Tourists should not be treated as deities. It augurs well for us to treat them as ordinary human beings who are prone to all human vagaries
The tradition of treating guests as deities (atithi devo bhawa) may be theoretically sound but it is practically an impossible and flawed concept as no human beings can shoulder the burden of fulfilling all the unrealistic expectations and wishes of the people. Hence, the concept of hospitality and relevance of tourism has to be redefined at regular intervals to adjust to the ethos of the epochs and ever-changing socio-political dynamics.
Last summer, our guide Google maps narrator suddenly went mum as the mobile network signal went off when we were just a couple miles shy of our destination, the Linville Falls located in the mountainous Asheville region in western North Carolina. We turned on the GPS device but it just kept winking at us as the map had not been updated for years. We were literally lost in a rural American village. It was already five hours since we had gorged on the complementary breakfast served at the hotel.
Hungry and on the verge of dehydration, I stopped my car by a local convenience store to buy some food to eat and to stock on some water bottles. A benign lady behind the counter gave us various alternatives of fresh meals available if we could wait some twenty minutes. No sooner had we placed an order for the fresh Buffalo wings than I had the worst fears of a fat bill that could come with the food.
We were given the handmade hot meal to check out. Surprisingly, the price was half the standard rate of the fast food franchise and the food was simply the best. We experienced an exceptional hospitality in a small rural village in American south. I dashed in and thanked the lady for the wonderful service and the quality food before buckling up for another technological failure to come as blessing in disguise. We had stopped there by chance but we made resolve to stop there by choice every time we made any trips to the surrounding regions.
Lesson for Nepal
Here are a couple of useful lessons relevant to Visit Nepal Year 2020. The host lady was equally hospitable to both the ‘brown’ Asians (us) and the ‘white’ Americans (locals and tourists who lined up to place order for meals) in her service. She did not overcharge us for being the external ‘tourists’. Back in Nepal, most highway hotels overcharge the ‘white’ tourists for the very meals. The airline carriers and long route bus operators follow suit. Such wrong romaniticization of tourism especially with the tourists earns a negative publicity and reactions/reviews on social media platform, and a bad press.
When people visit new places and countries, they don’t expect to be treated differently when it comes to their finances. Sadly, people and politicians in Nepal have never taken financial matters seriously as the corrupt leaders go scot-free despite their known involvement in corruption and embezzlement of taxpayer’s money.
Therefore, humanization is the most effective approach to practice acceptable norms of hospitality. The tourism entrepreneurs must stop taking the tourists for granted and stop milking them. Tourists venture out to earn life enriching experiences. They are not out to dole out money. They love to experience the genuine local hospitality, food, cultures, traditions and cultural performances within reasonable price, not at an exorbitant and inflated level.
We are known by the company we keep and values we inculcate. Why is the Nepali diaspora in Europe and America nonexistent in terms of its presence while the Indian diaspora has a regimen of thinkers, scientists, wellness gurus, technology geniuses etc? Many economists of Indian origin are seen revolutionizing the field of economic researches while their Nepali counterparts are busy hunting for a berth at the National Planning Commission and chasing the hypochondriac rulers back in Nepal, who confuse sycophancy for intellectual profundity.
Most Nepali diaspora members lack desired level of humility, outspokenness, civility, politeness, gratitude, communication, social and life skills despite their sound technical knowledge in the West. As a result, they fail to make it to the top to ensure visibility and recognition. They could implicitly be contributing to negative perceptions about Nepal on their coworkers and/or neighbors, who are the potential visitors/tourists to Nepal.
When Nepalis or Nepali tourists visit the Statute of Liberty or the London Bridge or the Sydney Harbor, they represent Nepal there. The nationals of those respective countries form opinions about Nepal based on their observations of the behaviors and communications made by the Nepalis. That is why the term-limited political appointees including the ambassadors don’t control the process of how people perceive of Nepal. It is the ordinary permanent residents, naturalized citizens and students who connect with the local people in foreign country.
The grocery store workers or the manufacturing industry workers interact with more local people than all the embassy staff members and ambassadors combined. Therefore, the Foreign Ministry, Foreign Affairs Institute and Nepal Tourism Board need to come up with joint strategies for information and training sessions spanning a couple of days to spread awareness among all the stakeholders (visiting the Western countries) incorporating tips on civility, humility and communications. The mission of the promotion of a country abroad is better done in coordination with all and sundry. ‘None of us is as smart as all of us’, says Ken Blanchard. Moreover, Benjamin Franklin says: ‘If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail’. It’s time the guys at the NTB, and the Tourism Ministry woke up to formulate the post VNY 2020 strategies. Their reliance on the embassies and consulates for Nepal’s promotion abroad is futile.
I would rather the NTB, FAI and Tourism Ministry bigwigs pay heed to an embarrassing experience that happened a couple of years ago in America. A neighboring town called Morrisville in North Carolina declared Nepal Parade Day on April 20 back then and started observing it. Nepal’s ambassador to the USA addressed the post cultural rally gathering which included a sizeable American well wishers of Nepal and the ‘white’ mayor of the town. The ambassador made ludicrous remarks like a naïve communist leader during his speech on the American soil. Thank god, he was speaking in Nepali language and nobody was translating it into English to our American friends.
Diversification of tourism is the need of the time. In addition to adventure and pleasure tourism, Nepal has enough potential to promote religious and spiritual tourism. The only thing we need to remember is that we are all guests and tourists as long as we embark on a journey with an urge for novelty and element of surprise. Tourists should not be treated as deities. It augurs well for us to treat them as ordinary human beings who are prone to all human vagaries.
We should not get surprised when we find the international and domestic tourists overindulging in food or drinks. A French couple kissing on a boat on Fewa Lake should not come as a surprise to us. An American couple practicing yoga and meditation beside the World Peace Stupa should not befuddle us. A Norwegian couple making love and the loudest noise on a lakeside hotel should not be considered an affront to our suppressed orgasmic culture.
We are all tourists as long as we get enthralled by unique experiences. It is not necessary to carry euro, dollar, pound or credit card to catch sight of the amazing sight of the fast moving fog blanketing the hilltops. The sweet smile of the sons and daughters of the trail-side teashop owners can deeply touch the hearts of the hikers from the town. Any traveler can taste the nectar out of cold water trickling down the spout on the way to the deurali (apex of a hill).
The pious travelers offer leaves of pati (bitter plant considered sacred in Hinduism and Buddhism) to the stone-god erected by the old the trees alongside the chautari (resting place) to dodge any ominous occurrences in their journey. The continuous jingle of the bell tied to the neck of the grazing cows in the shailung (numerous windy hills) regions is the music and a reminder to pragmatism and reality to any wandering tourists.
Every hill in Nepal is a potential resort. Every indigenous community in Nepal is a cultural wonderland. We just need to figure out how to invite the tourists to enjoy the duets at the rodighar, where ‘men and women sing, dance and be festive sitting on two opposing sides and engage in a playful battle of wit deep into the night after a full day’s work’.
Once the tourists accidentally visit Nepal, most of them are sure to keep returning as they realize the essence of Om Gurung’s song: ‘jahan thumkathumkama swargako abhas chha, jahan dhunga dhungama devatako basa chha…’ (transliteration: where every hillock feels like the heaven, where every rock seems like the abode of deities).
(Disclaimer: The Buffalo wings is famous American dish that comprises of chicken wings and drumsticks which originated in the Buffalo city in New York State. It has nothing to do with the meat of buffalo and American bison).