Nepal Culture and Customs
How Not to Be Mistaken for a Tourist in Nepal
Understanding Nepalese culture and the traditional way of life is an important aspect of responsible tourism, which is the kind of travel we want to practice and encourage you to do the same. When you travel to Nepal, embrace and respect their customs, which may be as simple as washing your hands and mouth before dining, or making sure your shoulders are covered. By mirroring local traditions, you are showing that you value their way of life and you're helping to build a sustainable relationship between yourself as a traveler and the local people of Nepal. Here are a few pointers to get you on your way, and of course your guides will be by your side to help as well.
When it comes to food and drink
- Only eat off your own plate and never use your knife or spoon to serve food off a communal plate.
- When drinking from a communal cup or jug, pour the water straight into your mouth without the cup touching your lips. It's a bit tricky but makes hygienic sense, worth knowing just in case you misplace your water bottle!
- In Nepal, your left hand is used for personal ablutions, so use your right hand to eat or pass around food.
- As in any country, wait to be served. Nepal is a very laid back country when it comes to time (to put it politely), so patience is most definitely a virtue!
- It's customary to leave your shoes outdoors when dining in someone's house. But it's OK to keep shoes on in the tea houses.
- Plastic bottles are causing horrific problems in the Himalayas where they litter the mountains. Please play your part in stopping this problem escalating even further by not purchasing plastic water bottles, and instead reusing your own bottle, or refilling a water bladder (such as a Camelbak).
When deciding what to pack
- Nepal is a conservative society, so short shorts, sleeveless tops and other revealing items of clothing are not suitable for women or men. Alas, nudity is also very much unacceptable - so no bare chests either please! This is important throughout Nepal, including on the trails, where you'll need to wear long trekking pants and a t-shirt to cover your shoulders. Not a bad idea in terms of being sunsafe either.
Good old manners
- As with anywhere you travel, a few simple greetings can go a long way. Only, in Nepal they might be slightly different from what you're used to! People in Nepal rarely shake hands, instead they prefer the "namaste" greeting, which is when you place your palms together in prayer position. You can do this wordlessly with a slight bow as "namaste" means "I bow to you" in Sanskrit.
- If you want to give your guide a hug at the end of the trip (and we're sure you will!) that is absolutely fine, but remember, public displays of affection between men and women are best kept brief, or even better kept in private.
- Don't be shocked if you see many Nepali men hand in hand. This is quite normal in Nepal and doesn't carry any sexual overtones (usually).
- If you give or receive money use your right hand and touch your right elbow with your left hand, as a gesture of respect (although I can understand if you would think it sounds like a game of Twister - best to practice beforehand!).
- This is something that travellers come across all the time - when you ask a local something, like for directions, even if they don't know the answer they'll want to give a positive response - rather than saying they don't know. So if you are given the wrong information, it could be through fear of dissapointing you. In these situations, always try to remain cool, calm and collected because raising your voice or shouting is very much frowned upon in Nepal.
Taking that special photo
- The rule of thumb if you're hoping to photograph someone is always ask first and respect the wishes of the people you are asking.
- The other place to be mindful of is at temples and monasteries, some of which prohibit photography. But don't worry, in our experience Nepal has proven to be the ultimate photographer's dream. Dark blue horizons against majestic towering peaks, with faded prayer flags in the foreground - who could ask for more!
- If you'd like to take a picture of sadhus (holy men who travel from place to place), it is customary to give baksheesh (a tip).
Buying souvenirs and fair trade
- Always try to be aware of the threat to local wild and endagered species through the purchase of products made from materials such as fur, shell or bone. We recommend not purchasing these products.
- Also, try to shop at places that support fair trade. With a population dominated by rural poverty, fair trade can really make a difference by investing in sustainable materials, providing further education, avoiding child labour and giving decent wags to artisans. See the guide to Kathmandu for some ideas of where to buy fair trade products.
If you have any questions about any of these customs and travel tips please give us a call and we'll be happy to provide further advice or elaboration.