Fostering food tourism in Nepal

International tourists flock to Nepal to discover the delights of trekking through the Himalayas but that’s not all the country has to offer.

Two Australian volunteers are currently working with local communities to shine a light on the country’s rich food culture, with the hope of bringing tourists and economic development to new regions.

While they are located in different municipalities and drawing on different aspects of food culture, Nari Blackett and Stephen Clark have the united in their goal to help harness the potential of food tourism in their region.

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Nari Blackett (right), Australian volunteer Tourism Officer with the Municipality of Kiritpur, with colleague Anuj Pradhan. Photo: Teagan Glenane
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Kirtipur is an ancient city in Nepal, located in the Kathmandu valley. Photo: Teagan Glenane

Nari and Stephen were part of larger group of Australian volunteers that set off on assignment in Nepal in September 2019.

Nari was the first Australian volunteer to be located in the municipality of Kirtipur, one of five municipalities located in Kathmandu Valley. The region sits atop a hill and offers an incredible view of the valley, which Nari regularly enjoys while drinking chai from one of the rooftop cafes.

Kirtipur is considered the centre of Newar culture, one of the indigenous ethnicities of Kathmandu valley. And it is the rich food traditions of Newar culture that Nari and her local colleagues at Kirtipur Municipality are working to promote.

“Kirtipur is already well-known to locals as having the best Newar food in Kathmandu. We want to encourage more international tourists to sample the delicacies as well,” she said.

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Mahesh Kumari cooks local Newari Cuisine. Photo: Teagan Glenane
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A lunchtime snack in the restaurant of Newa Lahana Museum, Kirtipur. Photo: Teagan Glenane

Nari is drawing on her previous tourism experience to train local guides, create a promotional website for visitors to discover Kirtipur, as well as working with a range of stakeholders to develop tourism packages that will help unlock the potential of tourism and encourage economic development in the region.

She is aware that her colleagues at Kirtipur Municipality already have their hands full, so she is working with the broader community, including local entrepreneurs and other tourism groups to empower them to take on some of the activities themselves.

“I’d love to see Kirtipur on the tourist map. There is so much potential to grow tourism here and improve outcomes for the local community,” she said.

Her efforts are appreciated by her colleague Anuj Pradhan who says that he had learnt a lot from her, valuing her project management skills, and the strong connections she has built within the community.

While Nari is working to shine a light on Newar cuisine in Kirtipur, Stephen is working to promote food growing practices in Budhanilkantha, on the other side of the valley.

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Stephen Clark (right) with Baby Bhandare from the Himalayan Organic Farm stalls. Photo: Teagan Glenane
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Sumit Kharel is Stephen's counterpart at Budhanilkantha Municipality. Photo: Teagan Glenane

Stephen has considerable experience in food tourism, credited as enabling the development of the distinctive ‘regional cuisine style’ which made Noosa a popular foody destination in the 1990s. This experience has given him a strong appreciation of how food, and food markets in particular, can bring tourists into a community.

In his volunteer role at Budhanilkantha Muncipality, Stephen has been working with local organic farmers through the Rural Women’s Network to help them expand their audiences and economic development opportunities.

‘The key to a quality food adventure begins with fresh produce,” Stephen said. “Which makes my work with the organic farmers in the area an essential part of the development of food tourism here.”

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Stephen Clark (right) is working with partner organisation Budhanilkantha Municipality supporting sustainable tourism. He's pictured with women from the Himalayan Organic Farm stalls. L-R Baby Bhandare, Bimala Achanya, Lata Kihatiwada, Milan, Khadka. Photo: Teagan Glenane
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Locally grown, organic produce from the Himalayan Organic Farm stalls. Photo: Teagan Glenane

There is plenty of energy and enthusiasm amongst the local businesses, and Stephen is working alongside them to explore how they can craft cultural experiences for tourists to enjoy. With opportunities such as farm tours and ‘make your own paneer’ workshops, Stephen is supporting them to identify new ways they can build their business.

“After a morning touring the farm and picking your own lunch ingredients, farm tourism now meets food tourism at the Himalaya Organic Garden”.

He takes a storytelling approach, drawing out the stories of the local farmers, like Bimala Achayan who started growing organic vegetables six years ago, after mother passed away from cancer. From a humble rooftop veggie garden, she now runs a successful one acre organic farm and regularly sells her produce at the farmers markets in the region.

“[He’s] a good storyteller,” reportes Sumit Kharel, Stephen’s colleague Budhanilkantha Muncipality

Sumit has been instrumental in helping Stephen connect to the right community groups and the two have developed a close and productive friendship. They are a dynamic duo, who are building on each other’s strengths to improve the outlook for this municipality.