Cultural Considerations

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.

Photographing People

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.

Environmental Considerations

There are a number of things the visitor can do to prevent pollution and other forms of environmental degradation.

Dress & Behaviour

These are also important considerations for the trekker, and include the following points:

Food & Etiquette

Contents copyright (C) 1995, 2001 All rights reserved.
Revised: 1 August 2001