For Ishan Mainali ’21, researching the 1960s and ’70s hippie movement in Nepal isn’t just an academic endeavor, but a personal one as well. Having grown up in Kathmandu, Nepal, Mainali is familiar with the hippie movement, though he says, the movement “is something that is neither really visible in public spaces nor is it talked about much.” Mainali hopes to start the conversation with his Emerson research project.  

The hippie movement began among the Western world’s political and social dissatisfaction of the 1960s, which spurred some Westerners to embark on the Hippie Trail, a route that traversed Europe and South Asia. Those who traveled to destinations along the trail, particularly its cultural center, Kathmandu, Nepal, typically wanted to escape the stress of the West and lead a calmer life. Now, few Westerners remain in places like Kathmandu and the hippie movement is rarely discussed.

As such, Mainali is basing his research project out of Kathmandu, where he will be analyzing Westerners’ depictions of Nepal and Nepalis during the time period and, conversely, Nepalis’ perceptions of Westerners. He will primarily do this through reading extant literature, looking through old photographs, and conducting local interviews.

“As an anthropology major, I am naturally drawn to stories about people,” Mainali said, describing his initial interest in the project. “The hippie movement is particularly interesting because it was the first time Kathmandu residents were experiencing the visit of such a mass influx of Westerners in their city. The encounter provides tons of opportunity for insightful analysis on many different themes, including transnational cultural exchange, which is something that I am interested in.”                                                                     

about Ishan Mainali ’21

Major: Anthropology

Hometown: Kathmandu, Nepal

High School: GEMS Institute of Higher Education

read about other student research

Part of the project’s aim is to amplify the perspectives that have not received much attention. Mainali said, “A lot of the existing literature, especially media articles and biographies of hippies tend to focus on the mostly Western hippies themselves, marginalizing the voices of the receiving Nepali population.”

Mainali feels that his Nepali background puts him in the right position to address this issue. “As a Nepali, I thought this would be a great opportunity to document the local perspectives of the people who hosted and eased the stay of the hippies, and interrogate whether the kinds of ideas the hippies came in with were similar to the ones Nepalis had,” he said.

Mainali plans to ultimately create a blog that features the experiences of both Nepalis and Westerners. There, he will share some of his primary source materials along with his own input. The blog will then function as an open source of information for the public, helping Mainali achieve his goal of promoting the forgotten stories of the hippie movement.

Mainali is one of 200 Hamilton students who are conducting summer research or completing an internship supported by the College.

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