Since its opening to westerners in the 1950s, Nepal has offered a Mecca for travelers seeking adventure, the world’s best trekking routes, and high altitude mountaineering. It has a reputation for catering to the world’s adrenaline seekers, however, a much deeper yet even more diverse and beautiful part of the country is often overlooked – its culture. Few countries can boast such a diverse and vibrant atmosphere. 92 languages are spoken across Nepal covering almost countless ethnicities, yet an unmatched friendliness and welcoming spirit are seen throughout. You’ll get by just fine with English, however, learning a few key phrases in Nepali will massively improve your experience and provide a better understanding of the local culture.
Arriving in Tribhuvan airport – Nepal’s only international airport is a wonderful piece of sensory theatre. Leaving the airport you’ll soon discover that all travel inside Nepal is an adventure in itself, whether by brightly painted busses blaring local music, small thuk-thuks personalized by their drivers, or just on foot — you’re sure to be greeted with a chorus of colors, sounds, and some of the most spectacular views planet Earth has on offer.
Upon leaving Kathmandu you’ll be presented with an almost unfathomable choice of trekking routes. A trekkers paradise, Nepal is home to 8 of the 10 highest mountains in the world, mountain passes bristling with history, prayer flags, Tibetan prayer wheels, and countless unforgettable views. ‘Tea Houses’ offer affordable accommodation and home-cooked meals strategically placed less than a day’s walk apart along the major routes. Pre-booking is rarely necessary, leaving you free to trek at your own pace and avoid any agency fees by paying your hosts directly, doing so is also one of the best contributions you can make during your stay. Tourism is Nepal’s largest industry and the pandemic has left many local businesses and families struggling to make ends meet. Home-stays and independent accommodation offer not only the best value but provide the opportunity to learn more about the incredible culture throughout the country.
For those seeking trekking, mountain sports, or access to the Himalayas, Pokhara offers the perfect base. Few locations can boast a feature list as appealing to the adventure inclined; world-class paragliding, mountain biking, whitewater rafting, bungee jumping, and proximity to possibly the best trekking route in the world – the Annapurna Circuit, not to mention countless other trekking opportunities into the Himalayas. A broad range of accommodation caters to all budgets and the selection of cafes and restaurants will leave you with more than enough choice to sit and plan your route while sipping coffee to a mountain backdrop. Once you’ve found your route of choice, local 4×4’s or taxis offer affordable transport out of the city towards the mountains.
Water (pani) sources in Nepal can be problematic so most trekkers resort to plastic bottled water. While it may be convenient, the environmental impact is huge as waste and recycling facilities are almost non-existent in many parts of the country.. One of the best things you can take with you is a reusable water bottle with an integrated filter for when running water sources are available. Stopping for locally cooked meals instead of resorting to plastic-wrapped snacks on your hikes is another great way to both experience more of the culture and reduce your impact. Most food is grown locally, prepared in traditional ways, and vegetarian (sakahari) options are always available.
Customs and Culture
Be mindful of local customs especially away from the tourist hubs. Dress conservatively, and when giving or receiving items use your right hand (or both), and avoid placing your feet on seats or tables. The famous and customary greeting of “Namaste” will become a frequent part of your interactions. When greeting people, adding “Ji” after someone’s name is a sign of respect and, contrary to some western cultures where “mate” or other generic greetings stand in for first names (looking at you Australia), addressing people by their first name is a much better practice and will be warmly received.
Nepal is incredibly photogenic. You’ll frequently see traditional farming, beautifully coloured garments and many religious sites high in the mountains. But, like everyone, the Nepalese value their privacy. Be sure to ask permission before taking someone’s photo and resist the urge to photograph inside temples or homes without explicit permission. Hiring a local guide is a great way to learn about the rich history and landscape during your trek, and to understand local customs and traditions.
For an adventure holiday like no other, Nepal offers a colourful mix of culture, mountain landscapes, trekking, and incredible hospitality from a famously welcoming population. Not only are you guaranteed an unforgettable stay, but with a little care, your travel can have a genuinely positive impact on local communities.