In the remote far west of Nepal, in the lowlands close to the Indian border, Suklaphanta Wildlife Reserve is not only very different from any other reserve in the country but also very special. Recently expanded, it now covers 305 square kilometres and protects some of the richest and most extensive grasslands in Asia, as well as both Sal and riverine forest. This mixed habitat supports an estimated 20 Tigers, one of the highest densities in the world today, although this particular population is shy and not habituated to man’s presence as in the popular Indian reserves where tourists abound! The reserve also offers a density of other mammals, particularly of deer species, that is hard to match elsewhere in the subcontinent, and certainly in Nepal. The world’s largest population of the nominate race of Swamp Deer occurs here and, until recently, Suklaphanta boasted Asia’s largest bull elephant, ‘Tula Hatti’s. Birds, though, are perhaps the primary highlight here. Nearly 400 species have been recorded in the reserve, including 50% of Nepal’s globally threatened species, over half of which are true grassland specialists. Among them are Bengal Florican, Hodgson’s Bushchat, Jerdon’s Babbler and Finn’s Weaver, all of which have their strongholds in Nepal within the boundaries of Suklaphanta.
Although we begin with a visit to Kathmandu and a day spent amongst the magnificent bird-filled temperate forests of Phulchowki mountain, this new tour focuses mainly on Suklaphanta (where we spend six nights) and its very rich wildlife, giving us our best shot of seeing as many of its specialities as possible. For so long ‘off the map’s due to the lack of any tourist accommodation servicing the reserve, we have put this to rights by opening our own comfortable tented camp, situated on the very edge of the reserve close to the park headquarters. For those of you who have previously visited Nepal with Naturetrek, and stayed at Koshi Camp, our tented camp on the edge of Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve, you may expect a similar level of comfort and service.
Our extensive exploration of Suklaphanta will be carried out primarily by means of jeep safaris, but we are also able to explore the park on foot (something that is not generally permitted in Indian national parks, but is one of the many attractions of Nepal’s reserves). The reserve, unusually, is also blessed with many tall watchtowers, overlooking both grasslands and forest lakes and swamps, from which we will spend much time simply observing what passes by.
Suklaphanta is reached by Buddha Air’s excellent domestic service between Kathmandu and Dhangadhi, just 90 minutes from the reserve — a flight that provides unique and sensational views of the central and western Himalaya. The international border between Nepal and India demarcates both the reserve’s western and southern boundaries, beyond which lies the Luggabugga Florican Reserve in India. Between the reserve’s Sal and riverine forests span the largest phantas (grasslands) in Nepal and these are of international importance on account of the unique selection of threatened birds and other wildlife that they hold. Four small lakes — Rani Tal, Salghaudi Tal, Kalikitch Tal and Shikari Tal — add significantly to the reserve’s biodiversity.
Of the mammal species recorded here, we have a moderate chance of encountering a Tiger, though it is Golden Jackals, numerous Swamp, Spotted and Hog Deer, and both Rhesus Macaques and Terai Langurs that we will see most of. We may also see Nilgai, Barking Deer or Smoothcoated Otter, and there is always a chance of encountering one of the 50 Leopards, 20 Asian Elephants and five Great Indian One-horned Rhinoceroses found in the reserve. Suklaphanta has a healthy population of Marsh Mugger Crocodiles, while a night drive (if permitted) would give us a chance of seeing the little-known Hispid Hare. However, it is the unrivalled selection of rare grassland birds that will attract our special attention, Bengal Florican (best seen displaying in summer), Swamp Francolin, Great Slaty Woodpecker (one of the largest of the world’s woodpeckers), White-naped Woodpecker, Finn’s Weaver, and both Bristled and Rufous-rumped Grassbirds being among the resident specialities, whilst Hodgson’s Bushchat occur in winter. The park also supports a particularly wide range of other woodpeckers, warblers and bush warblers, and such rarities as Jerdon’s Babbler and Jerdon’s Bushchat.
Whether you have been to Nepal many times before, or whether you are on your first visit, you will find this to be a fascinating holiday to a unique and rich wildlife reserve where we can almost guarantee that you will see no other tourists! Indeed we are likely to have the luxury of having the reserve entirely to ourselves!