Eyewitnesses said a man dressed as a monk entered a cafe in Katmandu's Boudhanath district—home to many Buddhist temples and monasteries—and asked to use the bathroom. After spending some time there, he went onto the street and lit himself on fire. He ran a few steps, covered in flames and chanting slogans against China, before collapsing.
Police official Keshav Adhikari said police and locals were able to put out the flames and rush the man to a hospital, where he was critical condition. He said the man has yet to be identified but he appeared to be about 21 years old.
Nearly 100 Tibetan monks, nuns and lay people have set themselves on fire in various countries, mostly in ethnic Tibetan areas inside China, since 2009. The protesters are calling for Beijing to allow greater religious freedom and the return from exile of their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who lives in India.
Thousands of Tibetan exiles live in Nepal and occasionally protest against China. The Nepalese government has banned such demonstrations, saying it cannot allow any activities against friendly nations to take place in Nepal.
Nepal also allows Tibetans to pass through Nepal, traveling from their homeland to Dharmasala, India, where the Dalai Lama lives and Tibetans have set up a government in exile.
Communist troops occupied the Himalayan region in 1951. Beijing says it has been part of China for centuries, but Tibetans say it was independent for much of that time. The Dalai Lama fled the region in 1959 as Chinese troops crushed protests against communist rule.
Prasant Tamang, a waiter at the Golden Eye Cafe, said he found a gasoline bottle, a jacket and a bag in the cafe's bathroom. Tamang said the man appeared normal and calm.
"He looked like the hundreds of Tibetans who came to Boudhanath today and I did not suspect he was going to set himself on fire," Tamang said.
Wednesday marks the third and one of the most important days of the Losar festival, which is celebrated by the Tibetan community. Many Tibetans in Nepal visit Boudhanath for the event.
Security has been tightened in the area.