Tag Archives: tourism

“Should be fantastic as long as we survive the journey”

Yeah boy, straight up reportage. Work it.

GANGTOK, 13 Sept: The Autumn 2010 Rickshaw Run kicked off in Gangtok on Sunday, with 71 teams from around the world gathering to begin a 3500 km journey to Jaisalmer, Rajasthan armed with little but their wits and what they can carry in a three-wheeled auto-rickshaw.

The Rickshaw Run is a charity event organised by the League of Adventurists International, a British company headquartered in Bristol which runs four other similar events throughout the developing world. The Rickshaw Run was first held this past April and is going to be held three times a year, in the spring, autumn and winter. The first run ended here in Gangtok, and now those same auto-rickshaws are to used by new teams setting out in the opposite direction.

Taking a variety of routes through northern India and Nepal, the teams have two weeks to reach Jaisalmer. The Rickshaw Run is not a race, however, and there is no winner except the group who managed to raise the most for charity, currently a group called Arm Chair Loaf.

Each of the teams must raise at least 1000 British pounds (about Rs. 70,000) for one of two sponsored charities: FRANK Water Projects, which funds clean water facilities, and Maiti Nepal, which works for to project Nepali women and girls from trafficking and domestic abuse. Those teams that raise more can also donate to an additional charity of their choice.

A team from the United States, whose rickshaw was named “Raiders of the Lost Tuk” after the classic Indiana Jones film and the colloquial name for auto-rickshaws in Southeast Asia, raised around US$10,000 for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. One of the team members, Jim Matheson of San Francisco, has type 1 diabetes.

“I’m more excited for this than I would be for my wedding day,” said Brianna Limebrook from Boston, the leader of the “Raiders” team.

The 175 participants met with their vehicles Sunday morning in front of the Tourism Department office at MG Marg, where the Sikkim Police Band performed and tourism officials spoke to a crowd of gathered onlookers.

Many of the teams wore colourful costumes or outrageous uniforms with themes to match their artfully decorated rickshaws. One team of three stood out in the crowd with a set of neon coloured suits: one green, one orange, one pink. Another was making the journey dressed in black-tie tuxedos and sneakers covered in shiny black tape. Despite their bombastic outfits, however, the racers expressed a very down to earth mixture of excitement and nervousness.

“Should be fantastic as long as we survive the journey,” said Sweyn Alsop from England, a member of the tuxedo team. Mr. Alsop added that he wished his tux was a rental.

“Probably the silliest idea we’ve ever had,” said Mark Burton of London.

Even as the event organisers made their final speeches, some of the teams were still scrambling with preparations, like packing last minute snacks and filling their vehicles with petrol.

When the mass of rickshaws finally set off, however, the scene was a bit anticlimactic. The teams were allowed to head down the hill only a few at a time, so as not to disrupt the busy Sunday traffic. As the crowd dispersed, a few stragglers remained, stymied by engine trouble and key mixups.


Lao Lao

I mentioned earlier that we stopped at a “whiskey village” on our way to Pak Ou cave. The stuff they make there is called “lao lao.” It is basically a 100 proof sticky rice-based moonshine, and the drink of choice in rural Laos. Having tried a sample once at the Night Market in Luang Prabang and had a few cocktails with it at the Lao Lao Garden bar, I can tell you that this stuff is not messing around. We got to see it being made, more or less, though no one around spoke enough English to actually explain the process. Somehow it involves big rusty barrels dripping hot alcohol into clay urns.

They sell this stuff to tourists for just a dollar or two per bottle, and usually the bottles, as show above, have preserved snakes or scorpions in them. But this isn’t some tourist novelty. This is actually what people in the poorest villages of Laos drink. Why? Because it’s cheap. The average Lao farmer still makes about US$1 per day. Not nearly enough to afford even discount domestic beer like Beerlao. But they can afford to buy or make enough lao lao to get drunk with regularity. Of course, drunk straight the stuff is deadly dangerous is anything but the smallest quantities, not to mention it tastes horrible. But even in the biggest cities of Laos there isn’t much for residents to do for fun besides sit around and drink beer (an attitude infectious among the expats I met there). Imagine how boring life gets in a hill village miles from anything?

Abandoned Thai strip malls are my new favorite everything

The Girls Past Midnight

By 3 AM the hookers lose their subtlty: a tap on the elbow, a jerking nod down the road. I smile and shake my head.  They move off, tired but efficient.

