The Asian country of Nepal aims to hold gay weddings on Everest as part of its plans to reinvent itself as a gay-friendly tourism destination.

The country, which criminalised homosexuality until 2007, has undergone profound changes in the last few years and its only out gay MP Sunil Babu Pant is spearheading new equality laws.

Tourism minister Sharat Singh Bhandari told The Times: “We’re completely changing this country. It’s a newborn republic — and we want to showcase this change

“We also want to re-establish tourism as a major industry.”

Last October, Mr Bhandari took the unprecedented step of writing a letter to the International Conference On Gay and Lesbian Tourism in Boston.

He wrote: “As the world knows, Nepal is the land of Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak and the birth place of Lord Buddha, light of Asia.

“I, therefore, would like to take this opportunity to invite and welcome all the sexual and gender minorities from around the world.”

Tourism bosses in Nepal hope to attract one million tourists a year, up from 400,000 currently. They are already discussing the prospect of holding gay weddings at the base of Everest and giving gay couples the chance to enjoy their honeymoons with tours on elephant-back.

The country is drawing up a new constitution which will enshrine gay rights, while a law allowing gay marriage is being considered.

Nepal was once strongly conservative and gays in the Himalayan kingdom previously suffered persistent persecution from security forces during the absolutist rule of King Gyanendra.

The harassment of lesbian, gay and trans people continued at the hands of Maoist rebels.