Sauraha is a town at the outer border of Chitwan National Park. It is not just a hub for visiting the National Park, but also an interesting destination in itself.
It is worth digging deeper into:
We arrived at Sauraha (actually the bus stop is about 1.5 km away from the centre of town), close to 1pm. As expected, the bus park was full of agents who wanted to take us to this or that hotel. We had booked our hotel the night before, so we just found someone representing that resort and headed off with him.
Unfortunately, we were not happy at all with our hotel. The moment we arrived, we realised that the prices on Booking.com were very inflated, like 50% more than if you just drop by. Also, reception staff were very eager to push their own tours. Once we told them that we already have made arrangements they lost interest in us, apart from trying to sell us lunch and sneering us off when we said that we were not hungry. Anyhow, without shaming the hotel, we definitely suggest that you choose the hotel once you arrive in Sauraha. Ideally choose a taxi or a free ride to one of the hotels near the rhino statue. From there, you have more than a fair share of hotels with decent accommodation and a variety of prices to choose from.
Choosing a place to eat is not a very big deal either. There are a lot of good restaurants to choose from, the food is genuine, prices are decent and there are also a few souvenir shops around.
Leaving Sauraha was also a pretty easy affair. We caught a bus from Sauraha bus park and this time we opted for Mountain Overland. The bus left on time, at 07:30am sharp and it was quite a comfortable ride to Pokhara.
Logistical Arrangements: Arriving; Sleeping; Eating; and Leaving
Whilst there are some people actually living in Chitwan National Park, these are few and privileged. All the hotels that were situated in the park have actually been closed down, so all tourists and guides need to vacate the park at sunset every day. There are two major hubs for visiting Chitwan National Park, Meghauli which is relatively new, and Sauraha, which is more established. Due to easier access to public transport, we chose to make Sauraha village our base for visiting Chitwan National Park.
We booked our place on the bus which leaves from Kanti Path (in Kathmandu) for Sauraha, with Rainbow Safari Tours. The bus departed at 05:30am, which is earlier than the standard departure time, due to road closure leading to notorious Nepali traffic, between Kathmandu and Sauraha.
SU4E – Stand Up for Elephants
We were lucky enough to be in Sauraha on the day when Happy Hour was happening, so we joined in. It was a nice jeep ride away from Sauraha centre where we met our elephant companion, Rupa Kali. We started off by feeding her, all a bit weary not to get too close to her, till we got the hang of things. We felt so small in front of her as she lifted her trunk and munched on the fruits and vegetables we gave her. Then it was time for her to walk free. Some may say it is not a circus show, but it was remarkable, seeing Rupa scratch her back against trees, throwing dust on her back and being allowed to be herself.
Peace was broken with a shout ‘RUUUUNNNNN!’ and a sudden flurry of people screaming and running. Another elephant with people on her back was running wild towards the part of the jungle where we were. One thing is for sure, no matter how hard you run, you cannot outrun an elephant! The earth trembled under our feet as each one of us hid behind a tree trunk praying that the elephant will just run past. The run went on for a couple of hundred meters, but enough for us to hear nothing but the sound of our own heart beating. We learnt later that this elephant got scared of a baby elephant which went near her and so she ran. Things turned back to normal pretty soon. It was such a great experience not only to spend an hour with an elephant but also to support an initiative that will hopefully lead to more changes in the way elephants are treated and often abused.
Stand Up For Elephants is definitely an initiative worth mentioning. Sauraha is famous for elephants and with it elephant activities such as riding and bathing with the elephants. Let’s face it, what fun is it going to such a place and not interacting with elephants? Whilst doing some research online, it is easy to notice that elephant rides and bathing with elephants must be great fun, but what about the elephant? Yes, it is a big beast who can easily carry atop a good number of people, after all we ride horses don’t we? However, thinking about the conditions in which elephants live and the hardships they have to go through in order to please us with a ride on their back, made us think twice. SU4E is a great alternative. They have this concept of Happy Hour which basically means that they pay one hour worth of the elephant’s time and instead of the elephant carrying people, people can watch the elephant in its natural environment, doing what pleases it most. A much needed break for the hard working gentle giant.
Any visitor to the neighbourhood of Sauraha must have heard of the Tharu Cultural Show, which is held every evening. We know it’s not exactly Cirque De Soleil, but it is a very authentic show. People from the Tharu tribe dance to rhythmical songs, and they do it with such a passion and dedication that it’s contagious. Given the choice, we would go and see it again. Don’t be shy to join them up on stage at the end of the show. It’s fun!
Tharu Cultural Show
Sauraha and Neighbouring Villages
Sauraha is a sight on its own! Definitely, elephants ridden by their Mahout, walking down the road where motorcycles drive by whilst people are walking as if it is just another car passing by, is a sight. At first, it felt sort of scary. Such a big creature walking slowly but surely in our direction, but the moment we saw the docile look in the animal’s eyes, and a friendly namaste from the Mahout, things started to sink in and we realised this is pretty normal.
The main street leading down to the point where canoes cross the Rapti river to Chitwan National Park, is the main road of the village. Once you get the bearings to the rhino statue, then you are all set.
One thing definitely worth doing is renting a bicycle and going without a plan around the neighbouring villages. We bargained for bicycles, at a shop in a corner, near the elephant statue and rode off. Peddling through authentic Tharu mud house villages, on unmade roads, through fields and stretches of jungle, is definitely worth every penny. We will never forget a group of ladies who were singing and planting rice in a field near the river. The moment they spotted us, they started calling us and gesticulating for us to go near them. These things we never miss…so we (Corinne and Dorianne) took off our shoes and socks, rolled up our trousers and before we knew it we were sliding our way over to where the ladies were. They did not speak a word of English but a smile is a universal language. They showed us how to plant rice, so we tried our hand at it. We are sure that we made such a mess out of it, that they had to re-do everything again, but it was such fun for us and for them. We can still close our eyes and listen to them singing and laughing as they planted rice. It is fascinating how sometimes, as people, we manage to build connections and communicate without saying one word in a common language.
Elephants, Tharu culture, mud houses and rice planting make Sauraha a place worth visiting on its own, but it is when coupled with a visit to Chitwan National Park that makes this place a must, do when visiting Nepal