Tuesday, March 13, 2012

7 natural wonders in the Tharu Heritage Trail

Chitwan National Park
Chitwan National Park is home to the world's second
largest population of one-horned rhinoceroses.
The Chitwan National Park is the first national park established in Nepal. It was established in 1973, almost 100 hundred years after the establishment of the Yellowstone National Park, the world’s first national park. The park covers an area of 932 square kilometers and has the world’s second largest population of one horned rhinoceros. The park also boasts of the largest number of tigers in Nepal. With the dense sal (Shorea robusta) forest and grasslands (Sacharum spp), the park is home to endangered birds and animals. It was declared a World Heritage Site in 1984.

Prior to the establishment of the park, the area was largely home to the indigenous Tharus – they were resettled in the Padampur area, outside the park. Inside the park, Tharus still pay obeisance to Bikram Baba near the park headquarters, Kasara. Tharus used to handle the elephants and still most of the mahouts are Tharus.

Nearby in Bachhauli, you can visit a Tharu Museum displaying the Tharu culture and the Tharu way of living. If you are staying in hotels in the park (the park has seven resorts and hotels) or outside the park in Sauraha and surroundings, you can witness the age old Tharu cultural dances performed by the local Tharus every evening. You can reach the park by public buses, tourist coaches or private airlines. You can enter the park through entrances at Kasara, Ghatgain, Bhimle, Khagendra mali, Sunachuri, Sauraha, Laukhani, Amaltari and Kujauli.

Bardia National Park
The Bardia National Park is the largest national park in the plains with an area of 968 square kilometres. The park is located in the Western Nepal and is home to one horned rhinoceroses, Bengal tigers, wild elephants, deer, birds, Gangetic dolphins, gharials and marsh muggers.
Gharials basking on the banks of Babai River
in the vicinity of Bardia National Park

Tharus are native to this area. The park headquarters houses a Tharu Museum displaying the Tharu culture and their way of living. Outside the park, the temple of Thakur Baba at Thakurdwara, is a revered place of worship for Tharus. The Tharus of the surrounding area gather here to celebrate Maghi, the most important festival for Tharus. The hotels and lodges in Thakurdwara organise Tharu cultural dances for tourists and the local shops also sell Tharu handicrafts as souvenirs. Some lodges have also started Tharu Home Stay services.

You can take a bus from Kathmandu to Nepalgunj or take the daily flight. From Nepalgunj bus service is available to the park headquarters at Thakurdwara.

Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve
The Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve covers an area of 305 square kilometers and has Asia’s largest open grassland. The reserve boasts of the largest herd of swamp deer in the world. If you are lucky, you can witness a single herd of more than two thousand swamp deer at a time in the reserve.

The culture of Rana Tharus living in the surrounding area is spectacular and totally different from Tharus living in other parts of the country.

The reserve can be reached by East-West Highway through Nepalgunj – Dhangadhi –Mahendranagar. There is regular public bus service from Dhangadhi to Mahendranagar taking three hours drive and the reserve headquarters is eight kilometres south-west of Mahendranagar. You can also fly to Dhangadhi from Kathmandu.

Ghodaghodhi Lake
The Ghodaghodi Lake is one of the nine Ramsar sites in Nepal. The lake is of around 10 sq. km and covers three Village Development Committees of the Kailali district. The lake comprises nine different lakes, namely, Ghodaghodi, Ojhuwa, Purbi Ojhuwa, Chaitya, Baishawa, Sunpokhari, Nakhrodi, Budhi Nakhrodi and Ramphal, all of various shapes and sizes separated by marshes. Of the nine-sister lakes, Ghodaghodi is the largest and a concrete dam regulates its outlet.

Ghodaghodi Lake is an important prime habitat for migrating and resident birds. Around 140 species of different birds can be sighted around this wetland, some birds migrating from as far as Siberia and Mongolia during the winter season. The lake is home to different species of fishes, reptiles, mammals and amphibians. The lake area also houses unique flora and fauna.

