By NLRC Staff

Maya had always wanted to visit Bardiya National Park. She had heard that the park was far from the urban areas and that there were minimal distractions to the rural and natural settings of the park. The possibility of seeing the wildlife and the landscape in a more natural setting had excited her. One morning, she took a bus from Kathmandu to the western part of Nepal where the park was located. As the bus took her along the rivers flowing at the foothills of the hills and through the southern plains, she imagined about the things she could do and see at the park. As she had been busy enjoying the lovely scenery during the bus ride, Maya had not realized that the day had gone by so quickly.

Maya was also excited to meet her friend, Muna, an army officer who worked at the park. "It is going to be such a great trip," Maya thought as the bus dropped her off near the park. It had been already been dark by the time she got to Muna's apartment.

"Welcome to Bardiya National Park, Maya!" Muna was equally excited to see Maya. Muna told Maya many things about the park and Maya told her how excited she had been to visit the park.

As the two friends were talking, Muna interrupted Maya and said, "Maya, I hear something outside. If it is what I think it is, you'll be so surprised to see it," Muna wanted to give Maya a surprise. Muna grabbed a flashlight and led Maya to the back porch. She pointed the flashlight towards the backyard to show Maya what appeared to be a collection of a number of bright marbles. Before Maya could figure out what was going on, Muna explained, "Maya, look at all those bright marble-like things," she continued, "they are actually deers, many of them. The bright marble-like things are their eyes glowing in the light. They are looking at the flashlight and as they look, their eyes are glowing in the light."

"This is amazing," Maya could not believe her eyes. Muna turned the flashlight to different directions and there were deers all over the backyard. "I have never seen such a magnificent view," Maya could barely hide her emotions. "but, Muna, why did so many deers come to your backyard? I have never seen so many deers in one place." Maya asked curiously.

"I used to be curious about that too when I first got here, Maya," Muna continued, "it has a really interesting reason." Muna then started explaining a unique phenomenon. Muna was a part of an army unit stationed at the park. Muna and her colleagues' main responsibility was to protect the wildlife from poachers. As part of their duty, they had to patrol the national park on a regular basis to make sure poachers were not illegally hunting wild animals. Whenever they saw wild animals while on their patrol, they tried to hide from them so that the animals would not get disturbed or threatened. The officers would try to stay away from the animals. Using force against the animals was their last resort in case the threatened animals started attacking them. Such incidents were rare but had happened in the past.

The animals had learnt two lessons as they watched the officers. First, they knew that the officers were not there to harm them. Second, they had learnt the hard way that they would get hurt themselves if they tried to attack the officers. For this second reason, even the tigers would try to avoid the officers.

Deers were smart as well. Not only had they learnt that the officers were not going to harm them, they had also figured out that the tigers would not get close to the officers. That was a very important survival lesson for the deers. Tigers were their main predators, and staying close to the officers meant that they were in a place where tigers would like to avoid. So, during the nighttime, many deers would find their way to the apartment where Muna and her colleagues lived as a safe place to spend the night.

"Incredible!" Maya could not believe what she heard from Muna. "So, to stay safe, they come here and spend the night?" Maya could hardly control her excitement.

"You have not even toured the national park, Maya. Save some excitement for tomorrow," Muna tried to calm Maya down. "Tomorrow, I have a great plan for you," Muna shared her ideas, "would you like to come with us on our patrol of the park?"

"Really, can I? Can I also be a part of the patrol?" Maya asked. It was obvious Muna's efforts to calm Maya down were in vain. Maya continued to inquire, "So, I can actually go with the army officers and walk with them?"

"Yes," Muna explained, "you will be embedded with us, the officers on patrol, and you will see everything in action. But you will have to walk with us; there will be no luxury safari vehicles. Would you still like to do that?"

"Oh yes," Maya accepted the offer in a heartbeat.

"Alright then, let's go inside and have some dinner, we have prepared something special for you." Muna told Maya as they walked back into the apartment. Muna and her colleagues' apartment were right at the national park and away from the nearby village. So, they often had to go to the village to get their food. Muna knew about one of Maya's favorite dishes, Local Kukhura, which was chicken raised in the villages. Unlike the commercially raised chicken, Local Kukhura was organically raised by locals in the villages. Instead of being confined to a cage, the chicken roamed freely in the village. When Muna said, "Maya, we have Local Kukhura prepared especially for you and cooked the way you like it," Maya could not be more thankful.

"Local Kukhura-ko Masu!" Maya said referring to the chicken dish made from Local Kukhura, "and that with the spices I like and cooked the way I like it!" It was such a treat for Maya. Maya loved Local Kukhura and when it was cooked as a soup with the chicken pieces and the soup separated well, she would love it even more.

"You know, Maya, we all love Local Kukhura as well. So, we make frequent trips to the nearby village to get it. And recently," Muna continued, "it has been hard to find one because we buy them so frequently. But today one of our colleagues, who is also our unit's chef, traveled to a new village, even farther from here, to get Local Kukhura just for you!" Muna said.

"Oh, thank you Muna, I can never forget this," Maya expressed her gratitude.

The chef soon announced that the dinner was ready. "Maya, here we go - Local Kukhura cooked the way you like it, rice, lentils, sautéed mustard greens picked from our backyard, and on top of that, tasty pickle made out of grilled fresh tomatoes also picked right from the backyard," Muna proudly announced the dinner menu and Maya could not wait any longer. The long trip and the excitement added more to the taste. The two friends spent a long time at the dinner table talking about their times together in Kathmandu and about the patrol at the park they had planned to go to the next day.

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