We wander down Khao San Road, vaguely trying to find one last good bar and keeping our eyes out for (white) girls to flirt with. As we stroll, the fizzling third act of the Friday night sex trade plays out around us, and we watch it with a morbid fascination. The uniform is uniform: unbelievably short shorts or ass-hugging skirts, sleeveless tops tight over often enhanced chests, tall strappy heels and fine little handbags, just enough makeup to not be classy. The signs are telltale when you know what to look for, but many girls Western and Thai are out on Fridays in attire just a few degrees more conservative. The truth comes out in body language, however. The way they roam, eyes reading the crowd for marks, or sit expectantly, waiting for the inevitable approach. The way they lean into their prospective clients as flirtation turns to business. Light touches to the forearm or lower back or, later, up and around the neck. Any affection is suspect. I simply can’t believe that so many white guys would have wooed themselves Thai girlfriends legitimately.

Much of the sex trade takes place in more sophisticated ways, though hot-lines or websites or any number of hypermodern platforms. You have them sent to your hotel room, rather than picking them up on the streets. But those arrangements are made earlier in the day, and by this late hour the prostitutes are starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel for business that will at least help them break even. As the streets empty, an arguably playful game becomes predatory. The guys get drunker, and the girls get less choosy, not to mention briefer with their sales pitches. Everyone gets more desperate. Western men hoping to win a Western girl for the night will take a Thai hooker as a consolation prize.

In a thumping, buzzing club green lasers fan out over the revelers and silhouette the exultant, smoke shrouded DJ. Bodies bob in rhythm to the bass, but no one is dancing on the dance floor. Everyone in the room is too busy either keeping their belongings in their pockets or bent low and close over girls, slyly negotiating the price.

“What percentage of these girls in minidresses and six-inch heels are hookers, do you think?” I ask Greg, shouting over the music.

“Oh, one hundred percent,” he replies immediately. I was going to be generous and say 90%, but Greg has been around here longer than me and probably knows better.

“And what percentage of these same girls are actually originally men?” I ask.

Greg thinks for a moment. “About thirty-five, I’d say. You have to watch the hands and chins.” Sounds about right to me.

During the day the crowds obscure things a bit, but still sex tourists looking for the “girlfriend experience” stick out like bruised thumbs. Guys in their mid-fifties shuffle around the mall in flat-billed caps and flashy Nike kicks, an impossibly proportioned 20 year old Thai girl on their arm. Chubby, sweaty British guys with bad haircuts, shorts, ratty tennis shoes and pulled up athletic socks are led from jewelry stall to sandal stall by gorgeous guides. The girls giggle and take john’s hand in their practiced way, playing the role and putting at ease until maybe the men actually fool themselves into believing in a love story of piercing foreign beauty seeing the charm through unappreciated exteriors — but I doubt it. Along the way the men are unsurprisingly milked for gifts and drinks and patronage at businesses that will later pass on a kickback. The industry is very sophisticated like that: bars, restaurants, hotels, pimps, police and all must each be sated with a sizable slice. Sex tourism provides some 3% of Thailand’s GDP, and Thailand is not a small or unproductive nation.

Official government policy censors any references in movies and television to the existence of prostitution or sexual promiscuity in Thailand. And of course prostitution and drugs are nominally illegal. Still, in many of the most touristed areas the rule of law curves to accommodate the vices of Westerners. I’ve heard that on the islands vendors sell psychedelic mushroom shakes (all clearly labeled) in broad daylight. Corruption is often happily accepted as an appropriate element of Thai society, even by the citizens who suffer from it. My host in Khorat explains cheerfully that I can borrow her truck, no problem, because if I get pulled over for not having a proper drivers license all I have to do is give the cops 100 baht.

Sex with prostitutes doesn’t appeal to me, personally. I understand the titillation and the ease of satisfaction, but I’m not good at letting human beings be my vices. And high school STD assemblies left a deep, nerves-twinging impression on me, and I’ve read enough about the HIV rates in Southeast Asia to be worried. Still, I must admit that many of these girls are genuinely beautiful. Not all, but many. I wonder what sorts of regimens they are put through to maintain their figures. Some are model pretty, and I suspect could be models if they had lighter skin.

The working girls don’t often approach me. One or two, late in the evening. But most look me over and can see that I’m not buying. Oddly enough, during the day I get stopped by every Indian guy trying to drag pedestrians into overpriced tailors for lousy Italian suits. Are my temptations that obvious?

