KATHMANDU – A row over how the yeti looks like has forced Nepalese authorities to remove some 22 statues of the mythical giant ape-like creature from tourist landmarks.
The controversy erupted after the authorities installed colorful and massive fiberglass sculptures of squatting yetis at Kathmandu landmarks to start the government’s “Visit Nepal 2020” campaign.
But the campaign to attract two million tourists to the Himalayan country seems to have crashed under the yeti weight.
Some people complained that the mascot looked like a Japanese sumo wrestler and others believed that the statues represented Hindu and Buddhist deities.
Some people even started praying in front of the statues that had religious pictures or symbols painted onto them. Pictures of women and children worshiping the mascot went viral on social media.
The statue placed at the Basantapur Durbar Square had an image of goddess Kumari painted on its forehead and back. The deity is worshiped by Hindus as well as Buddhists.
“The yeti is a mystical beast (and) this (the statues) has damaged the religious feelings of the people,” Ganapati Lal Shrestha, a heritage activist, told EFE.
Locals and activists with the help of the authorities removed the religious pictures or symbols painted on the sculptures by spraying color on the statues installed at Basantapur and Boudhanath
Aditya Baral, a co-founder and country director of XcelTrip Nepal, said that a good idea to use yeti mascots to attract more foreigners has turned into an avoidable “religious ordeal.”
“The mascots would have been great if artists had followed the image of the yeti from the sculpture at the premises of Nepal Airlines Corporation instead of designing it as a Japanese sumo wrestler,” Baral, former director of Nepal Tourism Board, told EFE.
He was referring to a yeti statue at the office of the state-owned carrier that was built some six decades ago.
He said artists have “also painted images of gods and goddesses” of Hindu as well as Buddhist faith on same mascot that has hurt people’s religious sentiments.
Baral said he found the mascots fascinating and well-designed but there was “no clarity” on what the statues represented.
Finally, all the statues, built with fiberglass at a cost of 500,000 Nepalese rupees ($4,385) each, were removed by the end of the last month.
“It took four months to design the mascot,” said Bijay Maharjan, one of the 108 artists involved in the yeti’s mascot project.
“Our intention was not to hurt the religious sentiments of the people. We designed it by imagining the laughing Buddha,” Maharjan told EFE.
Maharjan said a legend has it that the yeti had long dark hair and gigantic teeth.
“As these mascots were mean to be kept in public places, we had carefully designed it not to scare the children.”
The yeti, also known as the abominable snowman, is a mythical beast that is often described as a furry, ape-like creature taller than an average human and is believed to inhabit the Himalayas, Siberia or the Central and East Asian regions.
The elusive animal is part of the region’s mythological folklore, although the hunt for proof of its existence has been taken up by many self-described cryptozoologists across the world.
With no solid evidence available for its existence, most scientists dismiss the creature as mythical. But stories of people seeing the creature or its footprints are common.
In Nepal, the term yeti is a merger of the Sherpa words “yah” (rock) and “teh” (animal).
There have been numerous attempts in recent years to solve the mystery of the yeti.
In 2011, DNA tests on a “yeti finger” taken from Nepal to London believed to be half a century old was found to be a human bone.
Again in 2013, DNA tests on hair samples carried out by Oxford University genetics professor Bryan Sykes found that the strands matched those from an ancient polar bear.