30 interesting facts about Nepal that I wish I knew before traveling to Nepal
The best way I can describe Nepal is a place that offers an explosion of contrasts between the overwhelming chaos in the cities and the peaceful mountains. If you are thinking about visiting, these 30 interesting facts about Nepal culture is all that you need to know before you traveling to Nepal.
Nepal is a land full of centuries-old culture, customs, and gestures, influenced by the high altitudes of the Himalayas and the prevalence of Hinduism and Buddhism. The land of mountains, Sherpas, yaks, temples, stupas, beautiful countryside, prayer flags and prayer wheels, and cultural influence from neighboring countries such as India and Tibet.
This combination can make Nepal a tricky and complex country to navigate. It can cause a culture shock if you are not prepared and understand some of the basic etiquettes.
I have a confession to make, and as always, I want to be very honest about my own experiences. I have traveled to more than 40 countries and I have never felt a culture shock like I felt while traveling in Nepal.
Even though I had done my research before my trip, I learned a majority of the interesting facts about Nepal while traveling around the country for 30 days. It is important to be mindful of how to act, and it will end up being a quick learning curve while you adapt to a new culture.
Interesting Facts about Nepal for Travelers
1- Most important fact about Nepal: Be Prepared for the High Altitude
This is number one on my list if you plan to travel to Nepal. You may or may not feel the effects of the elevation, especially if you are hiking the Himalayas. Every person is different. Nepal offers AMAZING options for mountain activities since it is home for 8 of the top 10 tallest mountains in the world.
Altitude sickness can occur at lower elevations, including Kathmandu. It is important to know the signs and symptoms as well as what to do if you start feeling ill.
Dica da Paula: I have prepared a guide on how to Hike on high altitudes that may help you avoid the symptoms of altitude sickness, especially if you are hiking or trekking in Nepal.
2- Hire a guide in Nepal - Especially if you go trekking in Nepal
Look at me, a person who never uses a tour guide giving this type of advice. But I figured out that having a guide is the best way to travel in Nepal.
First of all, you are not going to want to drive in Nepal. I have driven in many countries, but I had no desire to take the challenge in Nepal. The city traffic is insane and the “highways” are extremely dangerous. You can try to take a local bus if you can figure them out, or hire a cab. Hiring a cab will most likely require your negotiation skills for a fair price. With a guide, you will not only have an expert showing you around, it will also include transportation and it will be more time effective and stress free.
Secondly, if you are planning to go hiking or trekking in Nepal, you will need a guide as they will plan, make arrangements with your accommodation, food, hiking permit, etc. and help you with whatever you may need during your hike, including your health and safety (see point #1).
Dica da Paula: I recommend Epic Adventures Nepal as my experience with them was fantastic and very authentic. During the high season, it is not uncommon for the lodges to fill up. The last thing you want at the end of a long day of hiking is to be told there is no room at the inn. A good guide takes care of all that!
3 - Should I hire a Porter while hiking in Nepal?
If you are planning to go trekking in Nepal you may have that question. I was there too, and the idea of paying someone to carry my belongings did not seem ethical and made me feel like a terrible person.
I learned that one of the best things that tourists can do is to hire a porter. Why? First of all because they need this job and it provides income for themselves and their families. By hiring a Porter, you are powering the local economy and providing much needed income. It is absolutely ethical, and rather than feel guilty, I felt so happy to be able to help one family!
Second, you get the benefit of an incredible cultural interaction. If you are booking your trek through a tour operator make sure you do your research to ensure they do it ethically and treat the porters well.
Dica da Paula: If you are planning to go trekking in Nepal, read my guide on Everything you need to know before you hire a Porter.
4- What time is it in Nepal?
Now we are talking about a fun and very interesting fact about Nepal. I was surprised, and also confused to find out about the time zone in Nepal. Nepal is close to India, which has:30 minutes time zone. Nepal is officially 5:45 hours ahead of the UTC and 10:45 ahead of EST.
5- Wear face mask while traveling in Nepal
I knew I should have used a sanitary mask after reading so many blogs about it. This was one of my biggest mistakes, and guess what? Of course, I got very sick. If I can give you some friendly advice: PLEASE WEAR A FACE MASK WHILE TRAVELING IN NEPAL.
The capital, Kathmandu is known for very poor air quality. Why? The Himalayas trap humidity north of Nepal. This makes Nepal very arid during certain parts of the year.
