Traveler's Guide: Sensitive Traveler
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The left hand is
used to wash after
a visit to the toilet.

~ Tip for shaking hands.

Fishtail from Poonhill on the Annapurna CircuitDo's and Don'ts
in Nepal

General Information, Green Trekking, Dress and Attire, Artifacts and Antiques, Taking Photos, Beggars, Bargaining, Offensive Gestures, Giving Tips, Medical Attention, Safety Cautions. For the Sensitive Traveler we have laid out a few items where you may try not to change Nepal, but let Nepal change you.

General Information
Travelers are ever-searching for the untrained path, for places and peoples unspoiled and exotic. But, tourism can no longer afford to spoil new discoveries. Litter and cultural pollution soon erode visitor appeal and more important, indigenous lifestyles dependent upon a delicate natural balance vanish forever. Responsible tourism is a more sound investment where everybody wins.

In Nepal, tourism contributes to children's dental problems in mountain villages where sweets and cavities were once unknown. Garbage left by mountaineering expeditions piles up higher and higher, and international media reports of toilet paper-strewn trekking trails grossly exaggerate a real concern. Forest suffer enough from local demands. Trekkers food and lodging needs further fuel the problem. Art theft not only depletes a reach cultural heritage but is undermining the Nepalese peoples trust of outsiders.

Nepal heartily welcomes you, the visitor. But, whether you are trekking in the mountains or touring the Kathmandu Valley, we ask that you treat the land and its peoples with care and respect. Below are some tips on how you can keep the environment clean and show appreciation for age-old culture and traditional religious beliefs.

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Green Trekking
In Nepal, eco-tourism is more than a catch phrase to mean outdoor adventure travel. Green or eco-trekking practices are sound measures such as carrying out or disposable of garbage and burning no wood on the trail. Ask your trekking agent and lodge operator about their conservation policies. Green trekking may cost a little more but is much better for the environment.

You can also help out by following these guidelines:

  • Litter Free: Carry all your trash (including toilet paper, unless you thoroughly burn it on the spot) to your campsite, lodge or hotel for proper disposal. If trekking with an agency, ask the staff to designate separate places for biodegradable and others (i.e., bottles, tins, plastics, foil, batteries etc.) which should be packed out to Kathmandu or the next refuse pit. As fires are considered sacred, don't put trash in the flames until the cooking is done and always inquire first.
  • Lady Details: Sanitary napkins and tampons should be wrapped well and packed out. Take batteries back to your home country for safe disposal.
  • Toilet Sites: Make sure your trek operator provides a toilet tent, set up at least 50 meters (150 feet) away from any water source. If you are tea-house trekking, select lodges with a well-sited latrines. Otherwise, pick a spot away from water and religious sites. Bury all excreta. In the cities and en route, public toilets are hard to find so be discreet and keep away from holy sites.
  • Biodegradable Washing: When bathing or washing clothes near streams, use biodegradable soaps and a pan for rinsing. Toss soapy water away from the stream.
  • Use Established Campsites: Encourage your trekking staff to camp in established campsites and to leave no trace: no trash, no tent trenches, no fire pit, and a toilet pit filled in to look as it did before digging.
  • Cook with Kerosene: If you are camping, request that cooking be done on kerosene or gas, not wood. If you're stuck using wood, reduce the amount by using iodine to treat water rather than boiling it. Choose lodges that use kerosene or fuel efficient stoves, such as the back-boiler which heats water while food cooks. You can also reduce firewood consumption by ordering the same food at the same time as others.
  • Solar Heated Showers: Limit your hot showers to those heated by solar energy, by hydroelectricity or by the back-boiler method.
  • Warm Clothes: Bring adequate clothes rather than relying on lodge hearths for heat and never ask your trekking staff for a bonfire. See that porters will be provided shelter, clothing and shoes for high altitude treks, saving wood otherwise burned to keep warm.
  • Do Not Disturb: Avoid creating new trails across switchbacks, meadows and in high fragile areas. Make sketches or take photos rather than collect flower, plants and seeds. Do not purchase items made from wild animals skins or furs. Take care while walking through farmland and always stay to the uphill side of livestock on trails.

