My time in Nepal was coming to an end. I had trekked through the beauty of the Himalayas, climbing up to Mount Everest Base Camp and Kalapattar, and I had explored the busy little capitol city of Kathmandu. With only a few days left before I had to leave, I wanted to explore another part of this incredibly diverse country. So I headed to the small town of Sauraha in the Terai region of Southern Nepal.
This area is dramatically different to the Kathmandu Valley, just as the Kathmandu Valley is dramatically different to the Himalayas. Here the land flattens out and opens up below the highest mountain range in the world. The Terai stretches across Southern Nepal and some of Northern India, with large open flat areas of farmland and jungles with an often humid subtropical climate.
The town of Sauraha is the gateway to the Chitwan National Park, a large protected area of subtropical forest and grasslands that is home to many rare species of animals, including the Bengal Tiger, Indian Rhinoceros and Asian Elephant. There are an abundance of “Jungle Lodges” in the town that offer a wide range of lodging and safari options, and I chose a typical three night option that included two full days of activities.
I arrived at my lodge in the mid afternoon after a scenic, but bumpy and often hair raising five hour ride from Kathmandu. I spent the rest of the afternoon just resting up, before meeting up for my first activity in the late afternoon. Today we were going to visit a traditional Tharu village, the local indigenous people of the Terai.
By this time of the day the temperature was quite pleasant, and the walk through the village was lovely. The Tharu people like to live self sufficient and simple lives, and closely link themselves to the forests of the area. Their houses are made mostly from all natural material, mainly mud and straw, and I loved that they liked to paint their walls with their coloured hand prints, against the dull brown of the mud.
The Tharu people farm all of their own food, with large hand tended fields of rice, corn , mustard and lentils, along with free range animals that wonder around the village. They speak their own language, which has many different variations throughout the different regions of the Terai. I didn’t learn a lot about their particular religion, and didn’t see much in the way of shrines or other obvious signs of religion, but from what I could tell they seem to link themselves to the natural environment, worshipping gods of the forest etc. This is apparently some form of Hinduism, however some Tharu people have converted to Buddhism or Christianity in more recent times.
One of the first things that I noticed as soon as I began walking down the street was how friendly the people are. Although shy, they smiled at me and seemed to be truly interested in helping me learn about their village. One lady invited me inside her home, a true privilege that was very humbling. The inside of the home was as basic as the outside – One simple room with mats on the floor for sleeping, and a mud wood stove with cooking utensils in one corner. I noticed that even though the house was extremely basic, it was spotlessly clean and had a very welcoming feel to it.
This particularly village was close to the town, and I did notice a few modern influences, such as some tin on roofs and people wearing western clothing, but apart from that the people seemed to have kept to their traditions, and I think if I could have seen a village that is more remote, I wouldn’t have seen as much of this.
We finished the tour by walking through the farmlands to the river bank, where the Chitwan National Park spread out before me. Here I sat and watched the sun go down over the Terai, and I had a sense of peacefulness come over me. I was really looking forward to the next few days of exploring the Chitwan region.