One other great attraction of Nepal is that it is home to a rich diversity of wild life. Therefore after exploring the mountains in Himalayas, now I wanted to explore this side of Nepal. I chose Bardia National Park to visit that has a 1000km2 area and it is the largest out of 11 national parks in Nepal. It is located at the far west part of the country, just 30km close to Indian border. Because of this far distance it is not touristy at all like Chitwan national park.
Although the distance was less than 500km the bus journey took 17 hours! from Pokhara to Thakudwara village. Get prepared that the roads in Nepal are unimproved and unpaved, public busses are quite old. I had an adventurous journey again. The bus was so crowded and loaded with many stuff on the corridor. The result was tyre punctures. We stop somewhere to have them repaired for couple of hours. Because of the winding roads in the mountains I was feeling sick at my stomach. The fat lady sitting next to me put her bag between us, the space left for me was extremely small. Incredibly high music was all the time on, even in the night. At one break, a group of young Nepalese drank so much alcohol and started singing loudly in the bus. Freezing cold was seeping through my broken window. And I was nervous knowing that the driver didn’t change for 17 hours.
Anyway eventually I arrived at Ambassa and took a jeep to Thakudwara village. When I saw the sunrise (above) on the foggy fields I said yes I am in a totally different place now. Then I entered a huge forest area and it right away evoked in me the excitement of exploration.
Bardia National Park contains within itself a wide variety of animals like; bengal tigers, leopards, elephants, rhinos, crocodiles, deers, antelopes, Himalayan brown bears, wild cats, jackals and almost 400 different species of birds. Endemic gangetic river dolphins are living in Karnali river that is passing through this area.
Many hunters made use of the disorder during Nepal ciwil war between 1996-2006 and hunted on a large scale in wild nature. These senseless exterminations have been going on for almost a century by the locals and also by the foreigners. The tigers are hunted for their skin and bones, rhinos for their horns, elephants for their teeth, antilopes for their skin, leopards for their teeth, meat and bones. Musk deers are hunted for the musk they produce which is used in manufacture of perfumes and cosmetics. Other factors for the extinction of the species are; climate change, habitat loss, dams and irrigation projects and the modifications on the river beds.
There are 198 adult wild tigers in Nepal and approximately 3890 left in the wild globally according to 2016 WWF report. Rhinos have a total population of 645 in Nepal. They are still illegally hunted for their horns which is falsely believed to have medical value in traditional Chinese medicine. It is estimated that Asian elephant is distributed within 19 districts of Nepal. These elephants are called the ecosystem engineers, as they help in transforming the forests, providing micro-habitats for the invertebrates, dispersing the seeds. Hence conserving the elephant population can help in conserving the entire forest and habitat.
To visit the park it is mandatory to hire a guide. You can either enter on foot or on jeep. In order to cover longer distances I prefered the jeep ride. We entered the area at 6 o’clock just at the sunrise time. I was so excited and carrying pure intentions for all the being’s well-being here. I was quite conscious on not doing anything disturbing and harmful.
All day long we covered around 50-60km with jeep and on foot. We were sometimes in the forests or grasslands, sometimes near the riverbeds. When we were out from the jeep we were so attentive to be quite, we were walking on the balls of our feet, talking in whispers. We made stops at 8 different view points to observe silently.
Above was one of the observation points we stopped by. The tigers come by the river to drink water at early mornings. We were there on time but couldn’t see them. “After a weak baby tiger died 4 days ago it brought grief not just to the mother but also to the whole forest. In these kind of days animals prefer to stay hidden.” said our guide.
I saw a rhino which was quite close to us and a crocodile by the river. And many types of deers, monkeys, birds like peacocks, kingfishers, balck ivis, herons, owls, eagles, hawks, vultures.
Despite that in this season most of the elephants migrated to India for sugar canes, we received the news from the park officers about an alone male elephant wandering around in our area. If you see a male elephant RUN! In fact whatever you see just run. If you see a rhino run in zigzags to confuse his mind. You can also throw something to distract his attention with its smell. If you see an elephant there is no point to climb a tree so just run. And if you come across with a tiger do not ever turn your back to him because he has the tendency to attack from the neck. Walk backwards, shout out loud, swing the stick with big movements to make him afraid if possible and pray for him to leave. These were the instuctions we took in the beginning of the day.
