Monday, May 16, 2022

A Himalayan Miracle: The Terai-Duar Grasslands of India, Nepal, and Bhutan

One-horned Rhino Hiding in the Grass (From Outlook India, by Narendra Bisht)

At the foot of the Himalayan mountain ranges lies a narrow band of grasslands and savannas that is only 25 km wide, but features some of the tallest (non-bamboo) grasses in the world, and are a host to the most amazing animals.

The Terai Grasslands (By Terpsichores and Tom Patterson, US National Park Service)

Not only is this area home to the rare one-horned rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis), but it also boasts a multitude of ungulates (deer and their ilk), as well as the Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus) and the Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris)!

Elephant (By Yathin S Krishnappa)

I first heard about these grasslands from a nature documentary about biomes (Earth 2: Grasslands, with David Attenborough), which briefly showed gargantuan Asian elephants, who were themselves dwarfed by tall grasses that almost hid them from sight. The area was not named, but I was curious about it. Through the miracle of google I finally managed to pinpoint the location as the Terai-Duar grasslands, which spans three countries (India, Nepal, and Bhutan), and is maintained by annual flooding during the monsoon season, and not only by fire or grazing. 

The grasses that serve as the foundation of this system include Saccharum spontaneum (called kans grass and talahib where I grew up), which can grow up to 4 meters tall and more. Another equally tall grass in the place is Cenchrus purpureus, which appropriately enough is sometimes called elephant grass (but which is called Napier grass most times, and which I encountered in southern Florida). The terai also has stands dominated by the much shorter Imperata cylindrica, the same cogon grass that dominates in many other regions of the world. I found it interesting that many tourist and even nature sites kept calling them the tallest grasses in the world, even though bamboos of course can get much much taller.

Cenchrus purpureus dwarfing even a school bus in Florida City

I once mentioned I get really nervous about being alone in a shaded closed canopy forest, where my over active imagination always thinks there is some predator lurking in wait behind the next tree trunk. But being submerged in these tall grasses must be equally scary, something that Stephen King explored in his novelette In the Tall Grass. In this case, the fact that the Terai grasslands are home to the Bengal Tiger probably has something to do with my anxiety.

Bengal Tiger in the Grass (by PM Dhakate)

Nevertheless, the Terai grasslands are firmly in my bucket list of places to visit. But like many old growth grasslands, most of the Terai has been converted to agricultural and other human uses, mainly due to its rich soil. In fact, the region is one of the most endangered in the world. Fortunately, there are some major parks that seek to protect the grasslands, including Shuklaphanta National ParkChitwan National Park, and Bardia National Park in Nepal, and Dudhwa National Park in India.

Be sure to visit and be amazed by this fantastic place the next time you are in that area!


  1. That's so wonderful! thanks for sharing. I will have to visit online at this point, great that we can do that now.

    1. I added a note that where I saw it was David Attenborough's Earth 2: Grasslands. And yes, if you go to twitter, there are some amazing pics of the area from Indian photographers.