Ye, 36, used to be a doctor, first came to Kathmandu in 2014, became a travel writer. “At first, I chose Nepal because of its tourism potential, but now Nepal is like my lover,” he admits, smiling.
After seeing the devastation in 2015, Ye started posting scenes of the damage on Chinese social media to explain that Nepalis revered Lord Shiva the creator and destroyer, and saw the earthquake as part of another divine cycle. The posts helped spread a huge response in China for relief aid.
Zhao has always been fascinated by Nepali modern art and wants to bring it to the attention of Chinese collectors. “Nepali artists are deeply rooted in their society, and their work carry socio-cultural meanings,” explains Zhao, “but the average Chinese tourist only knows about thangkas and wood carvings.”
Ye has been in Nepal long enough to understand geopolitical sensitivities. “Nowadays, the relationship between China and Nepal is like friends while Nepal and India are like brothers,” he says diplomatically, “brothers can fight but will always be brothers. China will always be a close friend.”
Ye and Zhao say they want to go beyond government-to-government links to be China’s “volunteer envoys” to connect the peoples of China and Nepal.
In the past three years, Zhao has taken young Nepali artists to China, held exhibitions and discussions about paintings and music. Zhao’s father Zhao Jianqiu is a famous Chinese artist whose exquisitely detailed ink and brush paintings of Nepal’s mountains and Kathmandu’s temples have been exhibited in Beijing and Kathmandu.
Tourism in Nepal has gone through many phases: the world jet-set ‘discovered’ Nepal in the early 1960s, the hippies came in the 1970s, trekkers and budget travelers after that. Ye and Zhang perhaps represent a new breed of Asian tourists who are drawn by Nepal’s unique natural and cultural heritage, as well as its modern creativity.