When you arrive at the Tharu Community Lodge you find yourself at the center of a very strange ritual, one that involves a series of friendly bark and a wagging tail. Looking down, you will find a busy dog running here and there to ensure no waddling ducks come in your path and spoil your red carpet moment. As if this was not a great welcome already, you receive another grand welcome from your hosts with a mala, tika, and a refreshing fruit punch. Upon exchanging greetings with the Tharu Didis, there is an immediate sense of affinity that removes any reservations you may have had about how your experience will be.
The hosts then take you to your individual hut, which is a work of art in itself, one that keeps surprising you with little details every time you look. Inside the hut, there are clean, comfortable beds and a large, spotless attached bathroom; you will find that comfort has not been compromised. There is A/C for when it’s hot and humid, and a nice warm shower to keep you warm on colder days. Delicious meals made from locally sourced ingredients fill not just your belly but also your soul.
Staying with the local community is refreshing. Neighborhood children shout out ‘bye’ as they walk to school. The closest thing to traffic here is a bunch of stubborn ducks deciding to park themselves on the middle of the road, paying no heed to passing cycles.
There are many things to do here, from cycling along the Narayani River with a local guide to spotting a one-horned rhino on a Jeep safari. You can sip on masala chiya as you soak in the hues of the sunset, or dance along with the Tharu dancers under the stars. Staying with the local community is bound to fill you with unforgettable experiences, more so because you know your every monetary contribution is going straight to empowering the local communities.
The face of the Tharu Community Lodge is Jeevan, a young mother and a local of the community who pays great attention to every detail, from how the staff serve food to how the napkins are folded in the dining hall. She provides training to other staff on hospitality management, while keeping pace with her adorable baby and making sure she puts on her winter hat. With every guest who comes into the Tharu Lodge, women like Jeevan can have a better life and also give employment to other locals within the community. In fact, the lodge started as an off-shoot of the Barauli Community Homestay, where Jeevan and her other colleagues learned different aspects of community-based tourism and hospitality management. Today, the community lodge employs 13 full-time staff. Besides employment, other businesses in the community also benefit, as most of the materials used in the lodge come from within the community.
As travelers, when we give due recognition to cultures such as the Tharu culture, the local people have more of an incentive to preserve their way of life and avoid building drab concrete houses devoid of any local art. This is the beauty of community-based tourism, which has a ripple effect spreading far.
Article by Aadyaa Pandey