13 Mar 2018
2 min read
To travel to the far-western regions of Nepal is every traveller's dream. And when I got the chance to embark on a journey to Khaptad National Park--a destination I'd wanted to explore for a long time, but never had the opportunity--I pounced on it.
We--my three friends and I--planned our itinerary on our bus ride, from Kathmandu to Nepalgunj (which is the gateway to Dolpo); and while we were doing so, we decided to add another location to our itinerary--Bardiya National Park, as the national park lay along the way. Our quick detour included a safari in the national park. Bardiya is known as a home for Royal Bengal Tigers, and during our safari, we were extremely lucky to see one out in the wild. Along with that glimpse of the rare tiger, we also saw rhinos, spotted deer, hog deer, blue bulls, gharials, leopards, and many other wild animals.
Our stay in Nepalgunj was too short for our liking, but we had to reach Silgadhi, Doti as soon as we could. The road to Silgadhi was bumpy and steep, so we fastened our seat belts and held tight to the door handles of the Bolero jeep we were in. As the jeep left the course of the Karnali River, and steadily started gaining altitude, the landscape changed and the weather became colder. We spent the night at Silgadhi.
Khaptad--still a relatively unknown destination
Because of Khaptad National Park's remoteness, the place doesn't see a lot of tourist inflow: which means, there aren't any lodges or other basic facilities available along the way. For those trekking in these parts, you have to pack all necessities--flashlights, snacks, tents, water purifiers; but most importantly, you need to have a strong mindset. While we were walking towards the park, we met Nepal Army personnel who too were heading towards the park, to their barracks. We made some conversation with them, but they were walking at such a speed that we could not keep up. After a couple of hours, when we finally reached Jhingrana Post, one of the only two places where you actually meet people (the other one being Bichpani Camp, which is also the entrance to the park), they were already ready to leave.
As we trudged on, the weather started to change: the blue skies changed into a dark, stormy grey, and a thunderstorm ensued. As there werenít any tea houses in the area, or any type of shelter, to save us from the hail and rain, we had to take refuge under a large tree. We had to wait for the water to stop for almost an hour, and this gave us some much-needed rest time. After the heavy rainfall petered to a light shower, we started walking againóthrough huge meadows, small hills, small patches of jungles.
Learning about local life
After walking for another couple of hours, we again met the army people. While we rested, they told us how tough it was for people to live in the Khaptad National Park, because it is covered by snow for eight months, which is then followed by incessant rains for the rest of the four months of the year. Before coming to Khaptad, we had heard that the weather there was very unpredictable, and we experienced it first hand while we were there.
We kept each other company until we parted ways as the barracks approached. They were kind enough to take us to a shed (near the forest wardenís quarter), which was our home for the night. The four-walled structure in which we spent the night was cold and uncomfortable. There was a hailstorm all night, and we kept fearing that the tin roof would cave in. Fortunately for us, the shedís owner was there too. He had arrived at Khaptad just a few days prior to us, to graze his cattle for the 'non-snowy' months. He made our stay a little bit more comfortable and offered us food, wood for a fire, and blankets. Owing to the fire's warmth, and the tiring 14-hour hike, we fell asleep almost instantaneously.
Khaptad Baba's abode
The next morning we woke up to find Khaptad exactly as we had seen in countless pictures. The skies had cleared and warm sunlight lit up the green meadows that stretched as far as the eye could see. We saw horses silently grazing in the dew-coated grass, goats scampering and swathes of wildflowers swaying with the mild morning breeze--and as the backdrop to all this was the magnificent Api and Saipal ranges. It was in this moment that we realised why Khaptad Baba, one of the most revered babas in Nepal after whom the national park was named, spent more than 50 years of his life here in these mountains.