Everest could stage gay 'weddings'
Published 15/03/2010 | 06:36
Nepal wants to paint Mount Everest pink with a campaign urging gay honeymooners to take a trek through the Himalayas.
There are also plans to host the world's highest same-sex "weddings" at Everest base camp.
But mainly, the conservative Hindu nation wants a chunk of the multibillion dollar gay tourist market to help pull it out of poverty.
That quest - brushing aside historical biases in pursuit of economic opportunity - is symbolic of one of the gay rights movement's most stunning successes. Just five years ago, police were beating gays and transsexuals in the streets. Now, the issue of gay rights is almost passe.
Nepal has an openly gay parliamentarian, it is issuing "third gender" identity cards and it appears set to enshrine gay rights - and possibly even same-sex marriage - in a new constitution.
That acceptance has become a major marketing opportunity for a country cursed by desperate poverty, but blessed with majestic beauty.
Tourism is one of the main drivers of Nepal's economy, worth about 350 million US dollars (£230 million) last year, and government officials are determined to double tourism to one million visitors next year.
It is hoped gay tourists will be far more lucrative than the backpackers who stay in cheap hotels here and travel on shoestring budgets. "They do have a lot of income ... they are high-spending consumers," said Aditya Baral, spokesman for the Nepal Tourism Board. "If they behave well, if they have money, we don't discriminate."
The driving force is Sunil Pant, a member of parliament, the nation's most prominent gay activist and founder of the new Pink Mountain tour company.
The nation's mountains, food and culture are a natural tourist magnet, he said. He added that gay tourists could get married at Everest base camp and honeymoon on an elephant safari - though since Nepal doesn't marry foreigners, such weddings would have no legal status.