We arrive at a small cluster of houses on the outskirts of the Bardia National Park. On one side of the small dirt road there are the houses, with blossoming flowers, neat gardens, all made of simple mud, unpainted. On the other side there is the jungle, only a few hundred meters away. Tall “watch houses” are seen all along the forest line. There is always a watchman who calls the alarm if wild animals try to cross over to the village side.
This small village on the edge of the Bardia National Park has recently become part of the Community Homestay network. The villagers continue to live their lives as they have always done, but also welcome visitors to stay with them and experience local life in a way you can’t in a more touristed area. The leader of the program here is Sudip, a young man full of positive energy and high hopes for the development of the community. His English is excellent, as is his knowledge.
We will sleep in one of the houses with an attached toilet and shower. The room is simple, with a big bed and a mosquito net flowing down over it. The furniture consists of a small wooden desk and a chair. A fan pushes the hot air around. Even though it’s 40 degrees, we are served spicy dal bhat. I don’t know how local people can eat this in the heat of the middle of the day, and I only take the cucumbers, saving my appetite for the evening, when it is cooler.
My program for the day includes cycling around the premises, going to see the elephants at the breeding center, and see the traditional dances up close.
The bicycles are old and basic, and remind of my grandfather’s country bike. No proper brakes, squeaking, and not enough air in the tires. But the ride was so exciting! We passed by villagers doing their normal activities: taking care of their animals, cleaning their gardens, children playing in the water pools, working in the fields. I cheered everyone up with the bell on my bike. The dirt road was bumpy and, while passing a group of buffaloes, I held tightly onto the handlebars so I wouldn’t fall off and into the animals’ path.
After a half-hour ride through the scenic community, we arrived at the elephant breeding center. This place is on the side of the river, the best sunset spot. We were told how, when it is breeding time, wild elephants would often come from the jungle to mate with the females. Children were playing on the river banks, riding their bicycles or swimming and bathing in the dimming light.
Returning to the homestay, the darkness started to fall slowly as people returned home with their animals. Insects cried louder and louder, and the jungle became full of noise before it fell asleep.
In the cool air of the evening, after all daily activities have finished, people gather for dinner. The family and community feeling is strong here. Sudip is passionate about all things traditional, including dancing. In the communal building we are seated on chairs to watch the colorful, joyful parade of dancers, who show us their best moves. Normally, these dances are performed on special occasions. But my presence is special enough. Sudip doesn’t miss any opportunity to dance and smile. You can tell he does it with utmost joy.
I feel part of the community here, thanks to Sudip and the whole Community Homestay project. I prefer experiencing places the way local people do, to better understand their culture and way of life. It is a much more respectful and giving kind of tourism. It is also sustainable. It is definitely something I will look for in my next adventures in Nepal.