Khaptad National Park remains one of Nepal’s most picturesque and loneliest places.
Nowhere in Nepal’s wildernesses does Nature dominate so thoroughly as in Khaptad National Park. Its forests and famed meadows are mostly silent, except for the sounds of wild animals (the only non-natural sound is perhaps of the sputtering diesel generator in the Nepali Army barracks). Besides the soldiers posted there, and a handful of national park staff, Khaptad hardly sees any visitors. Deep snow turns it into a visual spectacle but also makes it near unreachable for months. It’s as inconvenient as it’s beautiful; there are no lodges in the park. There isn’t even a place selling tea.
The lack of a tea shop, lodge or trekkers deters most from going to Khaptad; for others, it’s a must-see for the same reason. In Khaptad, you could walk for hours without meeting another person; the occasional people you might meet will probably be soldiers or park employees. Chances of encountering wild animals are relatively higher than meeting people. But for the most part, you will go from one place of deep – and sometimes disturbing – quiet to another.
This seemingly perpetual silence is tough on those of us who are not used to being in a place that is quiet for long periods -- it goes from soothing to frustrating to eerie. You begin to grow anxious about this over-abundance of quiet, precisely because you don’t know what to do with it. Anyone would enjoy a place as beautiful as Khaptad for a day or two, but to get the most out of it you’d need to be a lover of solitude or a master of doing nothing.
A big reason for Khaptad’s tranquility is its anonymity. Very few people have heard of it. Fewer have been there. Khaptad sees only a couple of dozen of trekkers annually. It has thus remained pristine. Photos of Khaptad – meadows carpeted with wild flowers, undulating hillocks covered in snow – are frequently seen on calendars and postcards. Looking at such photos you form an image of Khaptad as a faraway place. Conversely, when you are in Khaptad, with the fragrance of flowers in the air, the distant cawing of ravens and the gurgling of brooks, it is the world of computers and car horns and crowds that seems so far away as to be unreal.
How to Get There
The trek to Khaptad begins from Silgadi, a town in Doti district. To get to Silgadi you need to catch a bus or microbus from Attariya, a small settlement on the East-West Highway. The road to Dhangadhi goes through Attariya; there are daily buses to the former from Kathmandu. The other option is to take one of several daily flights to Dhangadhi, then drive the 14 kilometers to Attariya. Transportation is also available in Attariya for the districts of Achham, Bajhang and Bajura—places from where one can trek to Khaptad. But the route from Silgadi is the busiest, thus increasing the chance of meeting people on the way.
Although a dirt road has been dug up to Jhigrana, the last village before Khaptad National Park, it can be closed for several months during and after the rainy season. Khaptad is a two-day trek from Silgadi.
Treats on the Road
The road from Attariya to Silgadi passes through villages like Sahajpur and Saukharka. The former is a small bazaar beside the road that has a multitude of farm produce from fresh fruits to walnuts and peanuts. Tip the bus driver if you have to but get him to stop at Saukharka, the village that has the most amazing kheer (rice pudding).
Special Things to Remember
Khaptad is wilder and more isolated than most wildernesses of Nepal. There are no places to stay there, so you have to make arrangement in advance to stay either at the army barracks or with the national park staff. If not, you need to carry tents. Safety needs to be the topmost priority while trekking here: hire a guide and travel in a group. You should carry all the provisions you will need.
Pack for the wilderness. A good flashlight with plenty of spare batteries is a must. You will need a warm jacket (preferably down), woolen socks, and a sleeping bag to escape Khaptad’s frigid nights. Granola bars and packaged food will provide the much-needed boost on the punishing climbs en route to Khaptad.
While You Are in Khaptad
This inconspicuous little temple houses a stone etched with a footprint believed to be that of Sita.
Located at the confluence of two streams, this temple is one of the holiest sites in Khaptad. Bathing here is said to wash away one’s sins.
Located at well over three thousand meters above sea-level, this is the highest point in the park. A small shrine perched on a cliff is the major attraction for the religious-minded, whereas sweeping views of the Saipal and Api ranges make this a must-visit place.
Khaptad Baba Hermitage
The hermitage is where the revered ascetic, Khaptad Baba, lived and pursued his spiritual goals for over fifty years.
Khaptad is famed for its patans—meadows bordered by knolls. There are twenty-two of these grassy areas in the national park. The largest and one of the most scenic is Ghodadauney Patan, which is located a few minutes away from the park headquarters. A little further from it is Naagdhunga, a rock with serpent-like formations on it.
This is another place in Khaptad of religious importance. On the south-eastern shore of this small lake is an archaic looking temple, the Khaparmandu. There are also stone ruins in the temple’s vicinity that may be of historical and archaeological importance. There are also splendid views of the mountains from the patan north of the lake.
The watch tower is on the way to the lake. It boasts no religious or cultural significance, but it is the spot with the best cell phone reception in all of Khaptad.
A Haven for Wildlife
Khaptad National Park’s 225 square kilometers, which contain eleven forest types, are home to a rich bio-diversity. A walk in the forests of Khaptad might provide an encounter with some of its 23 mammal species, which include such rare animals as the musk deer, leopard cat, grey wolf, Asiatic black bear and the Asiatic wild dog. The park also has a very cute inhabitant—the Himalayan pika. The park’s avifauna is equally rich, with 287 species recorded here. These include the Impeyan Pheasant (Nepal’s national bird), Satyr Tragopan, Cheer Pheasant and several species of vultures, including the rare White-rumped vulture. There are also several species of woodpeckers, partridges, flycatchers, cuckoos and eagles. The park also has an endemic frog, the Bajhang Frog (paa ercepeae).