May and I spent this last week taking a break from work and visiting a little more of Nepal. The town we chose was Pokhara, a tourist town that was a short 25 minute flight from Kathmandu. Spending time by the lake taking in the sights was wonderful and adventuring a bit on own gave us a taste of the tourist life. It was this taste that left me with many things to reflect on as I came back to Kathmandu.
The greatest impression of Pokhara that will stay with me was not the peace pagoda, the paragliding or the amazing vegan food, but the great divide between the Pokhara of the people that live there and the Pokhara of the tourists. For the tourists there were boutiques selling overpriced soaps and clothes, restaurants with foreign specialties, and every kind of adventure sport you can think of all packed into one neighborhood on the edge of the lake. As I walked on the boardwalk and gawped and the beautiful lake and hillside I also took in the rice paddies turned into lake front bars and fishing spots turned into paraglider landing sites. The hotels clustered along the shore vying for the best views, slowly taking over the farmland and forests. It wasn’t until we took a taxi up to the pagoda that I really began to see the Pokhara of everyday.
People told us that you can’t say you’ve been to Nepal if you’ve only visited Kathmandu, but I say you have to take it one step further. Stepping out of our work to “visit Nepal” like the average tourist was eye opening in that it helped me to realize how superficial most traveling is. When can you say that you know a place, or have truly been to a place? What is the threshold for having some knowledge of a culture? In visiting Pokhara I saw how you might be insulated in a bubble even when traveling. When you leave the lake front, the tourist spot, and the comfort of having your expectations catered to, you might see, just a little better, a place for what it is. The Pokhara of the locals isn’t all fancy restaurants and boutiques. It’s farms and fishing and dusty buildings with faded signs. The lake that you or I might gawp at or paddle around is a place to wash your clothes and catch your dinner. I can’t say that I know Pokhara now, despite having visited, but now I think I may have gained a little more insight into how I might.
Emiline Jacobs ’18