Mt Everest is an international icon and a heritage of ‘universal’ value. To Nepal, it has wider economic, social, cultural meanings:  it is the lifeline of mountain tourism, it embodies Nepali nationhood and reinforces a sense of identity.  However, it also symbolises the contested side of Nepali national identity that is largely dominated by the cultural landscape of the highlands, overlooking the other provincial heritages of the nation. Despite such a broader significance of the mountain, studies on Mt Everest have largely been dominated by environmental studies and travel narratives, and the question of the sociological significance of the mountain has not received the attention it deserves.  The proposed paper explores the significance of Mt. Everest as a national icon across for Nepali society. The study is driven by the following research question: should Mt Everest continue to stimulate Nepal’s national imagery?

The above question has become pertinent because the newly promulgated constitution of Nepal has recognised that Nepal is a federal republican state, which has warranted a need for forging an inclusive national identity based on pluralist ideology, as older references to Nepali national identity based on the Hindu monarchical system have outlived their purpose. For example, Mt Everest became a unanimous choice when, after the Monarchy was suspended in 2006, the central bank of Nepal began searching for a replacement for the King’s images in Nepali bank notes. Mt Everest has achieved an added importance because of the recent disasters in the Everest region, such as the 2014 avalanche and the April 2015 earthquake, which killed many people in the area of the mountain. These incidents have exposed the fragility of the Himalayan mountains, demystifying the view that they are indomitable, the character for which Mt Everest has been associated in the existence of the Nepali nation. Given such a background, a more grounded understanding of the iconic significance of Mt Everest in the changed political context would be useful in understanding the universality of the mountain as an icon of Nepali national identity. It would also help comprehend ethnic sensitivities towards the deployment of Mt Everest in the national imagery of ‘new’ Nepal.

The paper is based on primary data collected through qualitative interviews (n=20) and focus group discussions (n=2) with members of various national communities represented in the Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN).  The NEFIN is an autonomous and politically non-partisan, national level organization consisting of 54 indigenous member organizations widely distributed throughout different regions of Nepal.  Secondary data in the form of various publications and archival records will be consulted from: i) the Rastriya Abhilekhalaya (the National Archive of Nepal); ii) Nepal Madan Puraskar Pustakalaya; and iii) Central Library, TU. The paper will discuss the findings from the interview and focus groups data collected in summer 2016. The research was funded by British Academy/Leverhulme Small Research Grants – SRG 2015-16 Round.

[1] The term tapeta could be a Nepali corruption of the English word ‘taffeta’ considering the paintings are made on cloth.

[2] Nelson H HGraburn, “Introduction” in Ethnic and Tourist Arts: Cultural Expressions from the Fourth World,   ed. Nelson H.H. Graburn (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1976) 26.