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Do's And Don'ts

Nepal's Culture is so astounding and surprising, that some tips for new visitors are sometimes necessary. 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 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. The sight of men holding hands is common, but men and women holding hands, and general acts of affection, are frowned upon. Ask for permission before taking pictures, specially inside holy shrines and temples.

Dos & Donts on the Trail:

In addition to the HW Code of Conduct there are lots of common sense lessons learned from years of trekking in the hills. Almost anyone who visits the Himalaya returns with a story of another tourist’s inappropriate behaviour or dress. To commit the occasional faux pas is inevitable when exploring foreign shores and local people will often make light of your indiscretion. However, taking advantage of traditional hospitality without understanding the implications, overt ostentation, disrespecting ceremonies or customs, and dressing inappropriately are all considerable insults and should be avoided at all costs. 

If you are unsure how to behave then follow the lead of a local, and if necessary ask questions. Everyone will understand that you are trying to do the right thing and you’ll be given all the support to participate in local lives to the fullest. This list of Do’s and Don’ts is by no means exhaustive, so please apply liberal amounts of common sense to your day.

1. Respect cultures and traditions
(a) Consideration  be a considerate guest at all times. Himalayan cultures are rich and diverse and can sometimes confuse a visitor but if you are friendly, approachable and consider those around you before yourself, you will always earn the respect of locals.
(b) Photos  ask before taking a photo, as many people prefer not to be photographed for personal, cultural or superstitious reasons.
(c) Gift giving  the complex patina of Nepali society sometimes calls for gift giving or making a donation; 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 you should 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. 
(d) Affection  do not show affection in public.
(e) Bathing  showing your genitalia when bathing is offensive. Use a sarong, modesty screen or shower tent and when visiting a hot spring try to behave modestly.

2. Benefit local communities, commercially and socially
(a) Share skills and experience  teach when you can, offer a fair rate of pay for services, participate in activities whenever invited.
(b) Do not publicly argue, drink excessively or fight. Demonstrations of anger are considered an embarrassing loss of face on your behalf.
(c) Begging  of all the negative impacts tourists have had in the Himalaya, the encouragement of begging along the trail is probably the most problematic. 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’.

3. Adopt new customs

(a) Clothing  do not wear tight or revealing clothing, especially if you are a woman. There is a firm dress code followed by all Himalayan women and is only not observed by the very poor or for special reasons. 

  • It is considered offensive to expose your knees, shoulders and chest at all times and especially in any place of worship. Unfortunately 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.
  • It is also considered offensive to highlight genitalia, so avoid wearing stretch or very tight clothing around the chest or groin area.

(b) Entering homes  it is critical that you wait to be invited into a home. The social systems that operate throughout much of the Himalaya prescribe a rigid hierarchy of which rooms you may or may not be allowed to enter, respect the wishes of the homeowner. The cooking-fire area is often sacred so always check if you can dispose of burnable rubbish before consigning it to the flames.
(c) Greetings  In India and Nepal people greet eat other with the traditional, ‘Namaste!’ Sometimes they will shake hands, especially if they are involved in the tourism sector or have retired from the Royal Gurkha Rifles, but in general you should avoid touching people, especially of the opposite gender. In Bhutan, ‘Kozu Zangpo La!’ with palms upturned is a traditional welcome. Wherever you are, a warm greeting or thanks, or taking a little time to play or practice English is always preferable to a short or quick reply. It will both build respect and relieve any stress you may feel from curious locals.
(d) Eating  do not use your left hand to eat or pass objects. Traditionally all Himalayan people eat only with the right hand, the left being considered unclean. Therefore pass foodstuffs to another person with your right hand and use your left as little as possible. You should also avoid touching the lip of a vessel to your mouth, just pour the drink into your mouth.
(e) Offering payment and/or gifts  it is respectful to use both hands, or with your right hand while touching your left hand to your right elbow.
(f) Language  learn some basic phrases and use them as often as possible.

4. Environment:
1. Tread softly  stick to trails and recognised camping areas. Avoid creating new tracks, or damaging the environment in any way. Follow the adage: take only photos, leave only footprints.
2. Pack it in, pack it out  avoid taking tins, glass, or plastic containers and bags unless you plan to carry them back to a major city. 

Cotton Rags 01-05 months
Paper 02-05 months
Orange Peel 06 months
Wool socks   01 to 05 years
Plastic bags 10 to 20 years
Leather shoes 25 to 40 years
Nylon fabric  30 to 40 years
Aluminium cans 80 to 100 years
Plastic bottles Forever

How long does it take to degrade? © WorldWise, Inc., Department WS, PO Box 3360, San Rafael, CA 94912-3360
3. Conserve water quality  wash away from water sources, and always use local toilet facilities when available. Bury all organic waste at least 30cm below the ground and 50m away from water sources.
4. Conserve natural resources  what few resources there are belong by right to the locals. Always ask permission before using anything along the trail. It is illegal to disturb wildlife, remove animals or plants, or buy wildlife products.

5. Safety:
1. Beware of altitude sickness  use the buddy system to watch for symptoms of altitude sickness. Make sure everyone remains fully hydrated by drinking water throughout the day, everyday. Stay together along the trail, and communicate frequently with everyone.
2. Be safe  carry an extensive first-aid kit and know how to use it. Have multiple plans for emergency evacuation and designated decision makers. Leave your itinerary details with someone responsible at home. 
3. Be self-reliant  don’t assume you will receive help or assistance. Ensure your group has extensive field-craft and navigation skills. Research thoroughly, is your route appropriate for your party? Do you have the necessary skills, experience, resources and equipment?
4. Remain hydrated  drinking between two and four litres of water per day will help prevent altitude sickness and improve your body’s recovery time.
5. Don’t rush  there are no prizes for coming first on the trail and rushing will probably over-stress your body and may increase your chances of suffering from altitude sickness. Frequent stops to drink water and rest often become photo opportunities and a chance to chat with locals.
6. Trekking poles  that more people aren’t impaled by absent-minded trekkers swinging their poles is amazing. Be aware of the pole tips, especially when crossing bridges or negotiating narrow or steep trails.
7. Beware of yaks  many porterage animals you meet along the trail are yaks or hybrids of yaks and cattle, and all of them can be dangerous. Every season at least one tourist will die because they got too close to the large horns or were knocked from a bridge. If you see any pack animals (even donkeys cause accidents) coming along the trail you should scramble up the hillside of the trail and wait until they pass.
8. iPod use  rather than listening to the noise of life along the trail some people prefer to plug in to an iPod. Doing so puts you at greater risk from animals and rock fall.
9. Common courtesy  the trail is often busy, especially at steep or difficult sections. A common courtesy is to give way to people walking up-hill, or to those who are obviously struggling or carrying a very large load.