After one night of beer, football and people watching on Khao San Road, I feel at once newly enlightened about human nature and colossally ignorant. The scale of the sex trade in Thailand staggers me, even just based on this brief but vivid glimpse. I don’t know how one could begin to tackle an issue of this size and complexity. Maybe the key is to be like the girls themselves: efficiently approaching one troubled soul at a time. Even when you are tired. Even long past midnight.

The Stark, Existential Horror of Khao San Road

I had heard there would be white people in Bangkok. Westerners, you know. Who reliably speak English and can share my excitement or misery about being in the inexplicable orient. Not that I don’t like Thai people, but I’ve learned that having the occasional contact with fellow travelers is emotionally healthy. So I was excited.

Cut to: Victory Monument. This is where the van from Suree’s house in Khorat dropped me off. I know I need to take the bus to Khao San Road, where Annie suggested I look for cheap/safe/nice lodging. But of course, there are many buses, and I have no idea which one will take me there. Tragically, there are no white people around, and unlike in India where any reasonably wealthy looking young person could be expected to speak decent English, I would probably not have too much luck stopping random people on the street asking for directions. So I do what I always do when alone and at a loss in a foreign country: I wander around and look at stuff. It is a tried and true method, and never fails to present a solution eventually.

Usually this solution is in the form of a friendly Westerner or English speaker who, when approached, solves all my problems. But all those white people I was promised in Bangkok? Not here. Not at Victory Monument. Not milling about helpfully. No, I just see masses of Thai people, some trendily dressed, some beautiful, some poor, some wealthy, some of indeterminate gender. They mostly ignore me, which after five months in India I now find chilling.

Still, a few minutes later I run into an information booth. The nice lady there gives me a map and directs me back to the bus stop and writes down on a slip the bus I should take (in English) and my destination (in Thai, to show the driver). It is an awkward wait at the bus stop, but eventually I’m on a frigidly air conditioned piece of public transport. The ticket lady looks at my slip and promises to tell me when to get off. Never fails.

But — oh! — Khao San Road is something else. I knew it was kind of like Bangkok’s Thamel (from Kathmandu), but it has been a while since I’ve been to Thamel and anyways far more tourists come to Bangkok than Kathmandu. Jesus Christ, there are a lot of white people here. More white people than I have seen since January! And a lot of shops and restaurants designed for white people. It’s a wide street, closed off for pedestrians and the occasional motorbike. Tables selling designerish clothes or handmade jewelry, tailors offering custom suits, theme bars, wifi cafes, an Apple Store (!!!), ATMs, currency exchange booths, everything. The dulcet tones of Akon and Eminem informing the footsteps of the hustlers as they approach marks with offers to show us to their tailoring shop where they can make nice suits, great shirts just like this one (he plucks at my cheap H&M button-up). They are savvy, though, and when I make it clear I’m going to my hotel he shakes my hand and lets me go without even bothering to give me one of his business cards. Everything just screams tourist trap to my travelers paranoia. Luckily my skills at not spending money are honed.

And the white people, so many of them. And all in shorts! Hideous! The sweaty heat and their faded t-shirts and crocs give them a sort of “unwashed masses” quality, and I shudder. This isn’t like Gangtok or Kalimpong, where I can lounge in the cafe and offer a chair to any foreigner that wanders in. Much less approachable. Still, got to try. I stop some girls and ask if they can recommend cheap lodging. They say where they are staying isn’t cheap, but that I should get to a computer and book something online. The Internet! Thanks sunburned British girls! I actually hadn’t thought of that. I peer around and spot — yes! — “Free WiFi!” Sit down at the nicely branded cafe/bar/restaurant, the Green something, and get to work on this, my Macbook. A few minutes later I stumble across an entry for a budget hotel “The Green House.” How about that. Cheap (US$12 a night), clean, with AC and free wifi. Sounds good.

So here I am.

I got to admit, it is both comforting and existentially terrifying to around so many other Westerners. Maybe it is all the guys in shorts, which as a student of men’s fashion I find profoundly unsettling. Or maybe it is just that here I’m not the king of the pack, exactly. Not like in Gangtok, where I boast a job and a flat and impress people with the complimentary biscuits I get from the flirty waitress. I’m out of my turf, my element. Sure, I’m Asia Savvy, and I have Connections here in BKK. But these people probably have, like, travelers cheques and sunglasses. How can I fight that? How can I outmaneuver the Borg-like shambling of the Tourists? I can’t. My only hope is to stay clear-eyed and true to my purpose. Because even though I may, for now, stay in a hotel like them and sit at cafes like them and even sweat like them, I am here with a mission. I have a Job To Do. Jobs Plural, actually. Stories to track down and reportage to write. Never forget, Andrew, you are a fucking journalist.

