Travel Notes from Sauraha, Nepal
I have to be honest. My first impressions of Sauraha wasn't so good. It all started when i said goodbye to Jihoon as he's connecting to Kathmandu for his trek starting point at Jiri, while i am headed to central Terai for Sauraha, Chitwan National Park. Narayangarh is pure chaos. Admittedly, it's not even a tourist spot but simply a connecting point towards trips to Kathmandu, Pokhara and/or Terai region.
I managed to ride a commuter bus with Yan, a Chinese girl i met at the bus from Lumbini. It was good that when i arrived, there was no one seated yet so i took the very first seat, and waited for more passengers. As we were about to leave, an old lady and her daughter entered the bus. Full of passengers, the daughter looked at me, and shooed me away. She didn't ask if she could take my seat for her mother. She shooed me away so she can seat. I found a vacant spot at the back of the driver and off we go. I know it's proper to give your seat to an old lady, but you could simply ask. I will oblige, but i felt really bad that i was taken for granted. I don't ask to be treated differently because i am foreigner. All i needed was some sort of courtesy. Obviously pissed off, we sped away, as we look at each other awkwardly. Only later, she discovered i am not a local. I looked at her straight in the eye.
Less than an hour later, and dustful of smog splattered on my face, i was dropped off at Sauraha junction for another short ride bus to Sauraha Bazaar. It was full, but i managed like a pro and stood the rest of the trip. I asked the man in his teenage years how much is the fare. He said, "50 rupees". But i paid 20 rupees for an hour long bus ride earlier, and the trip to Sauraha bazaar is only a little over 15 minutes. I paid the man "50 rupees", and just let it pass. Then, i saw two local girls paid 50 rupees for the both of them. I asked them how much is the fare but they didn't look at me. It seems people here connive which makes things worse. By this time, i was really furious. I told the man that it's only 25 rupees but i paid 50. The whole trip was a disaster. I was really mad, and asked the man to return my change. In essence, 25 rupees costs nothing. Heck, i couldn't buy anything with that amount apart from some candies. But i was robbed. That is clear cheating. Jihoon and I were discussing a few days ago, how a couple of rupees difference here and there, and we'll let it pass. But asking to pay twice because we're foreigners is clearly unacceptable. I was dropped off in the middle of the bazaar, got my rucksack, and asked for my change. He gave me back my money, and we called it quits.
I am not angry at the man who collected money. I am sad that he did that to me. For someone who loves Nepal so much, i feel shattered that i experienced this. Who knows how many foreigner he has overcharged?
I've been traveling around Nepal for more than a month now, and for the first time in my journey, i felt really mad. Suddenly, i didn't want to explore Chitwan anymore. I've been to the poorest of places around the Kathmandy valley, and even in Terai, but i have not encountered something like this.
This day was the worst for me because i felt robbed, humiliated and discriminated. Suddenly, i miss the local guys at Changu Narayan who even paid for my trip going back to town. I miss Rukum and his family in Bandipur, for giving me huge discount so that i could stay longer. I miss the teenage guy in Tansen who gave me a lift to my homestay a couple of kilometers away, and he didn't ask for anything in return of the favor. It's not about the money, really. It's the fact that these people are honest, and treat me as their own family, one they will not steal from or cheat. I am not a rich person, and the past few days, my canned sardines and tuna, have been keeping me full. I don't have a lot of rupees now, but my heart has never been this rich.
Yes, to say Sauraha was awful is an understatement. I don't want to judge the people here because of my first impression. But i feel that Sauraha and Chitwan, and the people living here, have been clouded by so much by western tourism. There is a sense, that money is everything here unlike in the valley where a smile is worth so much more than a hundred rupees.
I don't want to leave Sauraha in a sour note, but i also can't wait to get out of this town. Obviously, Chitwan is a beautiful place and wildlife is amazing here, but for now, my impression has already clouded by optimism about this place. And as of this writing, this feeling has not been changed yet.