Adventure at Koshi Tappu

The Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve first came about in 1976, when it became apparent that there was a great need to protect the beautiful but rare water buffalo, resident of the waters and forest along the Sapt Kosi. The Nepali reserve is positioned on 175 square kilometres of lavish wetland provided by the one-kilometre long barrage set across the Kosi River.

An immense area of arable land surrounded by the many marshes, mudflats, lagoons and barrage contributes this vast amount of swampland to a great extent, resulting in one of the most beautiful bird sanctuaries in Asia. The best time to catch sightings of the immense collection of local and migratory birds along the barrage and the many river channels is during the months of October through to March. The bird list is said to contain well over 400 species.

khosi-thappu-tented-accommodationIf you are seeking to find a place to relax and enjoy nature at its best, Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve is ideal. Arriving by air will take approximately 45 minutes from Kathmandu to Biratnagar, giving you a wonderful bird’s eye view of the Park. Once you have landed it will still take about another hour’s drive to the main camp-site, the Koshi Thappu Wildlife Camp. Set in forest adjacent to the reserve, the camp has 12 luxury twin-bed tents, with shower/toilet blocks and a central dining house, built in the local style.

Walks into the forest and along the water’s edge give a never-ending interest in all things natural. A walk in the local village will show life in the primitive, yet clean, houses in the distinct style of the Terai dwellers. The friendly local children will happily pose for pictures.

Nepal has the highest point on earth, (Mount Everest, 8848 metres), and Nepal’s lowest point is 70 metres above sea level. It doesn’t need a science teacher to work out that the melting snows drop down very rapidly. Several rivers in Nepal have a great reputation for rafting and canoeing, and one of those is the Sun Kosi. A rafting trip just after the Monsoon rains will take four and a half days, whilst in April it takes double that time. The hairiest part of the river is a 30-mile stretch where it drops a mile in height. When the river is raging, there is hardly a place to pull out.

The river rises in Tibet, and flows down into India. It is joined by six other rivers on the way, and so when it reaches the plains the name becomes the Sapt Kosi, or Seven Kosi rivers. This is a several-miles wide series of channels and sandbanks, flowing at about 7-8 mph in February. There is a 2km barrage maintained by the Indian state of Bihar, which suffered a catastrophic collapse a couple of years ago, displacing a million people, and changing the course of the river in India by 600 km. The barrage is repaired, and much work is ongoing creating buffers to protect the land.

The barrage has become an over-winter refuge for migrating birds from Siberia, and the Koshi Thappu Bird Sanctuary is a haven, not only for the birds, but wild elephants, rare wild water buffaloes and much more.

sapti-river-khosi-thappuAs part of my tour I stayed at the Koshi Thappu wildlife camp, and saw many creatures. I spent half a day rafting, along with three travelling companions. The river was moving at about 7-8 mph, and when we got to our putting-in point, it looked cold. However, several young lads were dipping into the water for their morning bath. Snow melt water in February? Brass monkeys!

We just had to sit on our raft and look around, as a boatman at the back managed the oars. Cameras at the ready and binoculars around our necks, anticipation was the watch-word. There was mist around, so visibility was limited. However, cormorants and ruddy shell ducks were aplenty, small waders and plovers on the shoreline, and then an osprey was seen on a perch. As the sun was breaking through the mist, suddenly shapes on the riverbank turned into crocodiles, about a dozen of them. These are known as Marsh Muggers, and can be quite large.  Fortunately they had not absorbed enough sun’s rays to be more active, so we just quietly floated on by. Then, a rush of air, and circles in the water. A couple of fresh water dolphins were about ten metres from us, coming briefly up for air, though not long enough for anyone to get a photo. They are almost blind, and use echolocation to navigate and to prey on fish and shrimps. They are endangered because of human dumping of chemicals and waste into the rivers, so it was a great privilege to have seen them.

We pulled into the bank for a welcome lunch. The bank was higher here, and we were able to see wild water buffalo and also a few wild elephants lurking in the woodland on the far bank.

We drifted on, seeing many more birds, especially bar headed geese and black and white ibis. The end of the 20 km trip came when we pulled into a shallow bank. A 45-minute walk along the beach to our Land Rover, and a wait whilst the boatmen deflated the raft and stowed it on the top of the vehicle. The wait was not at all boring, because not one but two ospreys made magical dives to catch fish not far away, though the actual take was hidden by a small island. We did see the unfortunate fish in the talons, being taken away for eating. This was a fitting end to a relaxing day filled with discovery. Back to the camp for a great evening meal and bed.