Places to Visit in Nepal
To many foreigners, when they think of Nepal, the image invariably is of a remote mountainous country with its snow covered Himalayan peaks, deep valleys, and Mongoloid people quietly tilling their hill terraced farms. Yet, almost half the country's population lives in the
subtropical Gangetic plains, called the Terai, that extends through the entire southern part of the country. Unlike the northern part of the country that is known for its highest peaks of the world, the southern plains are less than 100m above sea level, mostly covered with forests (which are thinning out at an alarming rate) and fertile green agricultural fields (that feed most of the nation).
The Terai will appear as very distinct from the hills in other ways as well to even the most novice visitor to Nepal. The numerous native ethnic groups that make the majority of the Terai population have very distinct physical build: generally taller, darker, and with facial features that are very Aryan, like the people of north India . They dress differently. Their languages are different. They have different socio-cultural traditions. They are very similar in their looks and lifestyles to their north Indian neighbors from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, which is not surprising because many belong to the same ethnic groups, separated only by the modern political border into two different peoples.
The most striking thing about the Terai is itself; the sharp contrast in which it displays itself from the northern hills and mountains of the country, which are generally only a few hours away. With the exception of a couple of places, there is nothing of special interest that really stands out. And the Terai is recommended to a new visitor to Nepal more in the spirit of exposing him/her to the richness in diversity, both geographic and socio-cultural, of this country than to point out "must-sees". A day or two in passing is sufficient to get a taste of it. A Terai town doesn't really make a destination in itself, but an interesting place to drop by.
There are several towns than one can visit. While they may have their distinctiveness to a seasoned visitor, most of these towns will look the same to most: dusty roads full of people, bicycles, and rickshaws; a couple of blocks of shops that sell daily necessities to locals; unimpressive Hindu temples. And beyond these towns are empty flat fields dotted with thatched huts. It is pretty much the same everywhere.
Interesting places of Terai
The Terai is far more accessible than the hills of Nepal for the simple reason that it is geographically flat and hence roads are easier to build. The major highway, Mahendra Rajmarga, that cuts across Nepal linking its eastern region with the western region goes through the Terai. And, most Terai towns, such as Bhairawa, Janakpur, Birgunj, Nepalgunj, Biratnagar etc., are linked to this highway through 20-50km long access roads.
Regular buses travel between these towns, Kathmandu, and Pokhara daily, and cost a few dollars (US$2-US$5, depending on distance). The buses are not that comfortable, but they take you places.
There are also regular flights several times a week from Kathmandu to Biratnagar, Bhairawa, Nepalgunj, Jankpur, and Birgunj. A couple of days' advance purchase is recommended.
Being not much of a popular tourist destination, the Terai does not provide very good accomodation facilities except in the case of Chitwan. Most of the towns mentioned above do have some simple options, but they are often quite "interesting". The cost is likely to be from US$2 per night to, perhaps, US$10. Shop around, you may be lucky enough to find a decent place. Janakpur, Birgunj, and Bhairawa have better lodges than others.
Again, not much of a choice. You can find many Indian food serving stalls around town. There may be a few restaurants, but they are very basic. Be careful with water and other raw uncooked food items.