Our third religion

Kathmandu :

Despite the political unrest, I wonder why tourists visit Nepal? When tourists come to Nepal, they first come to see the mountains, and after that they return again and again to share their pleasure and happiness with the people. Perhaps this is because of the beautiful chemistry that exists between the guests and hosts.

This chemistry was evident in the story that unfolded in a local guest in the Capital during the recent 19-day strike called by the political parties and the curfew imposed by the government.

The guest house was almost full. A skeleton staff was on duty but were enthusiastic and cheerful. The first few days were relatively easy. Then provisions started running out. To replenish provisions, managers and owners went to the market in search of any available food for their guests whenever possible.

All staff worked hard to keep their guests happy. After all, a guest is considered a god — Atithi devo bhava.

Hospitality runs in the Nepali blood. The word xenophobia does not exist in the Nepali dictionary. During any shutdown, only two types of vehicles ply — ambulances or ‘Tourist only’ vehicles. Most surprisingly, even during curfews, tourists have the luxury to stroll on the deserted streets.

Once I asked a diplomat friend why they had issued a negative travel advisory? He said, “Because Nepal is not safe”.

I responded, “On September 11, 2001, the Twin Towers were reduced to ground zero; nerve gases were released in Tokyo tunnels in 1995; the Spanish railway was bombarded in March, 2004; in July, 2005, a series of bombs exploded in the London subway. A suicide boomer attacked hotels in Egypt and Bali killing hundreds. Tourists were abducted from Kashmir, Afghanistan and the Philippines, and terrorists attacked the Parliament of India in December, 2001. Thirty years of ethnic war has killed thousands in Sri Lanka. So why does Nepal, a small country entirely dependent on tourism, have to bear the greatest brunt, when in reality, in these last 10 years no tourist has been intentionally hurt? Why is Nepal declared an international traveller pariah? There is no safe haven in the contemporary world. If modern man wants to live in a modern world, he has to learn the art of living with modern problems.”

In 1985, I had attended a heritage conference in Hawaii organised by the East-West centre. Participants from Asian Pacific countries flaunted their growing GNP. When it was my turn to speak, I confessed that though we didn’t have a high GNP, we had the highest ‘GNH’. All the participants wondered what ‘GNH’ was. I said with pride, “Gross National Happiness”.

At the same conference, I casually joked that Nepal had three religions — Hinduism, Buddhism and Tourism. I realise now that the thought that popped into my mind 20 years ago has become a reality in Nepal today.

Tourism is a religion in Nepal.