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Nepali Culture, Language and Religion

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Language, Religion and Culture of Nepal

One of the biggest joys of travel is experiencing a different culture, but it’s always a good idea to have some idea of what to expect before you head off. As with most countries, Nepal has its own unique customs and ways of behaving, some of which might seem strange to you at first.

Whilst Nepalis are unlikely to take offence to a minor faux-pas, they’ll always appreciate when someone makes the effort to understand and respect their way of life.

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What language is spoken in Nepal?

The national language is Nepalese, and all Nepalis can communicate with each other using this language. However, there are actually over 120 different languages spoken in Nepal, covering various regions, communities and ethnic groups. 

Do people speak English in Nepal?

English is the most commonly spoken international language in Nepal, and you’ll find that many younger Nepalis or those working in tourism will speak excellent English.

Amongst older generations and some rural communities, English is less common, and you may have to rely on smiles and hand gestures to communicate.

A nice smile will get you a long way in Nepal!

What is the religion of Nepal?

The majority of people in Nepal are Hindus, but Buddhism is also followed and has an important place in the country’s history and culture. Hinduism and Buddhism are closely connected, and it would take a lifetime to fully understand the complexities of Nepal’s religious life.

There are also minority groups who follow Islam, Kiratism, Sikhism and Christianity in parts of the country.

Visiting temples and stupas

Religion is an integral part of Nepalese life, and you’ll see temples, shrines and sacred artwork almost everywhere you go. You should show respect for the rules of their faith, especially when visiting temples and stupas.

  • Some sites may be prohibited for non-Hindus
  • Shoes should be removed at most temples and stupas
  • It is better to dress modestly and not show too much when visiting religious sites. Bare shoulders, backs or midriffs will not be appreciated, and sleeveless tops, short skirts and small shorts or pants are also likely to cause offence.
  • You should walk around clockwise when visiting temples or stupas
  • Don’t touch people or offerings on their way to a shrine
  • Cows are sacred in Nepal, so you should leave any leather products at home

Cultural Differences

From basic table manners to meeting and greeting people, every culture has its own quirks. Here are a few things to look out for;

  • If somebody says “Namaste” to you, you should return the favour – it is used as a friendly greeting in Nepal.
  • Nepalese women don’t normally shake hands, so don’t be offended if you handshake is refused! Usually, they’ll greet people by pressing palms together in a prayer-like gesture.
  • Nepalese table manners are likely to be quite different to what you’re used to. Often, you’ll see people eating only with their hand (sometimes with great enthusiasm!)
  • Knives, forks and spoons are provided for guests, and you’ll cause no offence by using them. 
  • If you do want to join in and eat with your hands, make sure you use your right hand!! In Nepalese culture, your left hand is reserved for bathroom matters…
  • It can cause great offence if you offer a Nepali food which has already been touched, even if only by your cutlery
  • It is considered rude to touch an adult Nepali’s head, as it is considered the most sacred part of the body
  • Conversely, feet are considered unclean, so you should avoid putting your feet up on tables and chairs, and don’t point the soles of your shoes at anyone.

Staying out of trouble

  • Drug crimes carry heavy punishments in Nepal, so it’s best to avoid drugs altogether during your stay
  • Along with revealing clothes, public displays of affection are frowned upon in Nepal casino, and will draw unwanted attention. Holding hands is very normal between Nepalese men, but less so between couples.
  • You’ll see stray dogs throughout Nepal. Most are friendly and mean no harm, but you should act confidently around them and avoid giving them food. They’ll probably follow you all the way home if you do!
  • Potholes are quite common in Nepalese roads and pavements, so watch your step, especially at night.
  • Sadly, you’ll come across many beggars in Nepal, and not all of them are honest. Please be wary of giving them anything, since it creates an unhelpful culture and could be a scam

There are numerous homeless charities, such as ROKPA and Habitat, who do amazing work in our country. If you’d like to help, we’d recommend contributing to an organisation that’ll ensure that your money is wisely spent.

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