Unpredictable wake-up calls

Text by Kapil Bisht / Photo: Robin Boustead

Most visitors excitedly look for wild things in Bardia. Other times the wilderness comes to the visitor.

Sparks rose to the night sky from the big fire. Lewis, a Scotsman, was talking excitedly about his arrival in Bardia. “It was around four am but the entire village was up. Somebody told me that a herd of elephants had entered the village, so the people were up to scare them off,” he said. Lewis however, was more excited about the mouse that moved around at night in his Tharu-style cottage.

There is a nearness to life in Bardia. Encounters with wild animals sometimes take place even without stepping into Nepal’s largest national park in the lowlands. Humans are prohibited from entering the park in the dark. Wild animals usually exit the park in the dark, crossing over into the human side. They come to the fields to feed on the crops. Wild bull elephants arrive at night to mate with domesticated females. Predators sometimes prowl villages and kill livestock. Hastening to the park entrance in the mornings, one can sometimes see jungle fowl already scratching and pecking at the dung piles in the elephant stables. Bardia still belongs to Nature.

But one particular group of people can call Bardia their home too. The Tharus, who are the indigenous people of Nepal’s Terai, have lived in this once uninhabitable place for generations. In Bardia, their villages, which are a collection of adobe huts, are contiguous to the national park. For generations, the Tharus of Bardia have lived by taking from the jungles: they fished its streams, hunted wild animals, fashioned articles of daily use and even created art from resources from the jungle. From this lifestyle come countless tales of their hunting adventures in the jungle. Besides a great source of entertainment, these are records of a form of life that is mostly history now.

Bardia has always been able to hold off people. The vastness of the wilderness combined with malaria kept it out of reach. Although today Bardia is somewhat tamed with a few resorts in and outside it, it still remains a wild place. And like all truly wild places, it is unpredictable. On some days you could spend hours in a spot waiting for a wild animal to appear, and yet return to your resort without having seen anything. And sometimes a leopard strolls across on a small clearing in front of your resort.

You can never know what your wake-up call in the morning will be—an employee of the resort knocking to tell you that he has brought your tea, the sweet song of some bird, a Tharu talking to his oxen as he ploughs his fields, or the uproar caused by a herd of wild elephants.