The Tharus offer clay horses to the Goddess Ghodaghodi at the Ghodaghodi temple on the banks of Ghodaghodi Lake. The Tharus gather and worship here in large numbers during the Agahan Panchami and Maghi festivals. They also perform marriage and other rituals here.

You can reach the lake by driving westwards from Nepalgunj. The lake lies adjacent to the East West Highway.

Jagadishpur Reservoir
Jagdishpur Reservoir is a Ramsar site that lies in the Tharu Heritage Trail. It covers an area of 225 ha (surface area of 157 ha) and is situated in Kapilvastu District. The reservoir, constructed over the location of Jakhira Lake and surrounding agricultural land in the early 1970s for irrigation purposes, is fed by the Banganga River. It is surrounded by cultivated land and a few smaller lakes namely Sagarhawa and Niglihawa situated serving as a buffer habitat for bird movements. The site is believed to provide an important habitat for resident, wintering and passage migrant wetland birds. The wetland supports a small population of the globally threatened smooth-coated otter and several species of fishes.

The Kapilvastu District has been home to Tharus for ages and their existence has been recorded by many historians and travellers. The Tharus relate themselves to Lord Buddha and consider Buddha as their ancestor.

To reach the district, you can take a bus or book a rented car.

Beeshazari Lake
The Beeshazari and associated lakes system is a Ramsar site and is an extensive, typical, oxbow lake system of the tropical Inner Terai area in Nepal, lying inside the Buffer Zone of the Royal Chitwan National Park, a World Heritage site.

The lake supports different species of frog, toad and tree frog, fishes, insects, reptiles and birds. More than 270 species of birds have been recorded from Beeshazari, of which 60 species are wetlands- dependant. Among them, the lesser adjutant stork, great spotted eagle, black-bellied tern, ferruginous duck and Pallas fish eagle are globally threatened species. The forested wetland habitat provides a refuge for a significant number of storks, ibises, fishing eagles and a large number of lesser whistling teals. The meadows provide a good opportunity for egrets, herons and serpent eagle to forage upon snakes.

The Chitwan District, where the lake is situated, was largely inhabited by Tharus before the spraying of DDT in the area to eradicate malaria which resulted in the influx of hordes of people migrating to this district from the hilly districts.

To reach Beeshazari, a car can be rented from Bharatpur which can be reached either by bus or by air.

Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve
Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve, a Ramsar site, lies on the floodplains of the Sapta Koshi River in the South-Eastern Terai of Nepal. The reserve covers an area of 176 square kilometers and was established to preserve the habitat for the only remaining population of wild buffalo. The reserve vegetation is mainly composed of tall grasslands and is an important habitat for a variety of wildlife like hog deer, spotted deer, wild boar, blue bull besides the last surviving population of wild buffalo.

The reserve is famous among bird-watchers with more than 440 species of birds recorded here. Some of them can be seen nowhere else in Nepal (14 endemic species). Other birds recorded here include 20 duck species, 2 Ibis species, white tailed stonechat, striated marsh warbler, 30 shore birds, 114 water birds, and the endangered swamp partridge and Bengal florican. The Koshi Barrage is an extremely important resting place for many migratory birds, containing 87 winter and trans-Himalayan migratory species.

The Koshi River is home to over 80 species of fish. The endangered Gharial crocodile and Gangetic dolphin have been recorded in the river as well.

The Sapta Koshi River has a special significance for Tharus of this area. On the Pushi Purnima (Full moon day in January), the Tharus come here to take bath in the holy waters of the river. People believe that taking a dip in the river on the full moon day all sins committed throughout the year get washed away. Fairs are organised on the banks of the river and its tributaries. The fairs are very popular among people from the neighbouring districts.

To reach the reserve you should get off the bus at Jamuha, 4 km from Laukhi, and walk 2.5 km to the reserve headquarters. Daily bus service is available from Kathmandu to Kakarbhitta and Biratnagar. There are also daily flights to Biratnagar.

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