They come in hordes, strike funny poses, dance to loud music, trample over crops, and often stir up unmanageable crowds that cause traffic jams. TikTok creators in Nepal have earned a reputation for disrespecting religious and historic places in their quest to create viral videos, and are now facing a backlash.
Over the last two years, several prominent tourist and religious sites in Nepal have erected “No TikTok” signs to keep creators from shooting at the premises. These sites include the Buddhist pilgrimage site Lumbini, Kathmandu’s famous Boudhanath Stupa, Ram Janaki Temple in Janakpur, and Gadhimai temple in Bara, among others. According to authorities, officials keep a close eye at these places and rule-breakers are warned or asked to leave.
“Making TikTok by playing loud music creates a nuisance for pilgrims from all over the world who come to the birthplace of Gautama Buddha,” Sanuraj Shakya, a spokesperson for the Lumbini Development Trust, which manages the shrines in Lumbini, told Rest of World. “We have banned TikTok-making in and around the sacred garden, where the main temples are located.”
In March 2021, the management committee of Boudhanath, a Buddhist shrine in Kathmandu, installed CCTV cameras to enforce the ban on shooting TikTok videos. The committee has also deployed a dozen security guards to keep a watchful eye on rule-breakers.
TikTok is one of the most popular social media apps in Nepal. A nationwide 2022 survey showed a dramatic rise in the number of TikTok users in the country: the number of respondents with internet access who reported using TikTok jumped from 3% to over 55% in just two years. The rise in TikTok’s popularity is partly attributed to Covid-19 lockdowns, when Nepalis spent hours indoors with not much to do. Once lockdowns were lifted, people started traveling to scenic locations in the Himalayan country to produce TikTok videos.
Over recent months, there have been reports of TikTok creators storming farms and trampling crops, and even causing traffic jams while shooting. Chamomile farmers in Morang in eastern Nepal were forced to harvest their crop early, as some TikTokers trampled on their crop. In Kathmandu, a popular street that was decorated with colorful umbrellas to attract tourists after the Covid-19 slump went viral on TikTok, and authorities were forced to shut it down as creators flocked to the area, leading to traffic congestion.
“It is usually young women in groups that spend a lot of time making TikTok. They need to play the same music over and over again to get that perfect shot,” Salman Khan, who frequently visits the sacred Lumbini garden and resents this trend, told Rest of World. “For them, it’s fun getting all the likes, but for visitors like us, it’s disturbing.”
Meanwhile, TikTok users say officials are unnecessarily dragging the platform into controversy.
“TikTok is just a medium for entertainment, it doesn’t need to be taken this seriously,” Manisha Adhikary, a resident of Kathmandu who has a few hundred followers on TikTok, told Rest of World. “As TikTok content creators, we need to understand that we don’t necessarily have to shoot our videos in famous religious places, if doing so is restricted. It’s creativity that matters, not the place where you shoot your videos.”
Freedom of expression campaigners believe that blanket bans of any form are problematic, especially when it comes to curtailing people’s rights.
“Placing blanket bans is the easiest thing to do,” lawyer and columnist Gyan Basnet told Rest of World. “Officials should have requested TikTok content producers to respect the sanctity of the religious places, instead of banning something outright.” TikTok has become a strong medium to attract tourists to these locations, and it “should not be ignored,” Basnet said.