An Afternoon in Kareri Village

This past weekend, my peers and I were lucky enough to take part in a camping trip to Kareri village. On Friday, we set out on the 4 hour trek that brought us to our campsite. We were all floored by the natural beauty of our surroundings; there was lush greenery, a river, and spectacular views of the mountains. The next day, some members of our group opted to do a 26KM trek up to Kareri lake. The rest of our group stayed behind, relaxed at our campsite and then set out to explore Kareri village with the help of our formidable guide, Sachen. I opted for the latter option.
Kareri village was very rural. Our walk took us through countless terrace farms, where we saw adults, children, and animals alike working hard to maintain their land. We continued wandering and visited a small Hindu temple and the village school. On our way back, we heard an excited chorus of “Hi! Hello! Bye!” from nearly every group of children we passed. All in all, it was a lovely afternoon exploring a stunning place. However, as Sachen told us about the village and chatted with locals as we passed them by, I couldn’t help but feel distanced from the experience.
As a white person travelling in the Global South, observation and sightseeing can quickly take on a ‘voyeuristic’ feel. The privilege and power that my skin colour codifies, as well as the fact that it demarcates me as belonging to a foreign cultural group, can sometimes put up a barrier to cultural interaction. Colonial notions of the Global South as ‘backwards’ or ‘old-fashioned’ compound this to further complicate tourism in certain localities. As I walked through the village, I felt slightly queasy as I realized how the tableau might look to an observer: the white Westerner who wanted to get a glimpse of the ‘traditional’ life of a rural Indian community.
One of the readings we studied in our preparatory course, “Communities as more than Other” discusses some concepts that allowed me ground these feelings in theory. The author speaks about how Western tourists tend to ‘other’ foreign communities, that is, to see them as entirely separate from or inferior to oneself, and how this creates huge barriers to authentic, equal cultural exchange. I felt this acutely on our afternoon in Kareri village.
As we walked by and observed the farms, I felt that my gaze alone implicitly ‘othered’ those who we saw. I felt uncomfortable in the moment, and thought to myself that these feelings could be mitigated if only I had some Indian language skills. Unfortunately, since I have been more immersed in the Tibetan community during my time in Dharamshala, I have chosen to prioritize learning Tibetan over Hindi. As I watched Sachen speak to the local families and farmers, I felt even more distanced from meaningful cultural exchange, as I couldn’t even speak to members of the community to ask them questions or tell them about myself. In the “Communities as more than Other” reading, the author speaks about how important language skills are for reducing the likelihood of othering and increasing opportunities for equal cultural exchange. This is something I have taken to heart after our walk through Kareri village.

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