|BIRDERS: Gokarna Khanal and Kapil Pokharel of Chitwan's Bird Education Society take visiting students on a trip to identify the national park's rich birdlife .|
Sauraha\'s main attraction for tourists and nature lovers is the adjacent Chitwan National Park, with its relatively abundant and easily visible wildlife. But it is also starting to draw growing numbers of students and researchers.
Chitwan Campground, run by the local Bird Education Society, is specially geared up for nature students and birders. It consists of two large, roofed, concrete camping platforms, raised to dissuade snakes from slithering into your tent, and a multi-purpose hall and kitchen area.
Unlike the nearby tourist resorts, there is no elephant waiting to take you for an early morning wander through the mist-shrouded forest in search of rhinos, deer and tigers. But guests do still have to get up early. Once they set off, they will not be looking down from a howdah for signs of other large mammals, but peering up into the tree canopy through binoculars in search of birds.
Guides Gokarna Khanal and Kapil Pokharel from the BES are enthusiastic birders and their passion for ornithology is contagious. They take visitors around the local community and along the river banks, point out the birds and allow them to identify them with the help of their heavily thumbed but lovingly preserved bird books.
Hem Subedi, head of the BES, comes to the campground in the evening to talk to guests about the challenges of biodiversity conservation in Nepal.
The BES has been working with locals and visitors to spread awareness and appreciation of Chitwan\'s rich bird life, and in this way encourage the preservation of Chitwan's valuable wildlife habitat without cordoning it off as a no-go zone for humans.
Subedi says people must realise that the environment of Chitwan, as everywhere, is constantly evolving in response to the pressures on it, both natural and man-made.
"If we are to preserve nature's diversity, we must make decisions based on research and understanding," says Subedi. "That is where the campground can make a valuable contribution, by providing an affordable research location close to the park."
Chitwan Campground is the first of its kind in Nepal. Its proximity to Nepal's richest biodiversity area, to several successful community forestry activities in the buffer zone, and to elephant and gharial breeding centres, makes it a valuable place for field training and student research, Subedi says. It is able to host school and university field trips.
The campground can also encourage a new type of ecotourism, one that goes beyond preaching "take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints" and actually provides a place for people to stay with the minimum of impact to their surroundings. This way "ecotourism" isn't just a meaningless marketing tool but a chance to stay and learn about the environment while doing minimal damage.
Chitwan Campground Bird Education Society Sauraha, Chitwan +977 056 580113
Cost: Rs 450 per person per day. Includes three meals, tea and accommodation. Tents, sleeping bags and mattresses can be hired for a minimal cost.
The Chitwan Campground is a project of the Resources Himalayan Foundation in collaboration with the MacArthur Foundation and supported by Wildlife Conservation Nepal. It is managed by Chitwan's Bird Education Society.