The Tharu are an ethnic group indigenous to the Terai region of Nepal which includes Chitwan. Nearly 7% of Nepal's population are Tharu.
The Tharu in Chitwan have lived there for hundreds of years and call themselves "The People of the Forest". They farm rice, corn lentil and hunt wild boar, deer rabbit along with river fish.
Unlike a lot of the Nepal's population the Tharu are not known to seek employment overseas. Thusly the Tharu have brought up a unique culture and way of life unlike other tribes in Nepal.
Did you know?
The Tharu use the Badghar system of electing a chief once a year. This chief is then placed in charge of a single or a group of villages.
There is no one Tharu language. Instead there variants depending on the location of the village. Most speak a variant of Hindi/Urdu and Awadhi.
As you will read later you don't have to restrict yourself to visiting Tharu in Chitwan alone. What makes Chitwan special is that the village located right next to Sauraha town itself where most tourists stay.
There are three main ways to see the Tharu village (Badrahani) near Sauraha in Chitwan.
- Take a regular tour
- Take an ox cart tour
- Walk or bicycle there independently
Take a regular tour: Nearly all travel agents in Sauraha, including hotels, offer half-day tours around Sauraha via a mini-van or jeep. This will include a visit to the Tharu village, the elephant breeding center and some local artisans. Costs depend on the itinerary but are generally around 400 rupees per person. Keep in mind the actually village visit is quite short.
Take an ox or pony cart tour: this method has become increasingly popular in recent years. It's basically the same as the above tour but instead of motorized transport you'll be on an ox drawn cart or pony cart. It's a fun and eco friendly way to get around Sauraha and visit the Tharu village. Prices start at about the same rate of 1,200 for ax cart of 800 rupees for a pony cart. Larger groups are preferred but you can hire one privately.
Walk or Bicycle: The Tharu village is only about a 30-40 minute walk (2km) from the center of Sauraha. It's a flat walk so taking a bicycle will be easy and quicker. The cost of renting a bicycle is negotiable but an average price for a half-day is about 200 rupees.
There's no entrance fee into the actual village itself. However the villagers are more used to tour groups visiting. So if you arrive when a tour is not there you may not get to talk to anyone who speaks English or have someone show you around.
The village itself is comprised of several mud and reed huts. Domestic and farm animals roam around or are in enclosures. It's a basic place where people really do live and work.
There's a small museum there which displays the tools and traditional clothes people use out in the field.
The amount of interaction you will have with the Tharu people living there is dependent on how many tourists are visiting when you are. Most Tharu are busy with their daily lives but will be happy to say hello (Namaste) to you should you greet them.
On quiet days independent travelers might be lucky enough to be invited inside a persons home for a cup of tea.
By foot or bicycle: From the main Sauraha road simply walk to the elephant statue and take a left. Continue along this main road until you get to an open field area with a dirt road going straight while the main road turns right (towards the elephant jungle tour area). Take the dirt road and keep going straight. The Tharu village will be on your left after about 20 mins.
Keep going!: For a longer day out after visiting the village stay on the dirt road and continue on to the Elephant Breeding Centre.
It really depends on you, your time frame and what you've seen before.
If you've never seen a local Nepali or Tharu village before then yes it's a nice trip.
If you have seen local villages before then there's not too much to get excited about at all. It's certainly not worth it as a single destination tour. Mixed in with other things then yes, it's a worthy addition.
If you are going independently by yourself then it's certainly worth popping into on the way to the Elephant breeding center or if you have some time to spare. There are other similar villages to the east and south of Sauraha if you take an extended walk. By walking yourself you will also come across private elephant stables, local farms, small communities and get a closer look at the real Chitwan. Again, if you have time this would be in my opinion a better option that a tour.
Travelers visiting the rest of Nepal may not find much interest in a Tharu village as it's pretty similar to a local farm village. However if you are on a short trip to Nepal or have an interest in the Tharu culture then it could well be interesting for you to visit.
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