Homestay programs in Nepal are a relatively new phenomenon that has become quite the rage today. Actually, it is the offshoot of the Nepal Tourism Year 2011 (NTY 2011) campaign that can be credited for its rapid growth and popularity. NTY 2011 laid much emphasis on developing homestay facilities ountry because it was so sure of its success in attracting one million tourists that it foresaw a large deficit of hotel beds, which homestay facilities would help to surmount. Well, to cut a long story short, the deficit was not in the number of beds but in the number of tourists. Anyway, the good thing was that the Tourism Board invested some 30 million rupees in training those interested in participating in homestay programs, as a result of which now, there are quite a few well-managed homestay programs in Nepal’s villages, including in Chitwan, the land of the Tharus.
There are two kinds of homestays in Nepal, community homestays and private homestays. Many homestay programs are run by village development committees (VDCs), district development committees (DDCs), and local co-operatives, as well as some NGOs in the form of cultural exchange programs, volunteerism, and so forth. Universally, in the hospitality sector, homestays are considered to be an excellent way of providing tourists with the opportunity of getting a better local experience and learning firsthand about indigenous culture and lifestyle. This cannot be doubted since tourists will be living with a family of the village and having their meals with them as well, which is sure to invite closer interaction.
Tourists can rest assured of good hygienic conditions and overall comfort since participating families have to register with the local homestay management committee and follow some pretty stringent guidelines set by the authorities. Hygienic and well appointed rooms need to be provided along with suitable services and security. Accommodation package and other charges are set by the committee as well. Additionally, the concerned families have to try to give a taste of the local culture and cuisine to visitors. Just to give an idea of the rise of homestays, districts like Kavrepalanchok, Makwanpur, Gorkha, Ilam, Palpa, Syangja, Kailali, Kalikot, etc. have at least a dozen each of such homestay facilities. Chitwan too has a similar number of homestays.
Now, talking about Chitwan specifically, it is one of the most interesting districts in Nepal because the Chitwan National Park, a world heritage site, and one that shelters endangered animals like the one-horned rhino, the royal Bengal tiger, and the gharial, is located here. It is a must-to-be-visited tourist destination, and its popularity can be deduced from the fact that there are a substantial number of world class resorts in the area around the park. Nevertheless, world class or not, a resort is a sort of hotel after all, and although they offer all kinds of amenities to make your stay comfortable, they cannot offer the culturally enriching experience of a homestay. Living in a homestay with a Tharu family, the indigenous people of Chitwan, is not only the quickest way to know the idiosyncrasies of the area, but the planned daily cultural activities along with a knowledgeable guide (the homestay owner) is a real clincher when it comes to choosing between a resort and a homestay when in Chitwan.
Some anthropologists believe that the Tharus are direct descendants of Lord Gautam Buddha, the “Enlightened One”. That’s quite a belief, seeing as to how Buddha was from the Sakya clan, of which there are many in Lalitpur district of Nepal. However, the fact that a Tharu king, Suddhodhana, ruled over Kapilvastu in Lumbini during the time of the Buddha, does give some credence to their belief. Whatever the case may be, while Buddha was the apostle of peace, the Tharus are as peaceful a people as one will find anywhere. They live in the terai (plains) of Nepal (in and round Chitwan in central Nepal, and the eastern and western parts of the country), as well as in adjacent Indian states of Bihar, Uttarakhand, and Uttar Pradesh.
Now, if you are planning a trip to Chitwan, you would be wise to make use of a homestay program which is certain to make your visit all the more memorable, and allow you to experience Tharu culture and lifestyle more intimately. However, before getting into that in more detail, a few words on the Chitwan National Park. It is situated some 120 km from the capital and covers an area of approximately 932 square kilometers. Some 43 types of mammals, over 450 bird species, and more than 45 kinds of amphibians and reptiles inhabit the park. It’s all a nature lover’s paradise, that’s for sure, and there’s no better way to make your stay all the more exciting than by living with the keepers of this magnificent site, the Tharus. Most travel agencies will make the necessary arrangements for you to live with a local family during your visit there, so it’s only a question of your desire to do so. There are some local organizations which also arrange for homestays for visitors. Anyway, the best thing is to request your travel agency to arrange one for you.
Homestays are available at many of the adjoining villages around the park, such as Patihani, Ganganagar, Patala Hara, Pakadi, etc. You get to live in a traditional Tharu house with a local family and partake of food that that they eat themselves on a daily basis. If you are so interested, they’ll also teach you how to cook some of the local fare. What’s more, you’ll more often than not find that the family head is an important man around the village, and you can imagine how nice it is to be shown around the area by such a person. You get to intermingle with more villagers and find people opening their doors for you. It goes without saying that your guide will be a knowledgeable individual as well, and the wealth of information you gather will vindicate your decision to have stayed in a homestay instead of just another hotel or resort. Oh yes, if you are traveling to Nepal and are planning to visit Chitwan for a few days, make sure that you book a homestay with a Tharu family there.