|Endowed with Natural beauty, unique cultural heritage, a glorious history of valor and a friendly smiling people who regard guests as deities, Nepal is much suited to be a popular tourist destination.|
‹H.M. King Birendra
(Nepal Rastra Bai (n)k Calendar, 2055)
From the $5.00 admission fee to the small boys who hawk their services as guides, in Bhaktapur when I hear the word "tradition," I reach for my wallet. Besides development (but integral to it), Bhaktapur is now also part of a large, coordinated tourist industry, organized by a central governmental authority and involving many locations throughout the Kathmandu Valley and Nepal.
Central to this industry is the changing social and territorial reproduction of "tradition," which in the present global economy, is a valuable commodity that can be used not only to gain distinction, but also monetary capital. In other words, while tourist discourse may not have invented Bhaktapur¹s tradition (there definitely was something there before tourists arrived), it certainly has "repackaged" it for sale.
Look up from your map for a moment. To your right, are a series of temples known as the Char Dham because they symbolize the four great Hindu pilgrimage sites in India. Today, these temples play no important ritual function. During the time of the Malla kings, however, they did. It was believed that by walking around these substitute pilgrimage temples in Bhaktapur, the kings and his subjects were gaining the ritual power of the places symbolized. Similarly, while tourists cannot travel to all of Asia, and especially to ancient Asia, Bhaktapur¹s tourist map commodifies the city as a lived synecdoche so that tourists can symbolically gaze upon the commodified "mystic east."