On the global art market, Himalayan statues of religious deities fetch millions of dollars. But to the Nepalese, they are living gods who have been stolen from their communities.

In this exclusive Al Jazeera investigation, 101 East senior presenter and reporter Steve Chao takes viewers on a breathtaking journey across the Himalayas, to reveal how the art world’s hunger for ancient artefacts is destroying a centuries-old culture.

As he seeks to expose the international black market in religious treasures, Chao travels across Nepal from its capital Kathmandu to remote and ancient Buddhist temples in Mustang.

Since the 1980s, authorities estimate thieves have plundered tens of thousands of Nepalese antiquities. About 80 percent of the countries religious artefacts have been stolen and sold into the $8bn-a-year illegal black market in art.

But as 101 East discovers, the Nepalese are now taking a stand and demanding a stop to the plunder of their greatest treasures.

Local guide Tashi Bista says the thefts are hurting communities and their ability to worship.

“When thieves look at our centuries-old statues and deities, they see millions of dollars of profit. To us, they are living, breathing gods,” he says. “The thieves are destroying an ancient way of life for us.”

Posing as a prospective buyer, Steve Chao goes undercover to meet black market art dealers and learn how they bribe officials to falsify papers so that they can export antiques from Nepal.

After showing his undercover filming to Nepalese police, Chao helps authorities conduct a sting on some of the country’s most prominent antique dealers, leading to their arrests.

Set against a stunning natural backdrop, this is the story of how treasures from an ancient time are being stolen and sold to the highest bidder, leaving a culture in peril.

Source: Al Jazeera 

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