Our friend Tilak from Kathmandu tells us about gay life Nepal and how it was growing up here.
Nepal is the shining pink beacon of South Asia.
When it comes to LGBTQ rights, Asia as a whole is notorious for being super conservative, especially across South Asia. Here, most countries have curt anti-gay laws in place (like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Maldives), and one of them even has state execution on the cards – Afghanistan! Only India, Bhutan, and Nepal have thrown out and repealed their anti-gay laws. However, Nepal is the only one to have gone further and introduced a comprehensive set of anti-discrimination laws to protect its LGBTQ community.
This is why we rate Nepal as one of the most gay friendly countries in Asia. But as we said, this is one very conservative region of the world with much work to be done. Nepali society remains very conservative – many gay men end up leading double lives, marrying a woman to please the family, keeping their true nature hidden deep in the closet.
The Nepali gay community is evolving and growing more confident every year thanks in part to the amazing work of LGBTQ organisations like the Blue Diamond Society. In Kathmandu, we met local boy Tilak, who showed us the small gay scene in Thamel and told us more about what gay life is like in Nepal. Whilst the country is very progressive on paper, and to foreigners, for the local LGBTQ community, Nepal is still very conservative, and for this reason, Tilak asked that we keep his identity anonymous.
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Hello Tilak, please introduce yourself:
Namaste Stefan and Seby. I am Tilak, born in 1982 and raised in Nepal's capital city, Kathmandu. Today I live and work in the big capital. I am a clinical social worker working with people with mental, behavioural, and emotional issues.
I've also spent a large part of my life living and studying abroad, particularly in the USA and UK. However, in my early 30s I made the decision to return home to Nepal as my permanent base so that I can be close to my parents and care for them.
Are you openly gay?
Yes and no… I am out to my immediate family (parents, siblings), close friends and some colleagues including my boss. I am lucky to have open minded parents. They are extremely supportive and have no issues with it, but have asked me to be discrete to avoid ‘society' gossiping.
I haven’t told anyone else, although I'd be surprised if they hadn't already figured it out – put it this way, to be my age and unmarried…! Jokes aside, Nepali society is very conservative. Marriage is paramount and expected from everyone. As the eldest child in a family of 5, the pressure was always on me to be the shining beacon to carry the family name and produce lots of children…
Obviously this hasn't happened – and is unlikely to ever happen! But out of respect to my parents and for the sake of my career, I am selective about who I come out to, which is also why I've asked my identity to be kept anonymous in this interview.
What was it like coming out to your parents?
I was lucky. I came out to myself quite late in life. I was in my late twenties. I had played around with boys before, but always kept it hidden and stayed firmly in the closet, scared of bringing shame and disappointment on my family name. Throughout my twenties, my parents made numerous attempts to introduce me to various girls, which they hoped I would fall in love with and marry. Each time I would find a polite excuse to leave the room and later explain to my parents that “I was not ready, I'm not interested in this right now, I want to focus on my career”.
Eventually one day after the millionth attempt by my mother to introduce me to her work colleague's single daughter failed, my mother took my aside, sat me down and bluntly said to me:
“Tilak, what is wrong with you. This girl is stunning. Are you gay or something?”
As soon as she said this, I froze, looked away and started crying. My mother just gave me a warm smile, took my head in her hands, looked me in the eye and said:
“…cause if you are, I love you no matter what!”
I didn't know what to say to her. I had not even come out to myself at this stage. I just cried and she gave me the warmest hug. Soon after that I came out to myself then sat down with parents and siblings to explain it to them. No one reacted badly. Everyone accepted me (my sisters just looked smug giving an “I told you so” look to each other), but my parents did warn me that I should be careful about who I tell in Nepal because although things are changing, people can still be nasty and use this against you.
What's it like growing up gay in Nepal?
Nepal is a socially conservative country. Boys are expected to eventually marry in Hindu culture, and gayness is therefore not generally accepted. This mantra has been the norm for decades and certainly when I was growing up. But thankfully this is slowly shifting, especially among the younger more open-minded generation.
For me, being gay growing up it was hard. Back in the 90s, we had very little awareness of LGBTQ issues in society. There were no prominent gay celebrities. The only time we'd see a gay character was when they were portrayed as a joke/clown on a TV show. As the Internet grew, sites like Gaydar and Gay Romeo, then later Grindr, Scruff etc enabled us to connect with other likeminded men. It's certainly a lot easier for a young gay Nepali boy today than it was when I was a teen.
What you ever experienced any homophobia?
I've personally never been the victim of any homophobia, but this is probably because I came out late in life and am careful about who I come out to. My mother always warned me to take care with who I told, mainly because she feared for my safety. Nepali society can be quite brutal towards our LGBTQ community.
However, one of my closest gay friends was victimised for being openly gay. Whilst we cannot prove it, he was turned down for a job he interviewed for – he was asked personal questions about his wife and children and he simply told them he was in a relationship with a man. From that point on, the interview took a different direction, which swiftly led to a “not a great fit for this role” rejection. Maybe he was turned down for a different reason, but it smelt like homophobia to us.
The thing is, Nepal has a rich tapestry of anti-discrimination laws protecting our LGBTQ community, which were introduced in 2015, but it will take time for this to transcend across Nepali society.
