The Himalayan Country of Nepal is a small nation wedged between India and Tibet (occupied by China). Its geography is dominated by the eastern Himalayas, including the worlds highest mountain, the formidable Mt Everest (8848m). Many of today’s trekking routes are ancient trade routes, which run between India and Tibet. This and the porter skills of the mountain people are the main factors in allowing tourists access to the highest regions.
The harsh, breathtaking environment of rock and ice makes way in the south to some of the most picturesque and enchanting landscapes, the so called foothills. A sub-tropical climate produces a colourful spectrum of rainforest, rice fields and tropical fruit trees. The lowlands of the Terai are hot and humid with enough jungle to provide a home for tigers, elephants and rhinoceros, as in the famous Chitwan National Park.
The diverse geography has shaped an equally diverse kaleidoscope of people and cultural expression. The spiritual heritage shaped by Tibetan Buddhism in the higher regions and Hinduism elsewhere gives substance to peoples throughout Nepal, making them reverent, kind, hospitable and hard-working people.
Ethical Travel Issues and advice
Porters Rights: Most Nepalese porters are poor farmers from lowland areas, unused to high altitudes and harsh mountain conditions. Nepalese porters suffer four times more accidents and illnesses than Western trekkers. Reports of porters being abandoned by tour groups when they fall ill are not unusual.
Porters have even been abandoned in life-threatening blizzards while trekkers were rescued by helicopter.
- Only book your trek with a tour opertator that has a Porters Policy based on our code.
- Join our global network of Ethical travellers by becoming a Member of Tourism Concern.
Orphanage Tourism: Increasing numbers of tourists visiting Nepal’s mountain peaks, colourful markets and lush national parks, want to experience the latest must-do activity on the tourist trail: a volunteering stint at an orphanage. However these good intentions are unwittingly feeding an industry that dupes poor parents into sending their children to bogus orphanages in order to extract money from well-meaning foreigners. It is a business model built on a double deception: the exploitation of poor families in rural Nepal and the manipulation of wealthy foreigners. In the worst cases, tourists may be unwittingly complicit in child trafficking.
Volunteering, or voluntourism as it is sometimes known, is a rapidly expanding industry. There are dozens of agencies offering the chance to spend weeks, or months, working at some of the country’s 800 orphanages. More than 80% of these institutions are located in the most popular tourist hotspots: the ancient Kathmandu Valley; the trekking capital of Pokhara; and Chitwan, home to the largest national park. Child rights campaigners claim the country is also home to numerous unregistered orphanages. Yet many of the occupants of these sites have at least one living parent. The latest investigation by Unicef, the UN’s children agency, found that 85% of children in the orphanages they visited had at least one living parent. The trade in children begins in Nepal’s remote and impoverished countryside, where parents are tricked into sending their children to orphanages, often lured by the promise of an education
Cultural Impacts: The effects of tourism on religious traditions and monastic life in Nepal is complex; many Sherpas have managed to adapt to tourism successfully and without any great loss of culture. Sherpa religion and culture have evolved from years of myths, stories and religious practice, and have always been subject to a wide range of influences. Since the expeditions to Mount Everest, Sherpas have become a ‘celebrated people’ and received a great deal of international fame. The Sherpa themselves are aware of this fascination with their culture and have been able to direct this interest towards the building and repair of local monasteries. However, lifestyles have changed from one village to the next, from wealthier to poorer households and it is women rather than men who have taken on greater farming and domestic responsibilities. It is usually the women and less wealthy who are likely to maintain the ‘traditional’ link with the past. Many examples, such as the refurbishment of Tengboche Monastery and a culture and climbing museum dedicated to the many climbers that have climbed Everest show a positive world view of Sherpa culture.
Ethical Photography: Travelling presents an opportunity to photograph in lots of different destinations and situations, but sometimes there may be culturally sensitive issues to think about before reaching for the camera or other photo-taking device. There are lots of people in the world who do not have clean water, electricity, schooling or enough to eat, let alone access to mobile telephones, the internet and printed media, so they have no idea where their photograph may end up or how it could be used. Sadly, in this day and age, child prostitution, child trafficking and other crimes against children are facilitated via the Internet, and photography can play an unwitting and innocent role. Photography and its use is no longer straight forward, so perhaps it is time to stop and think a little about the ethics of photography.
Taking photos of the Sadhus and friendly people of Nepal is a highlight for many travellers and photographers. Smiles are universal ways to engage, as is showing people the photo you just took of them. If you show an interest in their work or ask them questions, they’ll be happy to have their picture taken. In some touristy places around Kathmandu it has become common for people to ask for money for their photos to be taken. Do as you wish, but a photo of someone you shared a laugh with may have a better lasting impression than one you paid for. Don’t forget the same holds true for any porters and guides that may help you along the way. Take an interest in them and you’ll be rewarded with more great photo opportunities. Responsible Photographers tips
Elephant rides: So-called elephant “joyrides” are anything but joyful for the elephants who are forced to give them. A PETA India–commissioned investigation of elephant training in Nepal revealed that elephants who are being used to give rides are physically and emotionally abused every step of the way.
