Travel Etiquette and Cultural Sensitivity for Nepal Travel

  • Ram Khadka
  • Apr 4, 2024

Table of Contents

As you get ready to embark on an unforgettable journey through the breathtaking landscapes and vibrant culture of Nepal, it is important to equip yourself with more than just the right gear.

To make the most of your experience, understanding travel etiquette, local customs, and cultural sensitivities is crucial. We got you covered with some essential tips.

With these tips in mind, you’ll be well-equipped to make your experience more incredible and connect with the locals like never before.

Travel Etiquette Tips For Nepal Travel

Learn about the places you plan to visit in Nepal

Before you pack your bag, take some time to research Nepal’s history, famous landmarks, festivals, customs, and traditions.

Learning a bit about the country will not only make your visit meaningful and exciting but also enhance your appreciation for the country and its people.

Learn some Nepali words

While many people in Nepal speak English, locals appreciate it when visitors try to speak Nepali. Luckily, most locals everywhere in Nepal understand and speak Nepali despite the country having diverse ethnic groups. Whether you are trekking to Everest Base Camp or dipping into hot springs on your Annapurna Trek, some knowledge of the Nepali language will make your travel more convenient.

A few basic phrases in Nepali such as, “Namaste” (Hello) and “Dhanyabad” (Thank you) “Didi” (Sister), “Dai” (Big Brother), and “Bhai” (Little Brother) will help you connect with people more warmly.

But be careful with your language. Take care to pronounce words correctly and avoid inadvertently offending. Don’t forget to speak politely and respectfully.

Practice how to greet people

In Nepal, people often greet each other by saying “Namaskar,” or “Namaste,” with a smile and a slight bow by placing their palms together in front of their chests. Mimicking this gesture shows courtesy, appreciation, and respect for the local culture.

Greeting Namastey in Nepal
Travel Tip: Greet Namaste wherever you go to extend courtesy and get accepted by the locals faster.

Dress with decency

Avoid revealing clothing when visiting temples, monasteries, or any sacred places in Nepal as it is considered disrespectful.

It’s okay to dress however you want in cities like Kathmandu and Pokhara but make sure you dress appropriately when visiting rural areas otherwise, you’ll get a death stare from the locals.

Bargain Wisely

Remember there’s a tourist price in Nepal, meaning, most of the items you purchase are marked higher than their actual selling price. Hence, we recommend bargaining for the best price wherever you can.

When bargaining, approach respectfully, be mindful of the seller’s livelihood, and avoid being too aggressive. The more jolly you are, the greater the discount you receive!

Cultural Sensitivity Guidelines When Travelling in Nepal

Temple Etiquette

In Nepal, the reverence for gods and deities is deeply ingrained in the culture. Stepping over representations of gods or items used for worship is considered deeply disrespectful. Always wait for individuals carrying such objects to pass before descending stairs or paths.

Nepal has numerous temples and religious sites, each with its customs and protocols. For example, in the Mani Rimdu Festival at Tengboche Monastery, monks perform a masked dance signifying the fight against evil. While the practice may seem unique to first-time visitors, laughing or making fun of their outfits would be considered rude.

Some Hindu temples may restrict entry to non-believers such as Pashupatinath Temple. They allow only Hindus to visit the main temple inside Pashupatinath. However, everyone is allowed to visit the temple’s premises.

Respect these guidelines and show reverence for the sacred spaces you visit, even if you do not share the religious beliefs associated with them.

Clockwise Circumambulation

In the Buddhist tradition, circumambulating sacred sites in a clockwise direction is a common practice.

Several Buddhist sutras mention the disciples of Buddha circumambulating him three times in a clockwise direction and prostrating in front of him before requesting teachings. Thus, Buddhist culture now circumambulates religious structures in a clockwise direction.

Whether you're visiting iconic temples like Boudhanath, rotating a prayer wheel in the Everest region, or trekking through mountainous regions adorned with prayer flags, observe this custom as a sign of respect for the local culture and religious traditions.

Man circumambulating a prayer wheel in Nepal, clockwise circumambulation is the norm.
Always circumambulate prayer wheels, temples, and stupas clockwise.

Whistling Taboo

While it may seem innocuous, whistling inside someone's house is considered inauspicious and most locals believe it brings bad luck.

Though unlikely to occur, be mindful of this cultural belief to not offend unintentionally.

Gestures of Respect

In Nepali culture, certain gestures carry specific meanings. Pointing directly at someone with your finger is considered impolite and may be interpreted as a sign of aggression.

