Bengal Tiger walking out in front of you in the wild.
I was nervous to start taking photos straight away as I knew the big cat’s hearing was impeccably good just as my camera shutter is very loud. Jack urged me on.
I raised by camera and press down on the shutter release. C l i c k.
The tiger instantly looked up at us! Her eyes fixated directly on mine. It was another moment. One didn’t know at that instant whether the tiger would take an aggressive stance or run. So I did the only logical thing and just held down the camera shutter in anticipation for either.
The tiger continued to stare for a few more seconds. Then, looking back across the stream she walked stomach deep through the water to the other side before disappearing into the undergrowth.
Back to the waiting game
We returned to our initial lookout point as Jack was hoping the tiger might come out further where there were some deer drinking. Strangely, I was already more than happy at our sighting or a tiger in Bardia. Mission accomplished so to speak.
We waited another few ours as elephants can to the watering area, more deer and another silent moment but with no tiger. We decided to head back early a swim near a different part of the river. Though being a jungle man Jake took us through a very dense part of the jungle which was very much like being in the jungle safari movies of old.
Wild elephant sunset
We reached a beautiful area by the river just in time for sunset. After checking for crocodiles we cooled down by the river’s edge. Bardia was so very different to Chitwan. It’s a complete contrast in terms of Chitwan’s commercial tourism and Bardia’s raw jungle.
It’s not as easy getting to Bardia compared to Chitwan but if it’s a real jungle experience you are after rather than a package tour type experience then Bardia wins hands down.
To cap off the evening a herd of wild elephant crossed the river during sunset. I’ve seen wild forest elephants in West Africa up close. Likewise the domestic elephants in Chitwan. This large herd, complete with baby elephants in tow, was very different. Again, it was as close to an epic scene in a movie as you get.
Pretty much the best way to round off an excellent jungle trek in Bardia.
Here is my guide on transport to Bardia and my online guide to Bardia. Meanwhile full details of transport, resort reviews and everything about Bardia is available in my guidebook below. Jacks details are in there too!
Otherwise, if you’d like my guides details feel free to contact me.
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