Day 1: Kathmandu–Nepalgunj/Bardia all day
Whether flying or driving to Khaptad National Park you will probably overnight in Nepalgunj. If you drive the entire way from Kathmandu you could combine your trip with a few days at the beautiful nature reserves at Bardia or Suklephanta National Park to break the journey.
Day 2: Nepalgunj–Silgadhi all day
A 9- to -10-hour drive from Nepalgunj (7-8hrs from Bardia) along a relatively low traffic volume road brings you to Silgadhi (1340m), which is a sprawling town perched on a south-facing ridge. Saileshori Temple, in the centre of the town, is surrounded by a large stone-paved square and is one of Nepal’s most important pilgrimage sites. The temple is dedicated to the combined manifestation of Shiva and Parvati, who, it is believed, honeymooned in the picturesque forests and grassy patans at the centre of the Park, as mentioned in the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata.
The local market cannot be relied on for a comprehensive range of provisions so stock up in Kathmandu, Nepalgunj, or along the Mahendra Rajmarg (Mahendra Highway though literally Mahendra Kingsway).
Day 3: Silgadhi–Jhingrana 6hrs
Climb through the village to the main ridge above the town, then turn north (right) and follow a large dirt trail, which climbs steadily. You can see an aerial mast next to an army camp (1570m, 1hr) not far ahead, where you register before continuing.
The trail climbs an easy gradient past some small farms before steepening on an exposed dirt trail to a viewpoint at 1860m (80 mins). The trail is now predominantly through rhododendron and beech forest as it continues to climb to a small teashop beside an apple orchard (2100m, 1hr), where you can camp. However, it is better to continue along a flat ridgetop trail heading due north before contouring around the head of a small valley to an intersecting ridge, cresting at 2500m in 1½ hours.
Pass a small Shiva temple and follow the ridge past a pond, which used to provide water to the temple. This area would make a good campsite if there was a reliable water supply as it has excellent views both east and west. The trail climbs slightly as it traverses beneath another ridgeline before descending slightly to a saddle and the National Park entry at Jhingrana (2250m, 1hr). There is a good campsite here, beyond the Park entry post and the army camp.
Day 4: Jhingrana–Bichpani 4½hrs
Just past the army camp, at the edge of the forest, is a trail junction. A sign proclaims that the left-hand trail is only for humans, whereas livestock can be taken up the right trail. If you are a strong walker and enjoy steep, muddy climbs take the left trail, everyone else should go right.
The ‘only for humans’ (left) track takes a direct route to a shallow valley (2760m, 3½hrs), where it climbs again for 120m to join the main trail that has wound around the eastern side of the same hill (4½hrs). You are now at Bichpani (2905m) where there is a teashop and campsite.
Day 5: Bichpani–National Park Headquarters (HQ) 4¼hrs
From the campsite the trail climbs about 100m before heading east along an undulating ridgeline that forms the southern edge of the Khaptad plateau. Pass a small deserted building in 1½ hours near to a small stream and a popular place for herders to rest their flocks.
The first patan you come to is Suketa (3070m, 1¼hrs), where a dharamsala was built in memory of some soldiers who died of exposure in a sudden storm. From the end of the valley are views of Api Himal to the north. The dharamsala also marks a trail junction; to reach the National Park HQ, head right and climb a little into forest. Do not take the smaller trail that descends at the end of the valley. After a short climb through some beautiful woodland descend to a large patan and follow the main trail which swings right and descends to a small temple; from here Tribeni (3010m, 1hr) can be seen ahead.
Tribeni marks the confluence of three rivers and is the site of a Shiva temple. Some old statues and stele line the walls inside the temple, which is the focal point of the dashara mela held during Jestha Purnima (August full moon). The empty buildings near Tribeni are shelters for the pilgrims who attend the mela. From Tribeni, continue north-east along a main trail that follows a stream. In 5-10 minutes pass a large boulder where offerings have been made. The valley curves to the east and the National Park office and army camp can be seen ahead; camp in a saddle between the two (3020m, 20 mins).
