I recently had the privilege of traveling to Kathmandu, Nepal on assignment. After my assignment was finished I stayed for a couple of extra days to experience Kathmandu for myself. As I wandered the famous sites in and around Kathmandu I realized something about why I travel. I travel to have authentic experiences with new and different cultures.
I did some research before I left to try to determine where I wanted to go in my free time in Kathmandu. After talking with friends, I settled on a rough plan of what I wanted to see. When I arrived in Kathmandu I had a few hours to explore before I met with my contacts for the assignment.
In the few hours I spent wandering downtown Kathmandu I realized that so much of what I was seeing was there to distract me into shopping, taking a rickshaw ride, or distracting me into any of a number of different activities meant to entertain tourists. All of these which were merely focused on helping me separate me from the money in my pocket and failed to provide an authentic experience of the local culture.
While that was frustrating, there was something else I learned on that initial wander through the heart of the city. I learned, as I wandered, and strategically chose to stop and sit and observe, that the real authentic experiences that were being had and were available to experience were the religious rituals of the local people. I knew I was planning on visiting the landmark religious monuments later in the week, but I was surprised by the number of small religious shrines and alters that decorated every block of the city.
Even more captivating was the awareness of the Nepali people to the existence of the shrines and monuments. Each shrine that an individual passed triggered some kind of reaction, a slight bow, a hand gesture, a brief touch of the altar. For each of the people that paid respect at the shrine it became a personal, reverent moment, even if it was only for a few seconds. In those moments, I began to see the experience I was seeking. I wanted to see, and photograph the thing that superseded the hustle and busyness of the city. I found it in the personal religious rituals of that were etched into daily life.
Often my search for the authentic in the countries and cities I visit takes me to the religious places. Other times it is the markets and alleyways of residential areas or transportation centers like bus and train stations.
In each case I travel to see what is not being advertised, but to have the authentic experiences that they are not selling. To experience the cornerstones of daily life that don’t make the guide books. I try to experience nuances of daily life, to try to understand how we as humans are all the same. The details of our rituals and routines may differ, but in the end they revolve around the same things, food, religion, work and family.
In the end what I learned is this:
I travel to satisfy my craving for the authentic.