Time to get to work.

Boom Time: Sikkim’s tourism industry at its peak

“Since 1993 there has been tremendous change in the development of tourism,” Paljor Lachungpa tells me in the MG Marg office of Blue Sky Tours & Travels, where he has his day job. Mr. Lachungpa is also the president of TAAS, the Travel Agents Association of Sikkim. TAAS has over 250 members, all with businesses registered with the Tourism Department. “Things are much better planned now. Tourism stake-holders all over the hills are prospering.”

This time of year residents in Gangtok can feel the boom. We are in the middle of the peak season, when evenings in MG Marg become an obstacle course of group photos and waitresses at popular cafes are made to work 13 hour days. It is a very busy time with several thousand visitors in town on any given day. But we got to wondering: how far along is Sikkim in its tourism development? How profitable are tourism based businesses the rest of the year? And what is the road forward? So I sat down with Mr. Lachungpa and asked, just what does ‘peak season’ mean?

“Almost every hotel in Sikkim, Darjeeling and Kalimpong are booked full right now,” he says. “It can be very difficult to get a room if you do not call ahead. We are also running short on transportation due to all the demand.”

This is pretty impressive given that there almost 300 hotels in the East District, most of them in Gangtok. We’ve all seen them lining the streets, even in areas rather far removed from the center of town. This time of year even those out of the way businesses are bustling. According to statistics gathered by the Tourism Department, international tourist numbers have hovered around 17,000 to 20,000 for the past five years, peaking in October. Domestic tourism has been steadily increasing for the past five years, bringing in a whopping six lakhs visitors in 2009 — over 1,00,000 in May, the peak month, alone. And for both international and domestic tourists, the first three months of this year have been record setting.

The government, even the central government, has made increasing tourism in Sikkim a priority. For instance, the Leave Travel Concession programme promotes tourism in the North East by offering government servants special discounts (off air travel or tour packages, for instance) if they take their holidays here. Because the Sikkim Tourism Department does not run its own tour service, it has authorised 33 tour and travel agencies to issue LTC certificates. However, according to Tourist Department statistics, since October 2008 only 1,794 domestic tourists have come to Sikkim on the LTC programme — a drop in the bucket, really. The LTC programme for the North East was scheduled to end last month, but at the request of the Chief Minister has been extended another two years.

Perhaps the biggest change in the tourism industry, however, is that the ‘peak season’ is no longer necessarily the focus of tourism efforts. According to Mr. Lachungpa now nine out of twelve months of the year are promoted as the tourism season. Ten years ago only three months were considered prosperous. While may and October still bring in the most money, enough travellers pass through in the other months to be profitable. This means that most hotels and travel agencies now keep a full staff all year round, when before they might have only been able to afford to hire workers seasonally. During what remains of the ‘off-season,’ many tourism-based businesses let their employees take rotating holidays.

“We have to stop talking about ‘off season,’” Mr. Lachungpa argues. “Tourists will think there is nothing to do. Sikkim has four seasons, and each has its own charm.”

During the monsoons, for instance, Sikkim’s waterfalls are beautifully gushing, and tourists can watch the mushroom harvest. The autumn is dry with clear mountain views, perfect for trekking. In the winter there is snow in the north, and Sikkim is working hard to develop winter sports in Yumtang and Kupup. Skiing was introduced introduced in Yumtang three years ago, making Sikkim one of only three states in India to offer the snowy activity, and the only state in the North East. They hope to have the ski slopes being crafted there ready for domestic tourists next year, and plan to promote it on an international level the year after that.

Other activities are in development, including paragliding and rides in a ‘jorbin ball’ — a large sphere in which strapped-in thrill seekers can roll down the hill. Promoting tourism all year round helps avoid what Mr. Lachungpa calls “bottlenecks.” These bottlenecks all have to do with transportation and access to the state, and limit the number of tourists that can flow into the state at any given time. Bottlenecks include political crises in neighbouring states and roads damaged by natural calamities. Developing ‘off-season’ tourism makes sure that Sikkim doesn’t have all its economic eggs in one basket.