Instead, opt for more respectful gestures, such as using an upturned hand or lifting your chin to indicate a person or direction.

Be extra conscious to avoid prolonged eye contact as it is considered aggressive in Asian cultures, especially to someone older than you.

Shoe Etiquette

Shoes and sandals hold significance beyond mere footwear in Nepali culture. Keeping them upside down is believed to invite bad luck.

To show respect, always ensure that your shoes are placed properly, with the soles facing down, especially when entering homes, temples, or other sacred spaces.

Shoe Removal

Upon entering someone's home, it is customary to remove your shoes as a sign of respect. This practice extends to certain restaurants and temples as well. By adhering to this custom, you demonstrate your willingness to honor the traditions of your hosts.

Feet Customs

Feet hold particular significance in Nepali culture, with various customs associated with their interactions. Accidentally brushing someone with your foot is considered rude, as feet are regarded as the dirtiest part of the body.

Conversely, touching someone's feet (mostly elders) can be a gesture of profound respect, while also acknowledging any unintended offense caused by a foot-related interaction.

Right-Hand Respect

In Nepali culture, the right hand is considered clean and appropriate for most interactions. Conversely, the left hand is associated with tasks such as personal hygiene and is considered unclean.

When handing items to someone or engaging in social exchanges, use your right hand to convey respect and courtesy.

Some locals find it off-putting if you use your left hand to eat, although Nepal does have left-handed people like any other part of the world.

Sacred Waters

Lakes and rivers hold spiritual significance in Nepali culture, often considered sacred sites associated with purification and blessings.

When on the Tilicho Lake Trek or the Rara Lake Trek, for example, be mindful of these beliefs and avoid activities that may pollute or contaminate these revered water sources.

Appreciate Nepali Cuisine

Travel vlogger Dale Philip savoring the classic Nepali Dal Bhat
Travel vlogger Dale Philip savors the classic Nepali Dal Bhat with Curry items.

Nepali cuisine reflects the country's diverse cultural heritage and is a source of pride for its people. With so many choices, you will surely find a cuisine of your liking.

When sampling local dishes such as momos or dal bhat, approach each culinary experience with an open mind and palate.

Refrain from negative comments about unfamiliar foods, as this may be perceived as disrespectful.

Minimize Food Waste

In a country where agriculture plays a significant role in daily life, wasting food is frowned upon.

Nepali people deeply value the effort and resources involved in producing food, and as such, make every effort to minimize waste.

Embrace this mindset by being mindful of portion sizes and consuming what you take, thereby demonstrating respect for the local culture and resources.

No Food Sharing

Once food has been touched, it is considered contaminated and cannot be returned to the communal dish.

To avoid food waste and maintain hygiene, request a separate plate if needed before serving yourself.

By adhering to this custom, you show consideration for the cultural norms surrounding food consumption.

Holy Heads

The head is considered sacred in Nepali culture, and touching someone's head is generally avoided. This custom stems from the belief that the head houses the soul and should be revered.

Be mindful of personal space and refrain from touching others' heads to show respect for this cultural norm.

Travel Etiquette and Cultural Guidelines in Nepal
The head (especially the forehead) is considered holy, as it is believed to possess the person's spirit. Nepalese people wear religious Tika or Tilaka on their foreheads.

Beef Consumption

In predominantly Hindu Nepal, cows are revered as sacred animals, and adherents of the faith avoid the consumption of beef. You won't get beef served anywhere in the country, cooked or raw.

While attitudes towards beef consumption may vary among individuals, be aware of this cultural sensitivity and respect the dietary practices of the local community.

Period Customs

Menstruation carries specific taboos and restrictions in Nepali culture, with certain activities and spaces considered off-limits for menstruating individuals such as visiting religious and sacred sites.

Be sensitive to these customs and avoid engaging in behaviors that may inadvertently violate these cultural norms.

Calendar Awareness

Nepal follows its unique calendar system, which may differ from the Gregorian calendar used in many Western countries.

Be mindful of this distinction when interpreting dates and events, and respect local customs and celebrations that may be based on the Nepali calendar.

Public Affection

In Nepal, cultural attitudes towards public displays of affection differ from those in Western countries

Romantic couples tend to be more reserved, rarely engaging in public displays of affection, such as kissing. Openly kissing in public is considered awkward and generally avoided.

To respect local customs and avoid causing discomfort, travelers should refrain from public displays of affection during their stay in Nepal.

Ram Khadka

Ram Khadka

CEO and Managing Director at Sublime Trails Trekking, Ram has been leading adventure-hungry souls into the mountains of Nepal for over 15 years.