When they are just 2 years old, baby elephants are torn away from their loving mothers and tied up out of reach. The frantic babies cry and struggle for days to reach their mothers, who are also tethered. Elephant calves are restrained during training for as long as 14 hours at a time with ropes that cause painful burns and with heavy chains.
Over and over again, calves are put through terrifying “desensitisation” sessions, in which trainers tie the elephants tightly to a pole, surround them, startle them with loud noises, hit them, prod them with sticks and wave flaming torches at them – often singeing the elephants’ skin.
Trainers routinely pierce the animals’ sensitive ears and yank on them with hooks in order to force elephants to walk a certain way. To control the elephants, restraints studded with iron nails, which dig into elephants’ skin and cause infections, are used on their feet. Barbed shackles are also frequently placed around the elephants’ legs during rides, with the other end of the shackles attached to the saddle so that riders can punish the elephants for any misstep. Trainers routinely beat elephants on the head with sticks to punish them for “mistakes,” leaving many elephants with open wounds.
Water: Water is one of the basic human necessities but a large proportion of the Nepalese population is devoid of access to safe and adequate drinking water. According to the Department of Water Supply and Sewerage in Nepal, even though an estimated 80% of the total population has access to drinking water, it is not safe. Those belonging to poor and excluded groups in rural areas have limited to no access. Many in remote areas have to rely on small brooks running from the mountains and spend hours traveling to get water. Still the drinking water available is not always safe as supplied water is often polluted.
For tourism to be truly sustainable, its development and management must be premised upon a respect for human rights, including the right to water and sanitation for essential personal, domestic and livelihood needs. In many cases, tourism development is negatively impacting the quality, availability and accessibility of freshwater for local people, amounting to an infringement of their water and sanitation rights. This is posing risks to community health and well-being, hampering socioeconomic mobility – particularly of women – harming livelihoods, threatening food security, and undermining the sustainability of the tourism sector itself.
- Don’t buy bottled mineral water on a trek.
- If water from streams, wells, cisterns and taps is not safe to drink: purify your water with iodine or a portable water filter and carry it in a reusable bottle.
- The easiest and cheapest way to ensure safe drinking water, is to treat it with iodine. If you don’t like the taste of iodine, bring flavoring vitamin C tablets to neutralize the iodine taste (note that you need to let the iodine do its work before you add the vitamin or flavoring).
- If possible, avoid lodges and teashops that use wood for fuel, and only take hot showers with solar-heated water.
- Don’t use detergents or toothpaste in or near watercourses, even if they are biodegradable.
- For personal washing, use biodegradable soap and a water container (or a lightweight, portable basin) at least 50m (160ft) away from the watercourse.
- Disperse the waste water widely to allow the soil to filter it fully.
- Wash cooking utensils 50m (160ft) away from watercourses using a scourer, sand or snow instead of detergent.
Mountain rubbish: Campers, hikers, and climbers should all follow a “Leave No Trace” approach when exploring the great outdoors. Unfortunately for Mt. Everest, a lack of this ethic has resulted in the famous peak being littered with thousands of pounds of garbage. The Nepalese government passed new rules requiring climbers to carry 17.6 pounds (8kg) of trash off the mountain (in addition to their own garbage) before they are allowed to leave.
- Carry out all your rubbish or dispose of your trash responsibly. Don’t overlook easily forgotten items, such as foil, cigarette butts and plastic wrappers. Take into account how long items take to degrade. For example, aluminium cans take 80 to 100 years and plastic bottles take up to 450 years. Besides, while degrading harmful chemicals end up in the ground water.
- Collect rubbish where you see it on walking trails. If you cannot carry it out of the area, take the litter to a local rubbish collection depot or incineration centre.
- When buying things from shops, do not accept plastic bags.
- Never bury your rubbish. Digging disturbs soil and ground cover and encourages erosion, and buried rubbish may be dug up by animals, which may be injured or poisoned by it.
- Minimize waste by taking minimal packaging and no more food than you will need. Take reusable containers or stuff sacks.
- Take your used batteries home to your country.
- Where there is a toilet, please use it. Where there is none, bury your waste. Dig a small hole 15cm (6in) deep and at least 100m (320ft) from any watercourse. Cover the waste with soil and a rock. In snow, dig down to the soil. Ensure that these guidelines are also applied to portable toilet tents.
- Please encourage your porters to use toilet facilities as well.
