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.

group everest base camp


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.


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    Pleased especially that I made it to EBC! Out of the 10 of us 5 made it all the way. Can't believe this old man (63) was one of them. I know the only reason I did make it was due to the excellent leaders and sherpas. They were incredibly attentive and professional. We all feel how lucky we were to have the trek leaders that we had, and to have such a fun group. It far exceeded my expectations; the incredible mountains, accommodations, ample food, and exceptional leadership. The acclimation days and the slow steady pace are all that attributed to my personal success. Thank you especially Elder and Argen. I hope to take another of your treks next year, looking at Peru. Thank you to the entire Active Adventures team!
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    Don't know where to start and don't want to write a book but want anyone who is considering this trek to do it with Active Adventures. Why? I'm 62, still in good health and shape. Have experienced two other treks over the past ten years with other outfitters. Machu Picchu in Peru and Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. There was a huge difference in personal care and attention to expedition details. What impressed me the most was the attention to every detail required to make this trek to Base Camp not only successful but an enjoyable one too. There was not one negative experience that Active Adventure was in control over (lodging, food, permits etc). My mind was put to ease every day when our daily heart rate and oxygen levels were tested and medication was made available to you should you experience the effects of altitude sickness. Our guide’s knowledge of the history and culture of the Nepalese people added to the enjoyment of our journey.
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