Day 6: National Park HQ all day
Geologists believe that a massive geographic distortion has elevated the sandy plateau that forms much of Khaptad National Park. The excellent drainage and fertile earth here mean that 400 of the 700 medicinal plants found in Nepal can be seen in a single day’s walk across the rolling hills of grassland fringed by rhododendron and birch forests. If you have some time, explore the patans that form a giant diamond shape and are home to wild cat, fox, bear and musk deer.
From the centre of the park there are several interesting things to do: a visit to the famous Khaptad Baba’s Ashram (also referred to as Khaptad Swami locally, 1½hrs’ return trip) should be high on your list. Khaptad Daha (lake) offers some sublime reflections and is another pilgrimage site, as locals believe that Shiva bathed here. The lake lies beside the trail to Kolti (Bajura District, 3 days). Sahashra Linga (3276m) is the highest point in the park and a favourite pilgrimage spot (5hrs’ return walk). The views from a grassy hillock near to the National Park office are also excellent. In clear weather you can see from the Kumaon Himal in India to the west, the Saipal and Api Himals to the north, the ranges of Dolpa to the north-east, and finally, shimmering on the eastern horizon, the massive bulk of Dhaulagiri and the Annapurnas. That’s a 300km panorama of the Himalaya that anyone can appreciate!
Day 7: National Park HQ–Bomarle 7½hrs
The other trails in and out of Khaptad are not as well defined as the one from Silgadhi. The route described here takes 2 days to Sanphebagar, where there is a dirt airstrip, and is perhaps the toughest of the alternative routes.
Note: you may need a local guide from the trail junction to the ridge.
From the National Park HQ head towards the viewpoint, but before you get to the end of the patan take the small left-hand fork that leads to Sahashra Linga. Follow this trail for an hour to a trail junction; turn left (right goes to the Linga) and traverse through scrubby woodland to a ridge that emanates from the Linga viewpoint (3030m, 45 mins).
Descend a sometimes-steep trail to a series of kharkas, each of which has many small trails. However, do not deviate more than a few metres from the ridgeline for the next hour. You then reach a junction where a small trail continues along the ridge and a larger track descends south-west through woodland (2815m, 1hr). Take the larger track, which descends steeply through oak and rhododendron forest to about 2600m at the top of a small watercourse (1hr). Descend the watercourse but before reaching the valley floor swing left onto the hillside and traverse a recent landslide. Once past the landslide the trail gradient eases and you traverse to a small, dirty village (2010m, 2½hrs), where you can camp in the school at the bottom of the village.
If you have the time, it is better to continue to the upper reaches of Bomarle village (1605m) in 1¼ hours. Camp in the school grounds at the top of the village.
The yogi, Sachidanda Saraswati Khaptad Baba, spent 50 years meditating and administering herbal remedies from his cave hermitage using the incredible range of local medicinal plants. Legend says that the Baba was once a doctor in India, but his life before he started living in a cave, deep in the forest, is largely a mystery. During the 1950s, locals built a simple shelter before the buildings were expanded to the current size by order of King Birendra, who became a follower of the Baba, who died in 1996. A statue of the yogi sits on the south-facing porch, where visitors can leave donations.
Days 8-9: Bomarle–Sanphebagar–Silgadhi/nepalgunj–Kathmandu 5¼hrs’ trekking/all day drive
Descend directly through Bomarle to the river, crossed by a small wooden log bridge (1220m, 45 mins).
Note: if the river is high you have to cross by a suspension bridge a little upstream from the village.
Climb to a main trail on the far bank (1400m, 1hr) through dense jungle. The gradient now eases as you follow a trail that links a series of villages, each with a pretty Shiva shrine, until you round the valley end and head west into the Budhiganga valley (1200m, 2½hrs). There are trails from each subsequent village that descend to the dirt road in the valley bottom (1hr), where you can get a lift on a tractor trailer to Sanphebagar (620m, 1½hrs by tractor).
At the centre of Sanphebagar is a bus park with regular services to Silgadhi (2½hrs) and Nepalgunj (10hrs). There is a dirt airstrip outside Sanphebagar that will accept charter flights. Flights operate throughout the day from Nepalgunj to Kathmandu, but instead of heading straight back to Kathmandu, take a day or two and enjoy animal-spotting in Bardia National Park, where there is an excellent chance of seeing tiger, rhino, elephant and many other animals.