Westerners have long imagined the Himalayas as the world’s last untouched place and a repository of redemptive power and wisdom. Beatniks, hippie seekers, spiritual tourists, mountain climbers—diverse groups of people have traveled there over the years, searching for their own personal Shangri-La. In Far Out, Mark Liechty traces the Western fantasies that captured the imagination of tourists in the decades after World War II, asking how the idea of Nepal shaped the everyday cross-cultural interactions that it made possible.
Emerging from centuries of political isolation but eager to engage the world, Nepalis struggled to make sense of the hordes of exotic, enthusiastic foreigners. They quickly embraced the phenomenon, however, and harnessed it to their own ends by building tourists’ fantasies into their national image and crafting Nepal as a premier tourist destination. Liechty describes three distinct phases: the postwar era, when the country provided a Raj-like throwback experience for rich Americans; Nepal’s emergence as an exotic outpost of hippie counterculture in the 1960s; and its rebranding into a hip adventure destination, which began in the 1970s and continues today. He shows how Western projections of Nepal as an isolated place inspired creative enterprises and, paradoxically, allowed locals to participate in the global economy. Based on twenty-five years of research, Far Out blends ethnographic analysis, a lifelong passion for Nepal, and a touch of humor to produce the first comprehensive history of what tourists looked for—and found—on the road to Kathmandu.