Blame Lonely Planet
Today was another slow one in Vashisht, and I think we’ve just about worn out its various subtle charms 😉 Today we took a hike up to Harimba temple near Manali. It was built some time in the 16th century. I had a long chat with Tito, the palm painter, and he told me about the slow but steady change in the tourist population of the region. Evidently, as the interests of the travelers to the region become a bit more banal, he and the other craftsmen have been making less and less money. Nobody, it seems, has room in their luggage to take artwork home with them. In exchange for what I can only assume were the British royal family, the place is being slowly repopulated with imported Indian tourists from down South. These composed most of the crowd visiting the shrine today – along with a handful of people trying to make money by offering up their Yaks and extremely fuzzy bunny rabbits for photo ops.
Another man joined us – a friend of Tito – who was also a bit distressed over the change in “class” of the tourist population. “Your people taught us that there was money in these things,” he said. He wasn’t really blaming me per se, and I could understand his feelings a bit, but how do you tell him that the hippies are just getting too old to travel these days and nobody else wants to buy pretty rocks and crystals “for healing” at $20 a pop? I do understand the problem, but the problem is at least 50% on their side, as I see it. I sense, for example, a gaping niche in the trash removal market… Perhaps the royals would return if they weren’t forced to enjoy the egalitarian stench on offer. It’s truly sad that this trend might slowly be spelling the end of fine craftsmen and traditional artists, but at the same time, pinning the very existence of an art form on the purchasing habits of stoned 20-somethings doesn’t exactly ring of respect and dedication either.
It’s the same story the carpet sellers tell in Turkey as well – a cross-breed of pathetic salesmanship and a ragged sort of truth. It seems inconceivable to many of these folks that every westerner isn’t traveling with a trunk full of US dollars. Who to blame? I blame Lonely Planet, of course 😉
Then, of course, you can always blame Jigme. He’s from Darjeeling, but here he is representing the HP hard 😉