Nepal’s climate varies with its topography and altitude. It ranges from the tropical to the arctic. The low-land Terai region, has a hot and humid climate that can rise above 45c during summer. The mid-land regions are pleasant almost all the year round, although winter nights are cool. The northern mountain region, around an altitude above 3,300m has an alpine climate with considerably lower temperature in winter as can be expected. Nepal has four climatic seasons.
- Spring (between March – May): The temperature is mildly warm in low lands while moderate in higher altitudes with plenty of opportunities to have tryst with the mountain views. It is also the time for flowers to blossom and the national flower of Nepal – rhododendron sweeps the ascending altitudes with its magnanimous color and beauty.
- Summer (between June – August): This is also the monsoon season in Nepal. The weather is hot and wet at times. It rains almost everyday with occasional thunderstorms in the evening. The rain spreads the pleasantness around with lush green vegetation.
- Autumn (between September – November): This is the best tourist season in Nepal with the summer gone by and the winter to set in. The weather is highly pleasant so are the mountain views. This is the peak season for trekking as mountain views are guaranteed so better book your flight in advance. This is also the season of festivities as Nepal celebrates the biggest Hindu festivals Dashain followed by Tihar.
- Winter (between December – February): The weather is cool and the sky is clear with occasional snowfalls at higher elevations. This season is good for trekking in lower elevations. The morning and night is cold and the days are warm when sunny.
Travel Tips: Monsoon in Nepal is not the typical monsoon of Asia. Rains usually occur during the night-time leaving the sky clean and clear by the morning making the Himalayan view even more dramatic. Some parts of the Himalayas in Manang, Mustang and Dolpo are in rain-shadow areas; the mountains are high enough to block the clouds. Tibet’s high travel season also corresponds to Nepal’s monsoon.
Sedimentation and discharge of industrial effluents are prominent sources of water pollution, and the burning of wood for fuel is a significant source of indoor air pollution and respiratory problems. Vehicular and industrial emissions increasingly have contributed to air pollution in urban areas.
Deforestation and land degradation appear to affect a far greater proportion of the population and have the worst consequences for economic growth and individuals’ livelihoods. Forest loss has contributed to floods, soil erosion, and stagnant agricultural output. Estimates suggest that forest cover has declined from 45 to 29 percent of the total land area over the last 30 years.
Non-timber forest products are threatened by deforestation, habitat degradation and unsustainable harvesting. Major threats to some protected areas are grazing all year around, poaching for high value products, illegal timber harvesting and unsustainable tourism.
Mountain biodiversity is suffering due to ecological fragility and instability of high mountain environments, deforestation, poor management of natural resources, and inappropriate farming practices.
- Stick to existing trails – walking off the track can damage plant life and expose new areas of ground to erosion.
- Do not trample or collect the flora.
- Don’t buy items made from endangered species.
- Do not feed the wildlife as this can transmit diseases and lead to animals becoming dependent on handouts, which leads to unbalanced populations.
- Do not kill rodents or other pests in huts or camps. In wild places, they are likely to be protected native animals.
- Discourage the presence of wildlife by not leaving food scraps behind you. Place gear out of reach and tie packs to rafters or trees.
- Do not use firewood for heating or cooking in natural reserves.
- The use of open fires should be discouraged even where it is not directly prohibited. Firewood gathering is the main cause of deforestation in many areas and wind-blown embers are a major cause of forest fires.
Tourists, guests and visitors should try to conform to tradition until clearly instructed otherwise by their hosts. Meals are traditionally eaten seated or squatting on the floor although urban restaurants have tables and chairs. Food is brought to the mouth with the fingers of the right hand. The left hand—traditionally used for certain toilet purposes—should never touch food but may hold cups and glasses. The right hand should be rinsed before and after eating.
Although Nepali society is moving away from caste-based discrimination and becoming less mindful of ritual pollution, these concepts can still hold sway in traditionally minded upper caste households. In such contexts water itself is highly subject to pollution, affecting containers as well. Clay or wooden containers must then be discarded while metal containers require ritual scouring. You will often find people drinking water by pouring it into their mouths rather than touching their lips to the container to avoid polluting the container and contents.
- In Nepal people greet eat other with the traditional, ‘Namaste!’ folding their hands in prayer like position in front of their chest. Sometimes they will shake hands, especially if they are involved in the tourism sector, but in general you should avoid touching people, especially of the opposite gender.
- Dress moderately. For women it is recommended to cover knees and shoulders, as it is considered offensive to expose your knees, shoulders and chest at all times and especially in any place of worship. For women, this means that wearing detachable leg pants is not very sympathetic to local customs in the Himalaya, and cropped tops of any description should be avoided. Men can wear long shorts but should avoid exposing their chests.
- Don’t show affection between men and women in public.
- Encourage the locals to be proud of their culture.
