“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness…” Well said, Mr Mark Twain. However, he wrote this well over one hundred years ago when travel per definition was an exploration and brought you in contact with people with very different backgrounds and cultures.
Nowadays travel often is groomed, manicured and polished by the professionals of the travel industry. So much that discovery and adventure is reduced to carefully orchestrated events: the tour, the hike, the bungee jump, the balloon ride, the temple visit. You will be given information on what to to expect and what not, and there you go, joining the other tourists.
Many of the people you meet are those travel industry professionals who play their role in the business relationship that you are in. I think it was Holiday Inn that at one point illustrated well how many people had drifted away from travel as an adventure using the slogan: “The best surprise is no surprise.”
I am privileged having travelled across the globe for some 40 years. The more I was doing it, the less interested I got in doing the things that Tripadvisor promotes as “essential” or what Expedia calls “the top activities.” Even at new so called highlights I visited, I felt like “seen that, done that.” And I don’t even mention the herds of people flocking these ‘must sees.’
And now, while in Nepal, I got to know the Community Homestay Network. Initially I thought of it as a B&B type of accommodation. That’s until I got to experience it over a weekend in Panauti, not far from Kathmandu. It is not just accommodation that you book; the whole idea is that you stay with a family and join in parts of their daily routine. Eating together (and if you like help preparing those meals) and be introduced to their way of life; maybe have a tour of the neighborhood, learn about their working life, and get introduced to other small businesses in the area that offer activities that you like. And my money flows to where it is most needed, not to the multinational travel companies.
As a photographer I roamed the streets of the old town of Panauti, visited the Indreshwar Mahadev Temple at my own pace with no other tourist in sight. I joined the host on a walk during which we collected herbs for the pickle that would go with the meal that evening. None of these are on the Tripadvisor’s or Expedia lists of ‘must do’s’ yet this is a visit that will stick with me.
Why was this so memorable? Because I didn’t know what to expect staying with a Nepalese family for a couple of days, it was the charming struggle with the language barrier and some social discomfort at some points as the host insisted that I have more, and even more of the delicious dishes she prepared. I had to challenge myself in new ways. That was the adventure, the new experiences I am looking for while travelling,
And most of all: coming from the very privileged European background that I do, I felt humbled. And that’s where Mr Mark Twain’s quote comes in again…