At one point we entered into high reedbeds on foot. Here was simply the area of the tigers. There are 5 adults (3 female, 2 male) and some babies in this area. What a courageousness it was to walk there. Remembering it now I think it was quite madness. When we got out from the reeds to the dried river bed we saw this fresh footprint of a tiger.
Bardia National Park consists of 70% sal forests, 17% river rainforests, 13% grasslands. Sal (shorea robusta) forests (above) are diversed and has a rich succession. People and elephants use the tree’s inner barks for stomach diseases.
The park is home of many types of deers. It was amazing to see the collaboration between animals. Monkeys, when they see a predator up from the trees, they start screaming and inform the deers below. Screams are mostly an indication of a threat. They also throw fruits down the trees to help deers to feed themselves.
There are many termite mounds in the sal forests that are the super interesting structures that termite colonies build and live in (above, right). And I could capture this photograph above of a changeable hawk eagle.
In Bardia there are elephant and crocodile breeding centers. They help the crocodile species under the threat of extinction and release the new borns into the nature. These centers also brought some elephants here which were under personal ownership and couldn’t take good care. Some of them are now at their 80s. The new borns -as they are tame- can not be released to nature but they are under good care, everyday they are brought to the forest for walk and food. Many activists and ngos are working for the well-being of animals. It was so pleasing to hear that elephant safaris will be banned soon.
This lovely couple above, Mr B and his wife were my hosts there. Mr B is the most experienced and respected guide in the region. He has countless stories, I enjoyed to talk with him so much. For instance I asked him about the possible distructive impact of tourism on the wild nature. Personally I didn’t want to contribute to anything that would give harm or disturbance to the area. He said, after tourism reached this area the administration of the park and also some ngos started to be more alert and watchful. This was comforting to hear.
And also there is a cultural dimension to this. Pramesh, a young man from the village one day told me about his opinions detaily. He said; “I am so much nourishing by the different cultures people bring with themselves. My ideas about the world are getting richer, my perspective in life is expanding. These are all freeing me from the conservative pressure of traditions and I am becoming a stronger and more aware individual.”
The main reason that brought me here was the wild life. It was a bonus for me to come across with a different culture here. People living here are Tharu that is one of the ethnic groups in South Nepal and North India. The appearance of the rural life here was different from the other areas I visited before in Nepal. There is a remarkably humble quality in their life and everything, the houses, gardens, fields look so esthetic, clean and tidy. They look so connected to their old way of living and traditions.
Thakudwara village is spreaded in a large area so it was the best to explore it with a bicycle. I enjoyed wandering around between fields and little settlements. It was amazing to cycle around the boundary areas of the national park and breath the wild life so close to me.
I love this, I love to be in the countryside, in the villages. I love the smell of soil and manure. I love to see people working on their fields, cultivating their food. I am so pleased to learn that people are using their own seeds and not using chemicals or artificial fertilizers in agriculture.
Traditional natural buildings are a mixture of adobe and bamboo. This brings a unique ambience to the settlements. All the structures are so simple and beautiful. I liked the idea to orientate the squashes up on the roof (above).
On the picture above you see some depictions of animals made on the exterior wall of a house. This is so common in most of the houses. It beautifully indicates the connection of people with animals because there is something peculiar about Thakudwara, as if it is in another reality. All life -whether domestic or wild- is intertwined into eachother. It is possible that one night an elephant can come to your house and destroy it, your dog can be eaten by a leopard. You can come across with a tiger near the forest, a cobra can sneak in from your kitchen window or a group of monkeys can eat all your vegetables in your back garden. These are all possible. I am so impressed by this reality of life here.
It is also common to see the traditional adobe rice storages in the houses. (the picture above) They are built in the houses, a little up above the floor to be protected from water during monsoon. Other setup we see on the left, above is for making the traditional spirit called jarakjura that is made from rice.
People here are fabulously lovely, sincere and warm hearted. When I pass by their door almost everyone greet me, sometimes invite me to their home. I am exploring the areas where you barely see a foreign traveller. I believe this is why they become interested in me. Sometimes I am accepting their invitation. I see a cute shyness in their face so I am doing my best to comfort them. They are offering me jarakjura. We don’t know any common words but warmth is always in our center.
One day I visited the school of the village. We had so much fun with the kids and I adored their joy, laughters, beauty, purity and love.
