Tharu Village Walk in Chitwan, Nepal – Innocence In Their Eyes, Joy In Their Faces

Posted on May 15, 2012

13


Chitwan Part 2
Our stay in Chitwan was memorable not only because it brought us incredibly close to nature but also because it gave us the opportunity to show the Z-Sisters a different world altogether. During our stay there, one evening we went to the nearby Tharu village where they the Z-SISTERS were confronted with some extreme but essential life moments. [Tharu is an ethnic group indigenous to the Terai, the southern foothills of the Himalayas in Nepal and India. The Tharu people themselves say that they are people of the forest. In Chitwan, they have lived in the forests for hundreds of years practicing a short fallow shifting cultivation. They planted rice, mustard, corn and lentils, but also collected forest products such as wild fruits, vegetables, medicinal plants and materials to build their houses; hunted deer, rabbit and wild boar, and went fishing in the rivers and oxbow lakes. They are recognized as an official nationality by the Government of Nepal. The majority of Tharu live in Nepal where they constitute 13.5% of the total population or 3.96 million of Nepal's estimated 29.4 million population as of July 2010. There are also several endogamous sub-groups of Tharu. The Tharu people themselves say that they are people of the forest. In Chitwan, they have lived in the forests for hundreds of years practicing a short fallow shifting cultivation. They planted rice, mustard, corn and lentils, but also collected forest products such as wild fruits, vegetables, medicinal plants and materials to build their houses; hunted deer, rabbit and wild boar, and went fishing in the rivers and oxbow lakes. Info courtesy - Tharu on Wiki]

We were living in the nearby Machan Paradise View Resort. The walk added yet another wonderful chapter to our Machan memories. The Tharu village was situated very close to the Royal Chitwan National Park. Naturally, the people living there were used to living dangerously close to nature. They were allowed into the National Park for 3-4 days in a year to collect Elephant Grass or the Savannah which they used for making the thatched roofs of their huts or use them to make fire. The Park has been cited as an UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984. So, that’s another tick on my list of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites that I have visited.

A little excerpt from my previous post… Occupying more than 900 sq kms of Terai lands which are fabulously rich in flora and fauna, this is one of the last refuges of the endangered single-horned Asiatic rhinoceros (estimated at 400) and also the Royal Bengal tiger (estimated at more than 90). Grasslands sweep into the north to the Mahabharat range and jungles extend south to the Churia Hills. Apart from the endangered Asian one-nosed Rhinos and Royal Bengal tigers, the Royal Chitwan National Park is home to many more endangered species and wild animals like leopards, sloth-bear, Indian Bison, Wild Boars, Sambar, Chital, Hog, Barking Deer and many more. Over 50 different species of mammals, 400 different species of birds, 65 different types of butterflies can be found here and 70 different types of grass including the famous Elephant Grass or the Savannah grow here. The fact that Chitwan is among the last surviving examples of the Terai, it deserved all the respect and bewilderment of whoever has the slightest opportunity to experience this. It’s amazing just to think that even 40 years back the entire Terai was like Chitwan!

The Tharu People
Interestingly, historians consider the Tharus to be the direct descendents of the Gautama Buddha. Archeological findings have also been supporting that Tharu people were living in that area for quite long time. The Terai region had infact remained protected from intruders for long because of high incidence of Malaria and the Tharus had developed a natural resistance to the disease. There are quite a few interesting things about them which not only is intriguing but absolutely mersmerising.

Our Tharu Village Walk
As we walked into the village we realised that the villagers were much used to tourists and lens flare. The children were very excited to see us. They were in-fact waiting for us and started accompanying us, running along or following us. Suraj, the guide from Machan, an expert Naturalist himself, was from this village. Some children had ‘Smiley‘ stickers on their hands – gifted by other tourists. I had to take a video as the children were most excited that they were going to be in a film. The villagers too, were all dressed up in anticipation. Suraj told us that we could peep into their houses as well. Imagine their lives – a whole lot of tourists scampering around, going into their homes, intruding upon their privacy at almost all odd hours. Well, I didn’t have the heart to go in, though the Z-Sisters probably would have gone in, had I given them the green signal.

My short 3-minute video on our Tharu Village Walk revealed a lot of things – as the mentality of ‘a family should have at-least one boy’ is changing and every girl is now slowly going to school, a lot calls in for celebration….

