There are two main reserves in Nepal where the visitor has a chance of seeing tiger. It is a different experience to game-viewing in Africa; to have a chance to see these incredible creatures it is best to let them come to you.
Your guide will park at a spot with a view of a place that tigers pass, usually a river crossing, and you will wait for them to (hopefully) come to you. There are watch towers placed in strategic locations – used by the Park rangers as well as visitors - which offer wide views that can also be used. Both parks have one horned rhinos, leopards, sloth bears and a wide range of herbivores, birdlife and flora to enjoy, so what are the differences?
Because of their locations there is a big difference in visitor numbers. In 2014 there were c. 14,000 visitors to Bardia. In the same year there were c.173,000 to Chitwan. Why? It’s possible to drive to Chitwan, an 8 hour journey from Kathmandu but one that can be incorporated into visits to Pokhara and the Annapurnas as well as the small mountain towns of Gorkha and Bandipur. To reach Bardia you need to fly from Kathmandu to Nepalgang and then transfer for 3 hours from there. Other than combining it with Lumbini – the birth place of Buddha – it is a side trip to the other attractions.
Because of this there is a big difference in the quantity and quality of available accommodation. At Bardia there is one luxury lodge – Tiger Tops - and a host of small, atmospheric guesthouses. At Chitwan there is a string of high class and high price lodges on the park boundary, with international chains competing with local owners. There is also the town of Sauraha on the banks of the Rapti river, packed with hotels, lodges and camp sites, restaurants and bars all catering to the visitor. The river beach is full of bars from where you can sit with a sundowner and watch animals in the park come to drink on the other side of the river. If you want solitude, choose Bardia or an outlying lodge at Chirwan.
Game viewing activities are the same – jeep, walking and river excursions offered in both. When in Chitwan you will be paddled in a canoe, in Bardia you will raft through the park, enjoying small rapids and travelling through the heart of the park. Walking safaris are always done with an authorised guide who will know how to deal with a close encounter with a rhino, tiger or bear (normally you are told to climb a tree) but in Bardia you are more likely to see wildlife because of fewer visitors not keeping the animals away from the areas you pass through. On jeep safaris it matters less as you can travel deep in to the parks.
So which to do? If you have time and really want to focus on tigers, then Bardia is the best choice. A lot less people and the best tiger viewing. If time is more pressing and you have one or two nights to enjoy the jungle, then Chitwan offers the perfect choice.
by Robert Ferguson
Robert is the author of the Footprint Travel Guide to Nepal.
To speak to him about your Nepal holiday call 01603 964 730 or email firstname.lastname@example.org