Nepal represents a culture far older and in many ways more
sophisticated than Western culture, but you are not visiting a
museum. Rather, you are visiting a country that is vibrantly
alive, where many people live more comfortably and, in many
cases, more happily than in the West. The more you listen and
observe, the more you will learn and the more people will accept
you. If you must try to teach Nepalese hill people something, try
teaching them English. English is a key to upward mobility for
mployment in, or the running of, any business that deals with
foreigners. This is the one element of Western culture that
everyone desires - the English language. Spending your time
conversing with a sherpa or porter in English as you stroll the
trail together will be a good start towards a lasting friendship.
When trekking you will have a chance to meet and become
acquainted with Sherpas and members of other Nepalese ethnic
groups. The background of these people is completely different
from what you are familiar with in the West. Treks are a
fascinating cultural experience, but are most rewarding when you
make some concessions to the customs and habits of Nepal.
Nepalese are traditionally warm and friendly and treat foreigners
with a mixture of curiosity and respect. "Namaste" ("Hello, how
are you?") is a universal greeting. Most Nepalese speak at least
some English, though smiles and gestures work well where language
is a barrier.
Always double-check when asking for information or
directions. As Nepalese hate to say "no", they will give you
their individual versions whether they know the answer or not.
Their intention is not to mislead you; it is only to make you
happy that you received an answer. You can often circumvent this
problem by asking questions in a way that require a choice of
alternatives rather than yes or no answers.
Visiting a Temple
- Nepal is a Hindu country, although the
Sherpas and most other high mountain people are Buddhists. In
Kathmandu, you will be refused entry to a Hindu temple if you are
wearing leather shoes or a leather belt. There are other temples
that you will not be allowed to visit at all. Buddhist temples
(gompas) are less restrictive, but you should still ask
permission to enter and remove your shoes when you do - and
definitely ask permission before photographing religious
festivals, cremation grounds and the inside of temples.
If you meet the head lama inside a Buddhist gompa it is
appropriate to present him with a white silk scarf called a
kata. It is traditional to include a donation to the gompa
inside the folded kata. The lama will remove the money and either
keep the kata or place it around your neck as a blessing. Place
the kata you are offering on the table or in the hands of the
lama; do not place it around his neck. Monetary offerings should
be in odd numbers like Rs101; a donation of an even amount like
Rs100 is inauspicious.
- During a trek you will have many
opportunities to photograph local people. Some people, however, will not want
you to photograph them. Always ask before photographing women.
There are always cases of shyness that you can overcome with a
smile, a joke or using a telephoto lens, but don't pay people for
taking their picture. Some people are afraid that a camera might
"steal their soul", but more often they are concerned about how
photographs will eventually be used. Many photographs of hill
people in Nepal, especially Sherpas, have been printed in books,
magazines and brochures. The Sherpas, in particular the women,
are afraid that a photo of them will be reproduced in quantity
and eventually burned, thrown away or even used as toilet paper.
his is a major reason that many local people will refuse
photographs, and it should be respected.
- There are a number of things the visitor can do to prevent
pollution and other forms of environmental degradation.
- Pick up papers, film wrappers and other junk.
- Use locally made toilets (charpi) whenever available, no matter how revolting they might be.
- Burn all your toilet paper and bury your faeces.
- Don't make campfires, as wood is scarce in Nepal.
Dress & Behaviour
- These are also important considerations for
the trekker, and include the following points:
- Nudity is completely unacceptable and brief shorts are not appreciated. Men should always wear a shirt.
- Public displays of affection are frowned upon.
- Don't pass out balloons, candy and money to village children as it encourages them to beg. Trekkers are responsible for the continual cries of children for mithai (candy), paisa (money) and "boom boom" (balloon). Well-intentioned trekkers thought they
were doing a service by passing out pens for use in school, so
clever kids now ask for pens.
- Don't tempt people into thievery by leaving cameras, watches and
other valuable items around a hotel or trekking camp. Keep all
your personal belongings in your hotel room or tent. This also
means that you should not leave laundry hanging outside at night.
Food & Etiquette
- Most Nepalese eat with their hands. In many
places you will not be offered a spoon, but one is often
available if you ask. The Nepalese use only their right hand for
eating and will expect you to do the same. If you eat with your
hand, manners dictate that you wash it before and after eating. A
jug of water is always available in restaurants for this purpose.
- Don't touch food or eating utensils that local people will use.
Any food that a (non-Hindu) foreigner has touched becomes jutho
("polluted") and cannot be eaten by a Hindu. This problem does
not apply to Sherpas, however.
- Do not put more food on your plate than you can eat. Once it has
been placed on your plate, food is considered polluted.
- Don't throw anything into the fire in any house - Buddhist or
Hindu. In most cultures the household gods live in the hearth.
- When you hand something to a Nepalese, whether it is food, money
or anything else, use your right hand.
- Nepalese will not step over your feet or legs. If your
outstretched legs are across a doorway or path, pull them in when
someone wants to pass. Similarly, do not step over the legs of a
- The place of honour in a Sherpa home is the seat closest to the
fire. Do not sit in this seat unless you are specifically invited
to do so.
Contents copyright (C) 1995, 2001 trekinfo.com. All rights reserved.
Revised: 1 August 2001