As eager as we are to head out to our respective focal point offices, a two day nationwide strike has been called for by NEFIN (an indigenous rights group) which means that Tuesday is the earliest that we can hope to head out from the Kathmandu valley. During these strikes, all transport grinds to a halt, and most shops and businesses stay closed lest they risk the chance of a stray brick smashing through their storefront.
In the meantime, we have spent our days at COCAP’s main office, and our nights enjoying the variety of cuisine available in Thamel, (Kathmandu’s longstanding backpacker ghetto) in preparation for what I expect will be two months of eating Dal Bhaat (Nepal’s national dish, which consists of soupy lentils poured over rice.)
Thamel is a surreal place. While the political situation throughout the country remains unstable, life in this neighborhood seems to continue as it probably has since the days of the overland ‘Hippie trail.” Tourist oriented restaurants, shops and travel agencies line the narrow streets, and touts and beggars ply the main drag looking for travelers to latch onto. In Thamel, at least, the strikes seem to have a minimal impact on daily activity, and it exists as a strange isolated bubble of foreigners.
Far be it from me to launch into a tirade about the positive and negative aspects of tourism, but while it is clear that tourism has a hugely positive economic impact on the local community, I also have to wonder about the impact that the scantily-clad (at least by Nepali standards) dreadlocked travelers (who seem to fetishize Nepal as some “mystical” paradise of spirituality and hashish, while remaining completely out of touch, or at least insulated from, the ongoing political and social realities of Nepal) have on Nepali society and Nepali perceptions of foreigners. Undoubtedly this concentration of foreigners has led to the proliferation of drug dealers and street children who are lured to the neighborhood by the large amounts of money changing hands on a daily basis.
I wonder how these children are impacted by the images of affluent tourists who spend more money on a single meal than they may see in a month. This situation is not unique to Nepal, and to me it points to the larger problem of global inequality than that of the tourists, who are innocently enjoying a holiday and supporting the 200,000 Nepalis whose jobs depend on tourism. At any rate, I don’t want to beat myself up too much about it, having just enjoyed a large American-style breakfast, and previously indulging myself in the wide variety of cuisines on offer. I was even able to quench my desire for Korean food, while simultaneously experiencing something new (and most definitely Nepali) in the process….
Posted By Jeff Yarborough
Posted Jun 9th, 2007