Nobody thinks twice about climbing Kilimanjaro then going on safari. It’s a well-established adventure travel double header, but few trek to Everest Base Camp then go on a Nepalese safari.
Most travelers go to Nepal for its Himalayas, but miss some of the best wildlife viewing parks in Asia in the country’s low lands. Africa has the big five and so does Nepal. Just trade lions for Bengal Tigers then start looking for buffalo, rhino, elephant and leopard which are all in Nepal. Tigers are the most elusive and sought after, but rhino a globally endangered species have made a huge comeback here. For birdwatchers, Nepal has nearly 900 species with over 50 species of prey and over 70 warblers.
Nepal’s most known national park, Chitwan, is just 100 miles southwest of Kathmandu. This world heritage site has around 600 one-horned rhinos and is perhaps the best protected and least poached national park in Asia. Annual visitation to Chitwan is around 100,000, compared to 350,000 in Tanzania’s Serengeti.
Nepal has nine other national parks with far fewer tourists. Just outside Kathmandu is the Phulchowki mountain forest where it’s likely it will be just you and your guide looking at the 300 bird species there.
A Nepalese safari can be easily done in under a week and costs are relatively modest. Seeing the parks in jeeps, boats, ox-carts and on foot is possible as are white water river trips. Elephant-back tours are being phased out.
Nepal may be a small country, but often small is beautiful and big biodiversity is always a great thing.
Nepal’s effort to protect its wildlife is one the most heartening and relatively unknown global conservation stories. In 1970, Chitwan was heavily poached, its rhino population was down to 95 and 70 percent of its jungle had been cleared using DDT.
The government made two critical decisions to save its wild lands. First by empowering local communities to manage 28 percent of the country’s forests led these villages to create homestay programs where visitors stay in ethnic Thurai guest homes on the park’s borders. This is a way to bring money to these communities who are now invested in protecting the parks. It’s estimated that locals get 50 percent of every tourist dollar spent in the parks.
The second big move was turning military men and women into game rangers and putting them in the national parks. The strategy has worked as the rhino and tiger populations have significantly rebounded. The over 600 rhinos in Chitwan are protected by over 1,000 Nepalese armed soldiers who rotate between 40 outposts throughout the park. In the last three years there has been just one poached rhino which is remarkable considering China is on the border and is the world’s biggest market for rhino horn. When poacher kingpins are caught they get long prison sentences.
Nepal vs Ngorongoro
If you’ve been to Ngorongoro or Masai Mara don’t expect to see hundreds of migrating ungulates on the plains of Nepal. Things are more subtle here, but there are many species you could see that you won’t in Africa. A long horned wild buffalo, the arn and two species of crocs including The Mugger are among the specialties as are Gangetic dolphins.
Chitwan has many diverse habitats including alluvial flood plains where the tigers hunt. Heavy forests house sloth bears and there are abundant jackals, wild dogs, civets and hyenas. Birdlife is prolific with five species of hornbills, eight various parrots and four bee-eaters.
Be sure to contact us for an exciting safari after your trek to Everest Base Camp!