Building better transportation infrastructure is also critical. Mr. Lachungpa is excited about plans to build an airport in Sikkim and bring trains all the way up through West Bengal into the state. In the meantime, he argues that any growth at Bagdogra Airport near Siliguri is good for Sikkim. The Bhutanese royal airline Druk Air now offers flights connecting Bagdogra with Paro, Bhutan and Bangkok, Thailand. There are further plans to offer flights directly to Kathmandu. TAAS and others are lobbying to have Bagdogra declared an official SAARC airport, or even an international airport. The more easily they can access Sikkim by air, the more likely tourists are to plan visits to Sikkim.

Of course, if tourism increases much more than it has already, Sikkim is going to need more hotels and other facilities to meet demand. Several are already under construction here in Gangtok, but Mr. Lachungpa believes that the way forward isn’t in the cities. TAAS and the Tourism Department are turning their efforts to focus on the development of village tourism and home-stays. Though certainly a few travellers have been finding their way to little villages and staying with welcoming families for decades, the idea of village tourism as an industry was really only conceptualised three or four years ago. Now there are dozens of village tourism committees all over the state, all working to train rural citizens and promote their towns as widely as possible.

But village tourism is a delicate balancing act. Says Mr. Lachungpa, “We must maintain the ethnicity of the village while providing modern facilities. Bathrooms, clean living, good food: we can not ask tourists to compromise on these.”

In a way this struggle is endemic to the development of tourism in Sikkim. Mr. Lachungpa argues that tourism is good for the state: though hotels are ultimately built for tourists, “even those who fetch sand from the river for concrete” benefit from their construction. Still, there are plenty of places in Asia, such as Thailand, and elsewhere in India where excessive tourism ripped up communities, ran over cultures, and decimated ecologies. When this happens both locals and travellers lose. For this reason, TAAS and the tourism department are focusing heavily on so called ‘eco-tourism,’ developing a code of conduct for both tourists and their local guides that, if followed, will prevent damage to the environment from activities like trekking.

“Tourism is our product that we sell to the globe,” Mr. Lachungpa explains. “It is our duty to protect this product. That means protecting culture and biodiversity.”

Even more subtly, however, part of Sikkim’s appeal is its paradisiacal, and rather rugged aesthetic. As Sikkim develops, TAAS hopes it won’t lose its rough edges. Mr. Lachungpa argues that even the permits required to get into restricted areas like North Sikkim actually add value to these places in the minds of tourists, however much they might gripe about the bureaucratic hassles.

“Our clients shouldn’t feel harassed about getting into the restricted areas, but if you make it free for everyone, people will lose their curiosity,” he says.

I’m not sure how much I buy that, but I do understand the larger point: tourism in Sikkim needs to be a blend of leisure and adventure. As Mr. Lachungpa wryly argues, “If the roads are all too smooth, you won’t remember the journey.”

Having dozed through too many road trips on the gentle asphalt of Illinois, I think he might be right.

So how do you find Sikkim?

It is tourism season again, and this week NOW! prowled the streets and cafes interviewing foreigners about their experience to find out where Sikkim shines as a tourism destination — and where it falls flat.

The first thing I asked was how they heard about Sikkim, this small and peaceful border state. After all, Sikkim isn’t in the national news much, and never mentioned in the international media. Despite its ambitions to make Sikkim a tourism and ecotourism hotspot in the North East, the Tourism Department doesn’t really advertise. So how did those tourists that made it here find out about Sikkim’s existence in the first place?

The most common answer was word of mouth. Travellers visiting the Darjeeling District hear about Sikkim from locals and other tourists and decide to take a few days to check it out. One group of four Brits and Swedes befriended a man from Sikkim in Darjeeling who gave them a long list of places to visit. When they got here, however, they discovered that most of their list was in the North District, which they felt was too out of the way to attempt.

There is a bit of buzz about Sikkim among hikers and mountaineers in the West, of course, and those tourists who had the most detailed schedules were the ones who came here for trekking or kayaking. Amongst these outdoor types Sikkim has a good reputation and a few devoted fans. A group of American high school students from Tennessee I spoke to in MG Marg had just completed five days of white-water rafting and were doing some shopping before moving on to Varanasi. They were there on a school programme developed and lead by their Eastern Religions teacher, an outdoor enthusiast who long ago made friends with the owner of Wisdom Tours and Travels on his own trek. Their school has been sending students to Sikkim for ten years.