My mind was naturally buzzing with many questions. Here’s the Q & A session with Suraj:

There are tourists coming in continuously, walking through the village, stepping into your rooms. Doesn’t this bother the villagers?
No, they are quite used to it.

But how does this benefit them? I mean does the Resort give the villagers some money occasionally –  for them to clean up the village, buy new clothes etc? [The village looked really tidy and clean as compared to many villages that I had seen before!]
No. Sometimes the tourists give them some dollars. But you see that building – that’s the Community Hall. That’s used as a Co-operative Bank where the villagers come and deposit money every week. Plus they may borrow money at a very little interest. It also acts as a Vaccination Centre. The Machan authorities have painted the hall, put new furniture etc and has till now donated almost 2,000 books to build a village library. So in a way, yes the influx of tourists does benefit them to a lot of extent.

So, all the staff working in the resort are from this village?
Not all but definitely more than 50%.

[Well, I was definitely happy to hear that. Machan is a an eco-resort and adheres to the principles of Sustainable/Responsible/Green Tourism. One of the most important criteria of being an eco-resort is that they have to provide employment to the locals]

Do all the children go to school, specially the girls? Or, is there a bias towards the male child?
Yes, slowly the girls are going to school. The mentality is changing but they still expect, you know, at-least one boy!

[Again, this is one issue that probably triggers off lot of emotions. Whatever said and done even today in many Asian countries, often there is a bias towards the male child, irrespective of the financial strength or the literacy level of the society. This is where we do play a role, however small. It is important for us who are fortunate enough to try to bring about a difference in that societal attitude. Sharing here, my interview with Sanjeev Kapoor, the MasterChef - who talks about his two girls and how he's not going to deny giving them opportunities. Messages from celebrities seem to have a greater impact, so hope that this message reaches far and wide*]

The mentality towards women were changing. Gradually, girls were going to school. And with education, many women are doing jobs in offices, banks and schools in places far away from the village. Infact, Suraj’s wife travels for 2 hours in a bus to go to her workplace. The improvements in the road conditions will make the life of the Tharu village a lot more easier. And every now and then the vision of the little child hugging Li’l Z was coming to my mind (It’s there in the video or you may see them in one of the pictures in our photo-journey below). What were the differences between the two children – Li’l Z and the Tharu child? It is sheer destiny that Li’l Z was not born in the Tharu village as a Tharu child running around tourists, bare-feet and perfectly happy to be ‘in the camera’, waiting for some random smiley stickers to come her way!

The Tharu Village showed a different world to the Z-Sisters. Our intention is not to make them realise at every stage how fortunate they are but to help them develop into compassionate and tolerant human beings. Most importantly, make them aware of the fact that there is a world beyond the flower painted walls of their safe rooms!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

◊————————————————–◊

Disclaimer: Please do not use any material from this post. I hope you enjoy reading the posts with lots of visuals. While you enjoy seeing them, please don’t use them as some of them have been taken from our personal albums just to make your reading experience more pleasurable. You can see more pictures of my travel and food journey here.

*Here, I would like to make a small note on the Indian actor Mr Amir Khan who is conducting a TV Talk show called ‘Satyamev Jayate’ (Truth Alone Prevails) which reflects the dark holes that underlay the India society. I know my post is about Nepal – about the Tharu Village walk. But these are common issues existing in the same world. You may watch an episode here. Warning – it is absolutely heart-wrenching. Though this is not directly related to our Tharu Village Walk, I hopped onto this from the same issue that plague many Indian families as well – ‘the family wants at-least one boy!’

Official Website: Machan Paradise View Resort

Books that I’ve taken help from regarding Chitwan info (apart from the internet)
A Golden Souvenir of The Himalaya – Author: Pushpesh Pant
Kathmandu Pokhra-Chitwan – Author: Thomas L.Kelly, Daniel Haber

Other articles on our Nepal trip
Gift Wrapped & Preserved For Each Tourist – Chitwan
Where The Buddha Only Sees!
Daal Maharani Befitting the Queen (And Also Us)
Sikarni Raan/Marinated Lamb Shank from Yak & Yeti
Flying over Mt Everest – Nepal
The Abandoned Women Amidst Many Prayers

Resources:
Royal Chitwan National Park
More on Chitwan National Park
Royal Chitwan National Park UNESCO World Heritage Site
Terai
Getting to Chitwan
Tharu People @Wikipedia