With the lack of rain, the topsoil becomes a very fine dust. You will find this dust everywhere, and wind and traffic throw dust in the air. During the dry season, there is no escaping it. Even in Kathmandu, there are many dirt roads and alleys. Outside of the metropolitan areas, you will be hard-pressed to find pavement.
6- Cars do not stop! Be careful crossing the streets in Nepal
What list of interesting facts about Nepal would be complete without a mention of the traffic? The traffic in Kathmandu is insane, even more so than other countries in South East Asia. Nepal does not have traffic lights or traffic signs (Stop, Yield, Speed Limit, etc.) and it has very few pedestrian crossing lines. Cars and motorbikes come and go from everywhere, so be careful and just go with the flow.
7- Dress in layers while traveling in Nepal
Your experience may vary with the weather, but I found it helpful to dress in layers. Even though the forecast is generally correct, sometimes Nepal weather can still be unpredictable and it’s convenient to add or remove layers as necessary.
8- They speak Nepali and English is the second language
Nepali is the official language in Nepal, but you will find that many people speak English. They teach English at school. You can, and should, have a conversation with the kids, as they will appreciate a chance to practice their English with foreigners.
9- Don't drink tap water in Nepal
This is another safety related interesting fact about Nepal. The tap water and river water is unsafe to drink and visitors have a choice between bottled water, purification tablets, or boiled water. Alternatively, you can bring a filtration device with you. This is an interesting fact about Nepal that you will want to remember.
On a trek, you will not have access to bottled water. In an effort to reduce trash and pollution in its most precious resource (the Himalayas), bottled water has been banned. At lodges along the route, you will be able to buy liters of boiled water. Bring a hydration pack or bottles to fill up. The higher you go up the mountain, the higher the price gets for boiled water (up to 200 rupees per liter).
10- Squat toilets in Nepal
While some Western style hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions have western toilets, do not expect to find Western bathrooms everywhere.
At the rural areas, they will take a cold shower outside their houses using a faucet with water coming from the mountains, and the bathroom will be outside the house, with the old “squat style” hole in the ground. That bucket of water in the outhouse is to pour in after use to “flush”.
Dica da Paula: Always remember to carry with you your own toilet paper or tissues, and hand sanitizer while traveling in Nepal
11- The fun fact about the electricity in Nepal
Be prepared to experience frequent power outages in Nepal, sometimes multiple times per day. It is normal (in Nepal). To try to understand, just look up at one of the electrical lines and you will understand it.
Dica da Paula: I encourage you to carry a small pocket size flashlight if you are traveling in Nepal, it will be handy!
Interesting Facts about Nepal Culture
12- Namaste, Nepal
You will use a lot of “Namaste” to greet people in Nepal- it involves placing your palms together in a prayer style in front of your chin and saying “Namaste”.
Namaste is used as “Hello”, “Thank you” and “Good-bye”. Literally translated, it means, “I bow to the divine in you”. Very beautiful!
13- Etiquete if you are invited to a Nepali house
A couple of quick notes if you get lucky enough to be invited to a Nepali home. First of all, remember to remove your shoes before entering the house. If you are sharing a meal, remember to wash your hands and mouth prior to starting your meal. Wait for the host to serve you and do not use your own spoon or fork to serve yourself.
Lastly, enjoy the atmosphere and experience. Ask your host questions, they love to explain their life and customs.
14 - The interesting fact about the Nepal flag
Another interesting fact about Nepal is that the National flag is the only flag in the world that is not rectangular or square. The Himalayan mountains are symbolized by two rectangles with the sun and moon inside.
Nepalis are very proud of their flag, and while traveling in Nepal you will see them displayed almost everywhere.
15- Red is the most popular color for women in Nepal
While traveling in Nepal, you will notice that most women wear red color.
Red is generally taken to be the color of life, of the glowing sun and of passion. Married women in Nepal, therefore, are encouraged to wear dresses of red colors or other hues close to the color.
I didn’t need many days in Nepal to realize that red is very popular for women. I asked my guide and he explained that the first time a woman in Nepal wears red clothes is for her wedding day. Red is a sign of purity, dignity and honor. The color is especially meaningful for married women as the red sari and other adornments visibly convey their cherished status. When a woman becomes a widow, she dresses in other colors, except red.
16- Another fun interesting fact about Nepal, is that Saturday is the only resting day
Nepal has a 6 day work week, and Saturday is the only reserved rest day in the week. That is when you will notice that the streets, temples, markets, parks, etc. are busier, with the locals enjoying their only free day.
