When visiting another place, it is common for us to project our own version of ‘familiar’ onto our new surroundings. We fall prey to our own rituals and tendancies, inadvertently drowning out little cultural discoveries along the way. Whether that takes the form of frequenting western style restaurants, hotels, or bars while in an exotic city like Kathmandu, or seeking an espresso or cup of coffee in the morning in lieu of milk-tea, the results are the same. Countless little cultural treasures with the power to grow our insights about life can be missed. The chance to find our similarities through examining our differences is stifled.
I was thinking about my own morning coffee, gulped down moments ago, as I hurried out of the guest house to meet my new friend, Balkrishna. I was supposed to meet this complex and intriguing fellow for tea in his shop, where I was to interview him about tourism in his idyllic 4th-century village, Changu Narayan. I chuckled at my obvious addiction to coffee. Although I had been in Nepal for over a month, I still had not fully embraced coffee’s more gentile cousin. I gladly took the warm milky cup of tea from Balkrishna when he greeted me, however. I was beginning to come around.
After starting the cameras and beginning our interview, I was struggling with trying to tap into Balkrishna’s personal perspectives. As he enthusiastically and thoroughly explained the geography, history, and cultural high points of Nepal, I puzzled over why my normal questions were not on target. His answers were interesting to me, but I wanted to learn how tourism touches modern Nepali’s daily lives.
A couple of things finally dawned on me. First, Balkrishna was telling me what he thought I wanted to hear, because I had not given him the opening to speak on a personal level about his life’s devotion. As someone who has worked in tourism for over 20 years, he grew accustomed to answering the typical questions of tourists – for example, “How old is Changu?”, “What Caste are you?”, “What religions do Nepalis practice?”, “What is your favorite (fill in the blank)?” His depth of knowledge of typical ‘tourist’ information would impress any travel guide editor, but it was his experience with the daily grind of trying to support his family, grow his business, and build his community that I wanted to hear. The second realization I had was that Christen was right. Balkrishna is a gold mine of information about the inner workings of the tourism industry in Changu Narayan, and in many other places all over the country of Nepal.
“Balkrishna, I am interested in learning more about tourism from the Nepali’s perspectives. How do average Nepali people view tourism?” With that question, his eyes lit up. Just as I saw a great opportunity to learn more about these generous and kind people, Balkrishna saw an opportunity to tell his own story on a larger stage.
As Balkrishna started to explain the depths to which tourism has impacted life in Nepal, I started to realize the size of my task for the first time. It is one thing to hear that tourism is the second largest source of income in Nepal, behind foreign remittances (money sent back into the country by Nepali Ex-Pats abroad), it is another to visit person after person whose livelihood relies upon tourism. Once he realized the mission of our film, to tell the story of tourism from Nepali’s perspectives, Balkrishna’s mind went into overdrive, planning out the next four weeks of filming. “We need to go visit the sand quarry, where they are digging sand for hotel construction projects, and the chicken farm that supplies many restaurants, and the pashmina factory, and the silver smith, and the blacksmith, and the tourism college, and the….” The list went on, and on, and on.
Once again, I learned the value of shedding the Western-bred desire to control the agenda of the film. Over the next month, Balkrishna would be my guide, interpreter, production manager, teacher, and friend. Christen was right. She encouraged me to let go of my rituals and tendencies and let Balkrishna guide the story. The stories that he and I lived together, and the footage we captured are the proof. We look forward to sharing more of it with you!
In this clip below, residents of the 4th-century village of Changu Narayan, Nepal go about their jobs supporting tourism.
Please consider donating to the film. Any and all contributions make a difference. Sincerely, no amount is too small, as we need to raise $25,000 just for this stage of the project (and approximately $75,000 in total), and every dollar counts. (Either through the Paypal link or send to Luke Mislinski Photography at
14821 SE 181st Street
Renton, WA 98058)