My social media feed these days is full of images and snapshots of the more picturesque parts of Nepal. A lot of young people over the last few years seem to have taken up traveling – off the beaten path and away from the traditional Kathmandu–Pokhara–Chitwan–Lumbini circuit into more of natural Nepal.
So much so that even a visit to Mustang, which was viewed as an exotic destination even up until a few years ago, now seems almost routine. Improved connectivity, transportation and motorbikes have made these sorts of trips possible but, as anyone who has made these journeys will tell you, they are still fraught with danger.
It’s not like us folks had never traveled before but, whereas in the past, forays towards the northern parts of the country was restricted to the more intrepid amongst us, domestic tourism and adventure has now well and truly gone mainstream. The sorts of activities that we would conventionally think of as being the preserve of foreigners and outdoor buffs have now become weekend getaways and road trips.
Even the temporary returnees from abroad (think of your friends from the US, Australia) who, in their many years of living in Kathmandu, never ventured beyond Thankot now return home bitten by the travel bug. Whether it is hearing an outsider’s perspective on the exoticism of our country or feeling like they never really explored Nepal – they tend to come back with a sense of purpose and agenda – a trek or a foray up to some unexplored destination.
Whatever the reason behind it – some credit it to the Instagram age and some to greater awareness of and accessibility to our country’s natural endowments – all this travel can only be a good thing. It’s quite a shame that successive governments have not shared our enthusiasm for all things Nepal, apart from the occasional perfunctory initiatives that were our Tourism or Visit Nepal years. There has been little to no investment in infrastructure over the years – even at tourism hotspots like Muktinath rendering the travel to and from to most of these “adventure” destinations either really cumbersome or expensive or in many cases both.
That is one of the primary reasons why domestic tourism, particularly towards the north of the country, has been restricted to a younger demographic – the ones who can tolerate a two or three day trek or stomach bumpy rides along scary mountain roads or take flights that by themselves, would constitute an adventure for most people. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of destinations for older folks but when the choice to travel or not means potentially risking one’s health and life, then it makes a person think twice.
When it comes to tourism, this is apparently no country for old folks! And this is a shame because religious tourism is something we haven’t been able to tap as much as we would like whether it is low-lying Lumbini or the higher reaches of Muktinath or Pathivara in the east.
Sure, we do brisk business from religious tourism – from the hordes of Indian tourists that throng Pashupatinath to the significantly less number of people who make it to Muktinath to visitors from Asia who make it to Lumbini but, with the exception of perhaps the birthplace of Buddha, getting to most destinations still remains arduous.
On the flip side of the coin though, that difficulty is part of the reason driving this domestic adventure boom. There is an element of adventure to strapping on some gear, servicing our motorbikes and heading out in a large group, braving it against nature than just simply sitting in a bus and being transported there.
The thrill of the journey notwithstanding, we wish the government had done more to promote tourism beyond mere sloganeering – investing in infrastructure, improving connectivity, opening up and facilitation more avenues for investment in tourism and hospitality beyond so called ‘tourism hubs’. A country that takes pride in and sees tourism as one of the pillars of its economy is evident to the well-worn traveller – even in the more impoverished countries of South Asia. Sadly, we cannot claim to have done that, given the current state of our politics and politicization of bodies responsible for promoting tourism in this country.
Despite all of these setbacks and indifferences, we – you and I – are still the best adverts for Nepal tourism. As we continue to explore and learn more about our country and its diversity we do our bit in promoting Nepal to the world. It’s both important and heartening to see, especially as Visit Nepal 2020 draws nearer. And while the government may or may not do anything to promote our tourism, we cannot be accused of not doing our bit.
The writer loves traveling, writing, and good food when he is afforded an escape from the rat race. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org