Sunday is a normal day in Nepal, and I found it was interesting to see kids going to school in their uniforms.
17- The National food of Nepal is...
Nepal has a big variety of dishes, from popular Nepali dishes to some international ones. The most typical Nepali dish is Dal Bhat. Dal is lentils and Bhat is steamed rice. The dish also includes curry vegetables. The rest of the ingredients can vary depending on the region or what fresh vegetables are available. There are many variations on this staple dish.
If you are very hungry and think that your plate doesn’t have enough food, don’t worry, they will continue to “refill” your Dal Bhat as long as you have an appetite. Dal Bhat is the most economical dish you can order in Nepal…you will never leave hungry! Nepalis typically eat Dal Bhat at least twice per day.
“Dal Bhat power; 24 hours!”
18- Nepalis eat with their hands and drink without their lips touching the bottle
You will notice that Nepali people do not use a fork or spoon, especially when they are eating Dal Bhat (lentils and rice – the national dish). When I asked about it, I was given a very meaningful explanation that first, you need to feel the food you will eat with your hands. This communion with the food as an experience was very profound.
Nepalis normally share a bottle of water at the table. When drinking from the bottle, they don’t touch their lips on the bottle. Rather they pour the water into their mouths so that others can drink from the same bottle.
19- It takes a long time to prepare the food in Nepal
Forget about fast food. One of the amazing facts about Nepal is that they cook everything fresh!
From the rice to noodles, to your vegetables, everything from scratch, which is great. Pressure cookers are very popular, and you will notice the pressure on them as soon as they receive your order in the kitchen. Once a meal is finished it’s brought out instead of waiting for the entire table’s food.
20- Nepali people are so welcoming
Nepali people may not have a lot, but they will share whatever they have with you. They will take you to their house and offer you the best seat at the table. They will serve you the first plate of food. They will make you feel welcome, and they are very proud of their culture and country, sharing any story they have with you.
21- Nepali people do not complaint
It is true! I noticed that Nepali people don’t complain. It is not because they don’t have any problems, or life is easy. It is just a cultural thing. They don’t complain.
It was a very humble experience for me to see the effects of the 2015 earthquake that destroyed so many lives, houses, and historical buildings. They are still working hard to recover. They still show the remains of the buildings, but without adding any complaint about it. Kathmandu is dirty and polluted, but they will proudly show you the beauty behind the chaos. In rural villages, life is not easy and they live with very little, but they will share the little they have with you. You won’t hear about problems, but just comments about how great Nepal is, and how grateful they are.
Read More: During my 30 days in Nepal, I had the opportunity to visit a very remote Rural Village in the Himalaya, read about my Homestay experience in Nepal.
Interesting Facts about Nepal Religion
Dica da Paula: Because religion in Nepal is very important and complex, I have included a whole session to help you to understand some facts about the religion in Nepal, that I wish I knew before my trip.
22- Religious practices and beliefs are among the most interesting facts abouts Nepal
One of the amazing facts about Nepal, is that it is definitely a very religious country, and trying to understand the religion in Nepal during your vacation can nearly be a mission impossible.
According to a 2011 census Hinduism is the primary religion of Nepal, and approximately 81% of the Nepalese people identified themselves as Hindu. 11% of Nepal’s population practice Buddhism. Many Nepalis follow Buddhism and Hinduism together due to the existence of religious tolerance, and a person can follow Hinduism and Buddhism at the same time.
I had several conversations with my guides about religion, and every time I would have more questions than answers. It was amazing! Ask questions, listen to the explanations and try to digest everything.
23- The Living Goddess in Nepal - Kumari
This was one of the most interesting facts about Nepal that I’ve learned during my visit in Kathmandu. Kumari is one of the icons of Nepal – she is a young girl who is believed to be a living goddess and the incarnation of the demon-slaying Hindu goddess Durga. Dating back at least to the Middle Ages, the cult of the Kumari is popular among both Hindus and Nepalese Buddhists
There are 11 Kumaris across Nepal, but the Kumari Devi in Kathmandu is the most important. She makes appearances at her house, Kumari Ghar, in Durbar Square from 10 AM to 12 PM and late afternoon. The Kumari’s feet cannot touch the ground; a Kumari holds her position until she hits puberty; there is a festival every year to honor her; and if you happen to see her while visiting the Ghar, you’ll be blessed with luck.
