"A Memento for a Lifetime"
Travelers often carry bittersweet memories of the places they travel to and what better way to recall their stories than with the help of a piece of art that is inked permanently to the skin. Tattoos are emerging as an interesting way to carry a keepsake of a destination one has visited.
Travelers visit Nepal to get themselves inked by renowned tattoo artists. Getting inked in Nepal costs far less compared to the western world, which is a driving factor for their decision to get tattoos. Most people like to get inked because it reminds them of their fond memories of Nepal.
The Tattoo Scene
Tattoo studios are found mostly in Thamel, Jhonchhe, Lazimpat, Jhamsikhel and Durbarmarg; areas that have a larger amount of tourist footfall. Besides these places within Kathmandu Valley, tattoo parlors are also popular around Pokhara’s Lakeside, Chitwan’s Sauraha and Sunsari’s Dharan regions.
Tattoo tourism is gaining popularity as a “thing to do” when in Nepal. Many travelers prefer to get tattoos that represent the country they have visited. According to veteran tattoo artist, Mohan Gurung, popular tattoo pieces include, the Buddha’s eyes, Nepal's national flag, Lord Ganesh, Lord Shiva and the Buddhist sutra, “Om mane padme hum”. Among these, the Buddhist sutra and Buddha’s eyes are most popular. Getting names inked in Devanagiri script is also popular.
In the recent years, Kathmandu has gained recognition for its tattoo community. The tattoo shops in Thamel have even been featured in the popular show “Miami Ink". Tattoo conventions are popular in Nepal with the International Tattoo Convention taking place each year in April. Thousands of local and foreign tattoo enthusiasts visit this convention. Around 200 tattoo artists visit the tattoo convention to be part of the big event. The convention was started in 2011 by Mohan Gurung and fellow tattoo artist, Bijaya Shrestha. The International Nepal Tattoo Convention has been running for 3 days each year since 2011. The convention is a great platform for artists from Nepal and other countries to exchange skills and experiences of the tattoo industry. The convention has helped Nepali tattoo artists to get exposure.
With the popularity of the Nepali tattoo art scene and dedicated tattoo artists, Nepal has set itself on the map as a destination for tattoo tourism. Tourism organizations such as Trekkers Agencies Association of Nepal (TAAN) and Nepal Tourism Board have been aggressively promoting Nepal for tattoo tourism.
Skin Piercings and Body Modification
Nepal has a tradition of getting ears and noses pierced. This tradition has evolved with time, and now body piercings have reached greater imaginations. These piercings can be done in any body part, like the eyebrows, lips, belly, tongue and even nipples.In Nepal, women pierce their left nostril and put on the fuli. This practice has gained popularity among both foreign men and women. Body piercings are done to decorate one's body and set themselves as an individual with a statement.
Nepali Inking in New York
Mohan Gurung, a tattoo artist from Nepal has gained international fame with his unique tattoos. His tattoo journey started way back in South Korea in the early 90s. Mohan had always loved sketching and drawing. He went to South Korea for employment. By chance, he met Piti, a Dutch tattoo artist who trained Mohan for two months. Learning the art of tattoo was a hobby for him, and Mohan used to love tattooing his friends. During his time in South Korea from 1992 - 1994, he learned all the basics of being a tattoo artist. Unfortunately, he was cash-strapped and had to ask money from his friends to return to Nepal.
Even though he lacked sufficient funds, Mohan continued to tattoo his friends for free, as he believed that he would return to South Korea for work. A good friend encouraged him to stay in Nepal and put his unique skills to best use. From the support of his friends, Mohan opened his first tattoo studio in Pokhara in 2000. His tattoo studio and skills eventually gained recognition and his clients started to invite him to Kathmandu. In 2003, he packed his tools and began moving back and forth between Kathmandu and Pokhara. As he had no permanent studio, Mohan used to tattoo his clients at his hotel room. He even travelled to Butwal and Narayangadh for the same.
He decided to open a studio in Thamel as the demand for his tattoos started increasing in Kathmandu. In those days, Thamel already had tattoo artists skilled in traditional designs, but Mohan entered the scene with his modern designs and instantly set himself apart.
Competition dwindled as the demand for his tattoos burgeoned. Clients had to wait weeks and months just to get inked by Mohan. He knew he had to keep up with overwhelming demands and decided to provide apprenticeship training. His students, both local and foreigners have even opened their own tattoo studios.
Mohan's Tattoo Inn became a brand name in Nepal. His success lies in the quality and hygienic services and the use of modern techniques for tattoos. Till this day, Mohan has inked more than 7000 skins.
His journey eventually led him to opening a studio in New York in 2014. Everyone has dreams of treading the big sea and to Mohan, that sea was in New York. Today, the 43 year old tattoo artist has passed his skills to his son, Arjun Gurung. Arjun looks after the studio in Kathmandu with six other artists. Mohan believes that his children will eventually work in New York.
Mohan had planned to return to Pokhara after 10 years and retire to a humble tattoo studio, inking clients as he wished. But times changed, and he decided to settle in New York. Mohan is already a renowned face in the tattoo community, credited to developing Nepal's tattoo culture and tattoo tourism.