If I find a kitchen at the place I am staying, I prefer to cook for myself. That’s why I oftenly go to the farmers market. I love to wander around in between the colours of fruits and vegetables. And I love the way women dress. They look so charming in their colourful outfits.
This (above) is the piece of heaven I go to write my diary. Here in Bardia I witnessed the wild life, the connection between wild life and the people and also their unique culture. I am fascinated by all these faces of life. Now sitting here near the river, butterflies are flying around me. I am deeply in gratitude for all these gifts of life and for my spirit that is clearly aware of this magic.
Now I am taking you from Bardia back to the mid parts of Nepal to Bandipur. It is located 140km west of Kathmandu as seen on the map above. You can stop by this little town on your way between Pokhara and Kathmandu.
Bandipur is a quite touristy hilltop settlement that has a great view of some ranges of Himalayas. You can have short or long walks on its surrounding steep hills. The downhill trek to the Siddha Cave is highly recommended. It offers great views especially during the sunset.
Bandipur is famous for its preserved, old time cultural atmosphere. Here you can have an idea about Newari (an ethnic group) people and their cultures. It is beautiful to have a walk at its main street lined with traditional houses.
The main reason I came here was to meet with my dear friend Derya that I know from Turkey. I travel alone and I love it. But once in a while these kind of encounters, connections touch my heart deeply. We spent 2 lovely days together. It gave me a great energy to connect deeply again with a dear soul I cherish in, to share our stories, laugh, cry or sit in silence together.
Coming to my last destination in Nepal that is Lumbini (above). Lumbini is located in South Nepal, so close to the Indian border. You can reach there with a 10 hour drive from Kathmandu. You can see its location on the map a little above.
As Lumbini is where Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama) was born, it is a very significant Buddhist pilgrimage destination. This Unesco World Heritage site is 4.8 km in length and 1.6 km in width. Bicycle is the best way to explore but you can also trust your feet as I did and walk. It hosts Mayadevi temple that is considered to be the birthplace of Buddha. In this monastic zone there are only monasteries and various temples funded by Buddhist organisations from various countries. (Thailand, Myanmar, Korea, China, Japon, Nepal, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Vietnam..) There is a beautiful long water canal inside the area separating the western and eastern zones.
For me the highlight of Lumbini was the sacred Boddhi tree near Mayadevi temple. This tree is highly regarded amongst Buddhists. You see many monks sitting under the tree, meditating or chanting sutras (spiritual scripts). It has a unique atmosphere with many colourful prayer flags.
Tomorrow I will be passing to India after my three months in Nepal. And today is the new moon. What a meaningful timing again. Under the tree I sat for meditation. A great sense of thankfulness arised in me for every being I came across in Nepal, for each and every experience on my precious journey. I deeply felt my intentions on my upcoming months in India. Then a monk came near me and blessed me with prayers. I prayed for the light and wisdom of Buddha for its aliveness until the last breath of the last human on this earth.
Before passing to India, I attended a Vipassana course in Kathmandu. I was waiting for this to happen one day and I experienced it at the perfect time. If you are a spiritual seeker, someone who is willing to know the truth of your reality then this course would be the best start. I benefited so much from it and highly recommend everyone to attend a course at least for once in their lifetime.
Vipassana is a meditation technique and it is a process of mental purification through self observation. It purifies the mind, freeing it from suffering and leads step by step to full spiritual liberation. To learn Vipassana it is necessary to take a 10 day course (silent retreat) under the guidance of a qualified teacher.
Today is my last day in Nepal. I spent 3 months in this magnificent country. All the places I visited, great mountains, rivers, lakes, forests, all the people I met, all the inspirations I got, all the experienced I collected, one by one I am remembering each of them with pure love and deep gratitude. My dreams, wishes, intentions all came into being here. In this sense I believe Nepal has a special soul.
I have just started to meet with deep teachings and I already feel the maturity penetrating to my being. There is this sense of desire in me, like a pure need to learn and grow. I intend to have meditation in my life as my main practice. I intend to love myself fully and feel complete. I intend to nurture the love in me to create beauty for every being. I trust that the new era is coming with light. I totally feel that I am supported, loved and guided. May love, inspiration, support and abundance be always by my side. May every being have open hearts to see their truth and have love, compassion and peace at their heart. Always. Amin!
Tomorrow I am planning to arrive at Varanasi. Open your embrace and allow me to come to you mother India.