24- The intriguing fact of the Prayer Wheels in Nepal
You will definitely see the prayer wheels while you are visiting Nepal. They are cylindrical objects found in front of the Buddhist temples and stupas, inscribed with the mantra ”Om Mani Padme Hum” (typically in Sanskrit).
People will walk and spin the wheels clockwise to initiate the mantra. The meaning is to help balance karma when you spin them, earn merit for your next life, and release the mantras for the benefit of all beings as they are carried in the air.
25- You cannot enter all temples in Nepal
This is a very interesting fact about Nepal that is so important to know before you visit.
Unlike temples and pagodas you visit in other countries in South East Asia, not all temples in Nepal are free to access for tourists. Some Hindu temples only allow Hindus to enter, and some parts of the Buddhist temples are reserved for special occasions only.
26- Holy Cow!
Another fascinating fact about the religion in Nepal. Be prepared to see cows on the streets, and not on the menu. In Hinduism, cows are thought to be sacred and are deeply respected.
They are held in high esteem and Hindus, especially in Nepal, worship cows during Tihar. This represents the main teaching of Hinduism, which is do no harm to an animal (ahimsa). Cows also represents butter (ghee) and strength. It is very common to see people approach a cow, touch it and then touch their own head to receive a blessing.
27- A sacred place in Nepal can be Temples or Mountains
As I mentioned, Hinduism is the prevalent religion in Nepal. For this reason, entering a Hindu site wearing anything made of animal byproduct and shoes, like leather, is considered a sacrilege.
While I was trekking in Nepal, the night before I made the final ascent I was asked to get rid of any snacks made of animal source, because I was about to enter a sacred area of the mountains where they never eat animals.
Time to get rid of all that beef jerky!
28- Walk clockwise at the Buddhist temples in Nepal
One of the amazing facts about the religion in Nepal is that the act of walking around sacred areas, clockwise, is called circumambulation.
Buddhists believe that objects that need to be venerated, such as a stupa, a Bodhi tree (where Buddha once attained enlightenment), or any Buddha image need to be circled around three or more times as an act of respect.
Going clockwise is a symbolic gesture of following the life of Buddha – east for his birth, south for his enlightenment, west for setting in motion the wheel of Dharma, and north for his liberation. In other words, it is the right life path.
29- What is the meaning of Om Mani Padme Hum
It is guaranteed that you will hear the chant “Om Mani Padme Hum” while traveling in Nepal.
This chant helps you cleanse your body, mind, and spirit from negative thoughts so you can receive positive ones. These words are written on paper many times and rolled inside the prayer wheels. Each clockwise revolution of the prayer wheels is a recitation of the multiple times “Om Mani Padme Hum” is written on the paper inside.
30- Prayer Flags in Nepal
During your travels in Nepal, you will observe the multicolored flags waiving with the wind when walking around the streets or temples in Nepal.
They are the traditional Tibetan prayer flags with 5 colors and representations of the five elements and are inscribed with prayers– blue for the sky, white for the wind, red for the fire, green for the water and yellow symbolizes earth. As the wind passes over the flags, the mantras are activated and the air carries the benefits to all beings.
Travel Essentials for Nepal
Now that you know all the interesting facts about Nepal travel, and you are ready to face this amazing and rich culture, it is time to start to prepare for your trip to Nepal. I have some very handy information to help you to make the most of your trip to Nepal:
- Nepal Travel Planning: Start with this step-by-step guide with all you need to know before you traveling to Nepal.
- Vaccines & Meds: The best resource is to use the travel guides on the CDC website to research recommended medications and vaccine for international trips.
- Trekking in Nepal: Nepal is huge for trekking and hiking. If you are planning to go hiking in Nepal, check my Hiking Preparation Guide before you go. You will appreciate me later!
- Travel Responsible: Always follow a responsible guideline for travelers.
- Group Tours: A great place to search for best tour available to your next destination and what I use and recommend is GetYourGuide, they have awesome options.
- Tenha Seguro Viagem: I always buy travel insurance for my international trips. I strongly recommend World Nomads. This is the most reliable source, and you will be surprise how little it can cost, for all the benefits it covers. You can do a quick quote by yourself.
- Acomodações: Nepal has great options for boutique hotels at the cities, and I use and recommend Booking.com to find the best options, and I just love the flexible cancellation policy too.