- Don’t pass out pens, sweets or other items to village children, as it encourages them to beg. Handing out candy (referred to as sweets, mitai or bonbons) to children who never clean their teeth is thoughtless and irresponsible. Giving money to small children in return for picked flowers is destructive and illegal in all National Parks. If your conscience struggles with the wealth divide then provide skills through training and education, or donate to one of the major charities based in the major cities. But do not just give away items along the trail and so perpetuate a habit that ultimately only reduces self-esteem and can cause long-term problems. If you aren’t convinced of the negative effects of pandering to cute children then trek away from the main trails and experience the genuine, openhearted joy that children show tourists without the expectation of a ‘reward’.
- Sometimes gift giving or making a donation is appropriate; this may be to a monastery or shrine, at a wedding, or at a cultural program. Whenever you are faced with needing to give a gift it is recommended to seek the advice of a Nepali to work out what is appropriate. The method of or the formality associated with giving a gift is often as important as the gift itself so make sure you are aware of any protocols.
- If you are not a doctor, do not give medicines to local people.
- With the offering of payment and/or gifts it is respectful to use both hands, or your right hand while touching your left hand to your right elbow.
- Do not argue publicly, drink excessively or fight. Demonstrations of anger are considered an embarrassing loss of face on your behalf.
- When trekking the trail can be busy, especially at steep or difficult sections. A common courtesy is to give way to people walking up-hill. Besides always give way to people who are working, like porters, who are already struggling enough with their heavy loads!
The country’s cultural and geographic diversity provides ample space for a variety of cuisines based on ethnicity and on soil and climate. Nevertheless dal-bhat-tarkari is eaten throughout the country. Dal is a soup made of lentils and spices. This is served over boiled grain, bhat—usually rice but sometimes another grain—with vegetable curry, tarkari. Condiments are usually small amounts of extremely spicy chutney (चटनी) or pickle (achaar, अचार) which can be fresh or fermented. The variety of these is staggering, said to number in the thousands. Other accompaniments may be sliced lemon (nibuwa) or lime (kagati) and fresh green chili, hariyo khursani. Dhindo is traditional food of Nepal.
Much of the cuisine is variation on Asian themes. Other foods have hybrid Tibetan, Indian and Thai origins. Momo—Tibetan types dumplings with Nepali spices—are important in Newa cuisine. They were originally filled with buffalo meat but now also with goat or chicken as well as vegetarian preparations. Special foods such as sel roti and patre are eaten during festivals such as Tihar. New food varieties have been introduced such as taas, similar to shish kebab
Nepali is an Indo-Aryan language with around 17 million speakers in Nepal, Bhutan, Burma and India. Nepali first started to be used in writing during the 12th century AD. It is written with the Devanāgarī alphabet, which developed from the Brahmi script in the 11th century AD.
Nepali is traditionally spoken in the Hill Region of Nepal (Pahad, पहाड), especially in the western part of the country. Though Nepal Bhasa was the dominant language in the Kathmandu valley, Nepali is currently the most dominant. Nepali is used in government and as the everyday language of a growing portion of the local population.
- Namaste – Hello, Greetings,
- Hajur – All purpose term meaning yes? Pardon, Excuse me?
- (Tapaiilai) Kasto Cha? – How are you?
- (Malai) Thik Cha – I am fine
- Khana khannu bhaiyo? – Have you eaten?
- Dhanybhad – Thank you
- Tapaiiko naam ke ho? – What is you name?
- Mero naam NAME ho – My name is NAME
- Maaph garnuhos – Excuse me/ pardon me/ sorry
- Maile bhujhina – I don’t understand
According to the 2001 census, 80.62 percent of Nepalese were Hindu, 10.74 percent Buddhist, 4.20 percent Muslim, 3.60 percent Kirant (an indigenous religion), 0.45 percent Christian, and 0.4 percent were classified as other groups such as Bön religion.
The geographical distribution of religious groups in the early 1990s revealed a preponderance of Hindus, accounting for at least 87 percent of the population in every region. The largest concentrations of Buddhists were found in the eastern hills, the Kathmandu Valley, and the central Tarai; in each area about 10 percent of the people were Buddhist. Buddhism was more common among the Newar and Tibeto-Nepalese groups. Among the Tibeto-Nepalese, those most influenced by Hinduism were the Magar, Sunwar, and Rai peoples. Hindu influence was less prominent among the Gurung, Limbu, Bhote, Tamang and Thakali groups, who continued to employ Buddhist monks for their religious ceremonies. Since both Hinduism as well as Buddhism are Dharmic religions, they usually accept each other’s practices and many people practice a combination of both.
- Show respect for local traditions and behave appropriately while at religious sites
- When you enter a Buddhist monastery please take off your shoes.
- With Hindu temples there are different rules per temple. Some temples you are not allowed to visit, some you can, but only when you take of your shoes, etc. Please respect the rules/signs!
- Please never point the soles of your feed to a person or holy statue, this is highly insulting.