August 1998: As part of a multi-month-long back packing trip in India, I traveled overland via bus into Western Nepal seeking adventure, the unknown and tigers. During this time Western Nepal was truly an undeveloped, remote outpost in the world and was just starting to fall under the grip of Maoist Communist rebels. My camera during these days of my travels was pretty low tech so my photos are pretty awful. This is the story of my 2-week trip to Western Nepal.

 

My Route

My route across western nepal

While I was in Rishikesh staying at a Hindu ashram, I met a couple of Indian backpackers from the USA, and I explained my plan to them of traveling into Western Nepal and they agreed to join. Together we traveled on top of public buses on the luggage racks sometimes for 10 plus hours per day in some of the most grueling travel conditions I have ever experienced. But traveling on top of the bus was preferred to being inside with crushed between the mass of humanity. We stayed in a bustling, dirty city in the Indian plains called Bareilly to recover from the bus trip. The problem with Bareilly is it was so bad that I also needed to recover from Bareilly. After a day in a cheap, hot hotel room, we had to hire a taxi to get to the Nepal border because there were no buses going in that direction. We arrived in the early afternoon near a small woodland village in the Himalayan foothills. With no guide, we asked the villagers for directions, and we found ourselves crossing a small bridge almost entirely cloaked in fog from one stone village to another. The people were very different looking from India and most were shorter and elfin in appearance. We crossed into Nepal but the immigration checkpoint, a small hut was closed, and we decided to stay the night in the village on the Nepali side of the border and try and check in with the border official in the morning. For the night my friends and I ended up staying in a small house with several beds in a shared room on the second floor. There was a wood stove emitting smoke into the room and beside us, there were other Nipali travelers sleeping in the room and with us. The room was far from comfortable but when traveling in places like this, a roof over your head is all you can hope for.

 

Nepal village

Border village in Nepal where I stayed

Western Nepal was completely off of the map. There were no foreigners, and the roads were barely functional. The main highway had no bridges, and our bus would have to drive through shallow sections of the river and a scout would walk across the river to check its depth. Everywhere we went locals were shocked by my presence. We encountered tribal people in colorful exotic clothes, and fascinating characters walking the streets such as the man with the giant bamboo hat in the photo below and the man with a sloth bear on a leash, which he sadly captured from the wild and travels from village to village asking for donations from curious bystanders. 

man with a huge bamboo hat in a random village

Man with a performing sloth bear in a random village

My co-traveler posing with some other curious Nepali men on our bus 

Tiger Tracking in Bardia National Park

I really strongly considered traveling into the mountains of western Nepal, especially since there was absolutely no information about them in the guidebooks and most locals informed that the people there are so isolated that some villages have never even seen matches to start a fire. But I was obsessed with seeing a tiger in the wild and Bardia was known as a tiger and rhino stronghold, so I decided to go there instead. We took a bus all the way to a road that led to Bardia National Park, one of the best tiger and rhino reserves in all of Southern Asia. To reach the entrance of Bardia we had to walk a few miles down the dirt road before reaching a guesthouse and entrance gate. We passed the primitive mud brick villages of the Tharu tribe, and many of them were in their fields farming adorned in colorful dresses.

In Bardia, we stayed in a budget guesthouse run by a nice Nepali family who I would become friend with over the next few days. Through them we arranged a boat trip, jeep trip, elephant ride and hiking trip to look for Rhinos and tigers. it seemed that we would always come close to a tiger or rhino but would fall just short of actually seeing one.  I hiked hours into the park with a ranger and on one occasion, we spotted fresh pug marks in the mud, and we even heard a tiger walking in the dense brush near us and we sat on the ground taking shelter hoping that the tiger would appear in an opening, but it never did. This was exciting but I could tell by the fear on the ranger’s face that there was definitely potential danger in doing what we were doing. Then on another night when I walked around my guesthouse, I came across a frantic ranger who explained to me that he just moments before I walked over had to scare off a leopard into the forest. I was disappointed that I just missed the specter.

Me riding an eleohant to the river to look for Rhinos

me swimming in the river, which I learned had lots of crocodiles

Cured of a Bad Fever from Forest Plants

One night I came down with a bad fever, and I was vomiting violently and suffering from bad diarrhea. I was in such bad shape that the woman who ran the guest house overheard my vomiting and alerted her husband who promptly disappeared into the forest in the middle of the night during a lightning storm for hours before returning with some plants that his wife made into a herbal tea for me. They promised me that if I drank it, I would feel better. I didn’t have high hopes, but I was desperate for relief, so I gulped it down. An hour later my stomach even felt more terrible, and I vomited even more violently but after 30 minutes of that I snapped out of my fever and felt as good as new. In the morning when I announced to the couple that I was feeling much better they weren’t surprised, and I thanked them for the tea. I asked where the plants came from and the man explained that the plant grown on a tree, and he had to climb it in order to harvest the plants. I was very touched that the man did all of this just out of a sense of hospitality to help me, his guest and that he never asked for anything in return for his kindness.

From Bardia National Park, I continued on to the impoverished and severely uninviting city of Nepalgunj, where I stayed for a few days before traveling by bus to Lucknow India. I was treated badly by an Indian immigration official at border crossing into India. He asked me with an angry tone in his voice why my president, Bill Clinton could have the nerve to criticize India for developing nuclear weapons. I nodded in agreement as I always do with immigration officials and continued on to Lucknow, another dirt Indian plains city before I continued on to new Lucknow, where I slept in a shared guestroom in the train station unable to sleep while large rats scurried around my body at night in the dark. After escaping Lucknow, I returned to the one refuge I loved and felt at peace in during my trip in India, the Himalayas, for more trekking.

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