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Dress and Attire
Baggy pants or calf-length skirts with a loose top are appropriate trekking and touring wear for women. Men should wear a shirt at all times. Men's knee-length hiking shorts are fine for trekking but not when visiting temples, monasteries or homes.

Nudity is particularly offensive. Whether bathing in a stream or at a village tap, men should wear shorts or underwear, women can wrap in a loongi (sarong) and douse themselves as the village women do. Only sport a swimsuit if well secluded from village eyes. Public affection is likewise frowned upon.

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Artifacts and Antiques
It is illegal to export anything older than 100 years. Please do not take any religious objects (prayer stones, statues, temple ritual objects, prayer flags, etc.) away from sacred sites and discourage others from doing so.

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Taking Photos
Most Nepalese don't mind being photographed, but some do. Ask first, especially if photographing ceremonies or older people. Paying for a picture reinforces a hand-out mentality. Try instead to establish a friendly rapport with a few words or gestures.

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Do not give candy, pens, trinkets or money to children but instead donate to a school, monastery or hospital. Nepalese give a few rupees to the handicapped and religious mendicants; you can do the same.

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Bargain for souvenirs and trekking services but respect posted prices in restaurants and lodges. Ask around to establish a fair price: paying too much adds to inflation and paying too little denies the merchant of a fair return.

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Offensive Gestures

  • To show appreciation and respect, use two hands rather than one when giving or receiving something, even money.
  • Remember not to point with a single finger but use a flat extended hand especially to indicate a sacred object or place.
  • Among Hindus, avoid touching women and holy men the traditional palms-together "Namaste" greeting is preferable.
  • Don't eat with your left hand and nor eat beef among Hindus.
  • Try not to step over or point your feet at another person, a sacred place or a hearth.
  • Remove your shoes when entering a home, temple or monastery (and leather items in Hindu temples) and avoid smoking and wearing scant dress in religious settings.
  • Do not offer food from your plate, nor eat from a common pot, and avoid touching your lips to a shared drinking vessel.

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Giving Tips
Tipping is a newly accepted custom in Nepal. Hotel, restaurant, touring and trekking organization staff members often make up for relatively meager wages with tips. But, it should only reward good work. Don't tip for short taxi rides in town or any service person you've bargain with. Groups might give a reasonable amount per day to a tip pool to be divided among the staff, generally relative to rank, for good service.

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Medical Attention
Even if you are an experienced medical practitioner, it is not wise to give medicine to a sick Nepali on the trek unless you can watch his or her reaction. Most Nepalese have never been exposed to Western medicine and may react unpredictably. Encourage villagers to wash cuts with soap and boiled water, and to see their closest clinic for medical treatment.

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Safety Cautions

  • Trek with Others: Never trek alone; if you run into trouble or take a tumble no one will know. Trekking with an agency assures the greatest security.
  • Security: Watch your gear carefully in lodges and on the trail. Don't be showy with expensive items, and always lock your room or baggage.
  • High Altitude Sickness: Find out more from your agent or the Himalayan Rescue Association (HRA) about this sickness and helicopter rescue options. Always register your trekking plans with your embassy, consulate or HRA. Beware of other trail hazards, watch where you are going and don't over-extend yourself.
  • Eating and Drinking: Never eat unpeeled fruit or vegetables unless you know they've been adequately soaked in solution. Drink only after water is boiled or iodized. Always wash your hands before eating.

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Related Topics
Traveler's Guide: Reference
Traveler's Guide: Legal Information
Traveler's Guide: Legal Information: Airport Customs
Traveler's Guide: Legal Information: Nepalese Legalese

Other Topics Viewed by Visitors to this page.
Nepal Information: Reference
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