After a seven-year live-in relationship, Anish Sood (name changed), a Bollywood designer in his mid 30s, is planning to marry his make-up artist partner. But instead of a glitzy do in Mumbai, the gay couple is headed to Nepal for an idyllic wedding.
Manvendra Singh Gohil, 45, prince of Rajpipla in Gujarat, has similar plans. He will tie the knot with his partner, a commoner, in Nepal this year.
“Gay weddings are still a far-fetched dream in India,” he says.
It’s a sign of the times. As its southern neighbour debates whether or not to legalise homosexuality, Nepal is set to become the first Asian nation to guarantee equal rights to sexual minorities in May.
The country’s new constitution will treat lesbians, gays, bi-sexuals, transgendered (LGBTs) as equals and recognise same-sex marriages — something that the Himalayan nation is hoping to cash in upon.
“We want to use this opportunity to benefit from the untapped gay-lesbian tourism market,” says Sunil Babu Pant, a member of Nepal’s Constituent Assembly.
Pant, who launched Pink Mountain Travels and Tours — Nepal’s first travel agency catering to LGBTs three months ago, has received hundreds of queries from gays and lesbians across the globe interested in a wedding or holiday in Nepal.
Take, for example, Tracy and Beth, a lesbian couple from Massachusetts in the US who want to “honour their relationship” at an exotic mountain setting in Nepal such as the Everest base camp.
There are other options. How about exchanging garlands in a traditional Gurung village or taking the vows riding elephants in a forest resort?
“Since I belong to a royal family, there would be royalty on show during my wedding,” said Gohil.
It will be one of the best weddings Nepal has seen, promises Pant.
There’s more that Nepal has to offer to gays and lesbians than just exotic weddings.
Same sex tourists seeking an adrenaline rush can go rafting, bungee jumping, paragliding, mountain biking or trekking.
“Nepal is one of very few adventure tourism destinations for LGBT tourists. Since our neighbours are lagging behind in welcoming such tourists, we can capitalise on it,” said Pant.
Now, hotel and restaurant employees are being trained to interact with these special guests.
Gay and lesbian employees are also training as guides so that gay or lesbian couples don’t feel awkward during their holiday.
A special guided tour of Kathmandu with a focus on the homosexual aspects of Nepal’s religion and culture is also on the anvil, albeit with a rider.
“We are not promoting anything that may compromise the local cultural sensibilities,” emphasises Pant.
Besides earning pink dollars, Nepal hopes to create job opportunities for local LGBTs.
Gay tourism is expected to generate 5,000-10,000 jobs within the first four years.
Once hotels begin getting income from the community, they would understand the importance of having gays and lesbians on their staff capable of handling LGBT tourists, says Pant.
“Most of these tourists are from the higher income group. They are more than welcome to stay with us,” says Rajeev Shrestha of Kathmandu’s Dwarika’s Hotel.
As the Himalayan Nation celebrates the Visit Nepal Year in 2011 with the target of doubling the number of foreign visitors from 500,000 to one million, LGBT tourists could form a sizeable chunk of that.
“Nepal has made the right move while we are yet to give equal status to LGBTs. Put bluntly, India is foolish in not trying to capture this niche market,” said Gohil.