Stretching over an area of some 811 sq km (with a core area of 648 sq km), Dudhwa National Park lies amid the warm, tropical forests of the terai, in the foothills of the Himalayas. Sprawling along India’s border with Nepal, Dudhwa is a tiger reserve, and lies north of the Suheli river.
The park’s thick sal forests, extensive grasslands and wet marshes harbour a wide range of wildlife, including tiger, swamp deer (barasingha), elephant, jackal, sloth bear, leopard cat, jungle cat, civet, fishing cat and a vast number of birds.
Dudhwa’s birds, in particular, are a delight for any avid birdwatcher- plenty of painted storks, sarus cranes, owls, barbets, woodpeckers, minivets and many more, including some rare species like the Bengal florican. Much of the park’s avian fauna is aquatic in nature, and is found around Dudhwa’s lakes- especially Banke Tal.
The great Indian one-horned rhino, which was hunted out of existence in this part of the country by the end of the 19th century, has also now been reintroduced in Dudhwa from other sanctuaries in Nepal and India. Brought to Dudhwa in 1985, rhino populations have increased marginally over the years since. Visitors, however, are not allowed into the rhino zone yet, so don’t count on seeing any.
Dudhwa had, in the recent past, been facing problems of encroachment and poaching, both of which have had an adverse effect on the park’s ecology. Swamp deer populations, especially, had fallen, but recent surveys show that the park’s recovering, slowly but surely.
All visitors to Dudhwa National park have to get entry permits from the Director of the Park, whose office is at the district headquarters of Lakhimpur Kheri. Entry costs are roughly Rs 100 for three days, for foreigners. Indians pay less, and extra charges are levied for vehicles and cameras. A daily fee of between Rs 50 and Rs 100 is charged for a vehicle, depending upon its size.
The town of Bareilly is the nearest major railhead and has train connections to most major cities in northern India, including Delhi and Lucknow. Dudhwa has its own station too, but connections to it are scarce. Palia, 10 km from Dudhwa, also has a few trains coming in from other parts of Uttar Pradesh.
The nearest airport is at Lucknow, 250 km from Dudhwa.
Both from Lucknow and from Bareilly (besides other cities like Delhi) there are good road connections to Dudhwa via Palia. Private coaches and buses operated by the UP State Road Transport Corporation connect Palia to Bareilly, Delhi, Lakhimpur Kheri, Shahjahanpur and other towns.
Vehicles can be hired in Dudhwa to go on a tour of the park; a more eco-friendly- and much more exciting- option is to take a ride on one of the park elephants. Elephant rides are arranged in the morning and the evening, when there are more chances of spotting animals.
Best time to visit
The best time to visit Dudhwa is between November and May. The park remains open to the public from November to June, but by June it’s usually a little too hot for comfort. Remember to take your woollens along if you’re going between December and February- it can get pretty chilly here, in the foothills of the Terai.
Accommodation in the park is available at log huts, lodges and forest resthouses at Dudhwa, Sathiana, Bankatti, Kila and Sonaripur. All are pretty minimalist (except the one at Dudhwa, which has a small canteen attached to it), and charge a nominal tariff of a couple of hundred bucks a night. Also in the park, on its southern periphery, is a lodge owned by `Billy’ Arjan Singh, the conservationist who has largely been responsible for the setting up of Dudhwa.
Another option is to stay outside the park; Palia has a handful of hotels, and luxuries that you won’t get in the park- provisions, medical facilities, and telephones included. The hotels in the town, obviously charge more than what you’ll pay in Dudhwa; about Rs 500-700 a night is a fair estimate.