The Bollywood beats pumped from a sound system all afternoon and reverberated against the clay-and-grass houses in Bhangaha, a village next to Nepal’s Chitwan National Park. During my visit in October 2017 on the third day of Diwali, the five-day Hindu festival of lights, my guide Sanjay Mahato, a 35-year-old waiter at the nearby Meghauli Serai resort, led a small group of travelers toward the music in his hometown’s dusty square. There, a throng of local Tharu women in saris shook silver tharya bracelets as they danced. Historically, the village staged this event so unmarried women could court eligible bachelors, but these days, it’s just a joyous holiday party—all cascading hands and thumping bass.
The Tharu are an indigenous group in the foothills of the Himalaya with the majority of the population living in Nepal’s Terai, a lowland region that spans the southern part of the country and spills into northern India. For centuries, they have lived in the area that became Chitwan National Park, established in 1973.
Protecting the parks and wildlife that live there is increasingly important. That’s because amid Nepal’s spate of recent setbacks in the last two decades, it’s had fewer resources to devote to these conservation efforts: most of the royal family was murdered in 2001, and since its civil war ended in 2008, Nepal has transitioned from a monarchy to a parliamentary republic with great difficulty. And, of course, the 2015 earthquake devastated the country’s infrastructure and wreaked costly damage in its wake, leaving fewer funds allocated to conservation. Poachers often try to capitalize on vulnerable moments amid economic and political uncertainty to hunt for ivory, and monitoring from local tribes becomes all the more vital.
Diwali—known as Tihar or Deepavali in greater Nepal and as Sohari to the Tharu—presents a prime opportunity to experience the Tharu traditions and commemorate the triumph of good over evil. Meghauli Serai, a Taj Safari Lodge that leads game drives with luxury travel company andBeyond in Chitwan, arranges these village visits to join the Tharu festive fanfare. And there’s an added bonus: As poaching and conservation challenges mount in Nepal, these activities support a community engaged in conservation efforts to protect the area’s Bengal tigers