The other way to find Sikkim seems to be careful study of a map. Travellers planning long trips across India look up that little nub sitting atop West Bengal and decide to swing through. I met a retired French couple sitting on a bench with a stack of simple lined maps, pouring over them. They were on their fifth visit to India, and had planned this one specifically for Darjeeling and Sikkim after a previous visit took them to Ladoc. They had seen the Himalayas from one side, and now wanted to see them from the other.

Several of the tourists I talked to found out about Sikkim through travel guidebooks like Lonely Planet, but these guidebooks were declared generally unhelpful once inside the state. This isn’t surprising. Guidebooks are usually regional or national, and even within the North East region Sikkim is small and out of the way. So though these guidebooks spoke highly of Sikkim as a beautiful place with great tourism destinations, they weren’t very specific on what these destinations were, how to visit them or the variety of lodging, dining and shopping options available in the capital or out in the districts.

This is unfortunate for Sikkim, for guidebooks play a huge role in the plans of tourists. Without detailed guidebook entries, Sikkim can attract relaxed and long-term travellers — ones willing to go to a place without much planning and just soak up the atmosphere — but may have trouble becoming a major destination for tourists prone to making detailed schedules before arrival, hoping to fit a great deal of sightseeing into one or two weeks. These tourists, however, may not have really heard of Sikkim anyways.

Sikkim has a unique feel for foreign tourists. Those only in India briefly often want the sort of busy and intense experience usually associated with Southern India or big cities like Delhi. For those travellers who spend several months touring the country, however, Sikkim is a breath of fresh air: peaceful, prosperous and off the beaten track.

“It feels easy to be a tourist here,” said Carrie Stopp of the United Kingdom. “The people are very friendly and seem honest.”

Even getting entry permits for Sikkim was, among the tourists I spoke to, universally painless and “super easy.” Several groups I talked to heatedly discussed the details of India’s relatively new rules about exit and re-entry into India on a tourism visa — stipulations that complicate plans for anyone hoping to swing over to Western India through Nepal — but whether they got their Sikkim permits at Rangpo or in their home countries, the only complaints were that some jeep drivers were unhappy to wait the couple minutes it takes foreigners to check into the state.

“I was surprised,” said Lotta Paulson, also of the UK and travelling with Ms. Stopp and two others. “I expected bureaucracy, but the guys at the permit office seemed happy to help.”

That said, none of the tourists I spoke to knew how to get an extension on their permits should they decide to stay more than two weeks. Furthermore, once in the state several groups were finding it more difficult to get around to the the other districts: jeeps to different towns, especially in the North or West districts, were harder to get, less common, and more uncomfortable than expected.

Most tourists expressed pleasant surprise at the cosmopolitan, even European feel of Gangtok — especially MG Marg — and said they were enjoying the Western-style nightlife. But these were unexpected bonuses, not the qualities that drew them to visit Sikkim in the first place. The biggest attraction was the chance to view Sikkim’s legendary Himalayan mountainscape. After several days of rain and clouds this week, however, many travellers were feeling frustrated. One group who had been considering going on a trek scuttled their plans for fear that bad weather would make hiking miserable and obscure the views from Dzongri or Goychela.

All in all, tourists in Gangtok this week seemed to like Sikkim a lot, especially as a chance to relax after weeks or months of much more harried travel further south, but few of them had come with an accurate idea of what to expect or a detailed plan of how to spend their time. Other than guided jeep tours — dismissed by one group as being “shipped around like cattle” — there aren’t very many structured ways to take in Sikkim’s sights and attractions. Many savvy travellers eschew using tour agencies, but there really is no other way to try out, say, Sikkim’s “amazing kayaking.” Helping tourists understand what the state is like beyond lush valleys and beautiful mountain views and how to take advantage of all it has to offer — especially through cultivating better entries in travel guides — would do a lot to expand Sikkim’s tourism industry and bring in a new class of traveller.

As good as that would arguably be for the state, however, it would perhaps ironically make Sikkim less appealing to many of the tourists I met this week. These people loved Sikkim in part because it was “less touristy” than many other places they had been, more out of the way and less intent on finding exotic new ways to take their money. The friendly attitude of its citizens towards foreigners is one of the best resources Sikkim has to offer. Let’s be careful not to lose that when we’re rich and famous.