Why Nepal could be the next big LGBTQ travel destination

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As Nepal’s first openly gay parliamentarian, Sunil Babu Pant educated his colleagues on LGBTQ topics.

More than a decade later, the former lawmaker and activist is sharing similar knowledge with locals and tourists on the capital’s streets.

On Saturdays, Pant hosts a heritage walk through the heart of Kathmandu, which is dotted with ancient temples, stupas and decrepit old houses that have withstood haphazard urbanization. The three-hour tour introduces the city’s matriarchal religious sites while exploring elements of gender and sexuality.

These sites, some in Hindu temples, feature paintings and wooden carvings with deities engaging in sexual acts, along with homoerotic illustrations and hermaphroditic figures.

“You’ll see a lot of nudity, it’s very normal … living in Kathmandu, it should be taken as pride, not shame,” says Pant. As he navigates the dusty streets, the aroma of incense, along with freshly brewed chiya, or milk tea, and traditional morning breakfast items – gwara mari, or fried dough balls, and the sweet fluffy malpuwa – in nearby shops fills the morning air.

Pant’s heritage tour, which he pioneered in 2010, is a personal endeavor, partly aimed at promoting LGBTQ tourism in the South Asian country. Now, the Nepal government is showing interest in investing in LGBTQ-specific services to tap into the multi-billion dollar “pink economy” and promote LGBTQ inclusion in the country’s tourism industry.

As an initial step, the Nepal Tourism Board – a quasi-government organization – partnered with the government-run Nepal Mountaineering Academy to launch the country’s first trekking guide training program for LGBTQ individuals in April. With Nepal banning solo trekkers this year, organizers say the new graduates will help meet demand from tourists specifically looking to hire LGBTQ guides.

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