In Nepal’s jungle-cloaked southern Terai, the great national parks of Chitwan and Bardia offer sanctuary to a whole host of rare creatures including one-horned rhinos and the majestic Royal Bengal tiger, alongside a prolific birdlife.
Granted National Park status in the 1970s, Chitwan is Nepal’s most popular wildlife sanctuary and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here, on Nepal’s southern border with India, the park encompasses nearly 1,000 square kilometres of thick steamy jungle, grasslands and rivers that together shelter an astonishingly rich and varied wildlife.
Staying in a lodge that recreates the traditional style of Tharu longhouses, you can explore the park’s tropical forests on jeep safaris, jungle walks and even on elephant-back in search of rare rhinos, Bengal tigers, sloth bears, wild oxen and various species of deer and monkey. Leopards roam Chitwan too, but sightings are rarer. Meanwhile, river excursions in traditional dugout canoes is a great way of spotting some of the park’s beautiful birds (including sunbirds, warblers and flycatchers), as getting up close to wild crocodiles lazing on the banks.
Bardia National Park is slightly harder to reach, but well worth the extra effort. The largest and best-preserved jungle wilderness in the Terai, Bardia’s unspoilt landscapes are defined by vast Sal and riverine forest, as well as patches of open grassland cut by the Karnali River. This is one of the best locations in Nepal for tiger sightings, though wild elephant, rhino, leopard, swamp deer and antelope are also present. As well as nature walks and jeep safaris with experienced naturalists, visitors enjoy sport fishing and white-water rafting on the Karnali River - watch out for surfacing Gangetic dolphins. Among the huge variety of birds present are the Bengal Florican and white-rumped vulture.