What's the gay scene in Kathmandu like?
The capital city, Kathmandu, has become more international and touristy over the years, largely due to the trekking industry. We even have local tour companies dedicated to gay travel, which is amazing for a South Asian country! This has also really helped shift attitudes on a local level, making it easier for the younger generations.
As such, the gay scene of Nepal is largely based in Thamel, central Kathmandu. Outside of the capital, there isn't much of a gay scene anywhere else so we use gay dating apps like Grindr and Scruff to connect with each other.
My favorite gay bar in Kathmandu is PINK Tiffany. It was opened by Meghna Lama, a famous Nepali transgender model and activist. By day, PINK Tiffany is a restaurant, then in the evening it transforms into a fabulous place for our community to congregate for a few cocktails. It's open every day from 10am to midnight and is located on Chaksibari Marg in Thamel, in front of the H2O pub attached to Sam's Bar.
Other gay-friendly places to check out in Kathmandu include Fire and the Purple Haze Rock Bar. Fire is a straight club with a gay night on Fridays. It's located at Chaksibari Marga Thamel, Kathmandu – Pro tip – to find it, ask for the Reggae bar (which everybody knows), and Fire is on the first floor under the Reggae bar. Purple Haze is one of the most famous clubs in Kathmandu and where all the cool kids hang out. It's not a gay place but attracts a mixed and open-minded crowd.
We noticed lots of guys holding hands in Nepal…what's that about?
It's a thing in South Asian culture, which you'll also see in India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. However, this is not a sexual thing at all, simply a display of affection between close friends. It is also common to see two (straight!) guys embracing, hugging and even cuddling up together in public. Honestly, it's not a gay thing at all but something we've always done – a sign of true friendship amongst men, nothing more.
Does this mean you won't draw dirty looks if you both walk the streets of Kathmandu holding hands? That's a different issue. As foreigners, you're likely to attract attention anyway, but seeing two foreign guys holding hands is not something that's as common, but I think Nepali people wouldn't frown on it because we've grown up seeing men do this in public.
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Are there any gay friendly hotels you recommend in Kathmandu?
Kathmandu doesn't have any gay resorts or hotels like those you'd find in places like Fort Lauderdale or Key West! However, when it comes to LGBTQ tourism, Nepal is ahead of the game compared to most places in Asia. As I said above, we have tour companies specifically catering to gay tourists, and as such more hotels are becoming used to seeing two men wanting to share a double bed.
In terms of gay friendly hotels that you know are not going to give two hoots as to whether you're a mixed couple or a gay one, I recommend any of the big brand hotels such as the Kathmandu Marriott. If you're unsure, then send an email or call ahead to double-check they're ok to host gay travellers.
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Are there any popular gay pride events in Nepal?
There are a handful of gay events taking place annually in Nepal. Around August/September we have our main Pride event, organised by the awesome Blue Diamond. It usually coincides with the day of Gaijatra, which is a local Nepali festival of cows! The turnout is always high, and each year it grows in popularity. I love it because it has a super colourful parade through the streets of Kathmandu, which ends with a candlelight vigil in memory of all our gay brothers and sisters who died in the past year.
Another gay event in Nepal is the “Nepal Queer MOGAI Pride Parade”, which takes place in Kathmandu on the 29th June. Beyond Pride, we also have the Mr Gay Handsome event every June – another gem organised by Blue Diamond.
Are there any famous gay Nepalese celebrities?
There are a few. Bhumika Shrestha is an actor and activist working with Blue Diamond. They are third gender – born male but does not identify as male nor female. They starred in the 2012 movie “Highway”, and the 2018 movie “Kanchhi”. Anjali Lama is a transgender model and absolutely stunning! And as mentioned already, Meghna Lama is another gorgeous transgender fashion model who is famous for opening and hosting the PINK Tiffany parties in Kathmandu.
In terms of politicians, Sunil Babu Pant is the most famous because he was the first openly gay legislator in not only Nepal, but in all of Asia! In 2001, Sunil formed The Blue Diamond Society, which was our first LGBTQ organisation. He continues to do incredible things for our LGBTQ community and we all absolutely adore him – he's like our gay guardian angel!
What are some of the highlights you recommend for gay travelers to Nepal?
Nepal is famous for trekking. It's one of the most popular destinations amongst the trekking community, especially the trek to Mount Everest Base Camp. My favorite trek in Nepal is the Annapurna Trek to Thorong La Pass because it actually goes higher than Everest Base camp, and along the way you get to stay in guesthouses with locals instead of camping, allowing you a richer cultural experience. For mountain geeks out there – Everest Base Camp is 17,598 ft (5,364m) and Thorong La Pass is 17,769 ft (5,416m).
Pokhara is also a place I love to visit for a chill weekend. There's nothing more relaxing than renting a boat for the day and just sailing down the Pokhara Lake, particularly with a special someone by your side.
Happy travels are safe travels
For more inspiration:
- Make sure you try these delicious Nepali foods while you're in the country
- Check out our recipe for Sel Roti, Nepal's special bread for celebrations
- Find out how to organise your Indian visa while in Kathmandu
- Then have a read of our gay travel guide to the country of India
- And our interview with India's Prince Manvendra – the first openly gay prince in the world!
- Find out about our experiences traveling as a gay couple in Kerala