Wednesday 4 Oct
Bardia National Park, Nepal
On the elephant ride, Sitram had delighted in telling us about his and his friends' recent close run ins with a sleeping tigers and angry rhino which I am sure was to beef up the excitement for our walk.
We strolled into the park past a large herd of spotted dear and some monkeys hanging around a bridge. So far it was a really pleasant stroll so I was not worried about not seeing anymore big game. But as we moved up a muddy path we all clearly saw some unmistakable big fresh paw prints. Sitram said the tiger must have been here within the last 8 or 10 hours. The tracks continued down the path and he pointed out two trails - a mother and child. Now he kept stopping, looking around and sniffing the air (apparently good guides can smell the animals). Stopping in a slightly dramatic fashion Sitram heard some noises and said, " did you hear that? Deer and monkey calling. There is definitely a tiger close by".
"Which direction direction did they come from"?
My confidence in Sitram trickled away and the potential reality that we would stand no chance against an upset tiger dawned. We stood tense and silent expecting one to appear from the bushes at any second. Nothing arriverd so we started moving off slowly with our heads buzzing. The prospect of going even deeper into the forest felt like we were climbing further up a slippery rock face. Seeing our nerves Sitram assured us that we were in no danger so we continued to a tall look out tower and climbed up. We did not see any tiger, or anything else apart from a big buffalo in the river. After spending an hour or so here we walked to another tower where the late afternoon sun made a lovely light on the grasses and trees. Sitram fell asleep whilst we enjoyed the peace.
We had to be out of the park by night fall so we left the tower with plenty of time. As we walked I noticed that something was on my hand. Its head had burrowed into my skin whilst its worm like body wriggled about. Arrgh a leech! I shook my hand about ridiculously trying to dislodge it. Sitram came over and whipped it off making me look totally pathetic. Another one was on my leg and well gorged. I got this one off and squashed it, spewing my blood on the ground. All the way back these horrible looking monsters would be crawling up our boots and trying to get through our socks. We must have had about 20 of these horrid creatures grab hold between us and were soon checking each other and plucking them off. I found one securely fastened to the zip on my trousers.
After seeing nothing all day on the trek we stumbled upon a pair of wild bull elephants.
We stood on a log watching them from 30 metres trying to be as quite as we could as the leeches continued their assault. The pair were eating calmly. As with the female we had ridden in the morning they were massive and had wonderful long tusks. The largest Indian bull elephant in the world is in Bardia and it was possibly one of these two. A WWF worker, who was researching elephant human relations in the park, said a pair including the record breaking bull are notorious in the village for breaking into houses, drinking the fermenting rice wine and then wantonly smashing up the place like a pair of drunk British holiday makers. The villages have look out towers which are manned every night to try and stop them. Earlier Sitram had shown us where one had come through the village the night before with no regard for fences or back yards.
Once back and showered I found another leech on my thigh as I was dressing. It must have been waiting in my trousers. I whipped it of and through it straight into my pile of clean clothes. Of course once I had turfed everything out it was hiding in my underwear bag. These things are the stuff of nightmares.
We had seen no one else in the park all day. Sadly, with all the trouble in Nepal and its out of the way location, Bardia has really suffered. Our host told us that he had had to sell everything to keep going and lots of the lodges have closed down. Everyone there was incredibly nice and Sitram even offered to come with us on the Annapurna trek, as it was so quiet, just as a friend. So if anyone reading this is thinking of coming to Nepal I highly recommend you make the time to go to Bardia National Park. It's a bit out of the way but very much worth it.