There are dozens of trekking routes across Nepal, but whichever route you are trekking, you should make an effort to do so respectfully. Not only will this reflect well on your own culture or nationality, but it shows consideration for the people and land that are hosting you. Trekking respectfully in Nepal can leave a positive cultural and economic impact. You may make lasting friends, or at the very least know that you made a good impression.
How to be a respectful trekker in Nepal?
There are many common-sense ways to be a respectful trekker, including following the leave no trace principles. It should go without saying that all trekkers should take out their trash. However, there are other aspects that might not be obvious to the novice trekker, or someone new to the region’s culture. Here are seven ways to be a more respectful trekker on your next trip to Nepal.
- Always let porters pass
Porters are the lifeblood of popular trekking routes. Many trekkers, especially those new to trekking or high altitudes, opt to have porters carry their packs for them. These porters are familiar with the routes, and you’ll see them bounding by (sometimes even in flip flops) carrying impossibly large loads with seemingly super-human powers.
Always, always, always let porters pass you. Do not even think of letting your ego get in the way. The porters are professionals, and much faster than you. It’s also their job to get trekkers’ packs to their lodging before they arrive, so help them do their job by making way for them. If you are on a crowded trail and hear a porter coming, call ahead to other trekkers so they know to make way.
The same principle should be followed for yaks, dzos, donkeys, and other animals on trekking routes. These animals are often used to carry food, materials, and goods up remote passes where there’s no vehicle access. For your own safety, always stand to the inside of the trail and let animals pass on the outside. In most cases, animals will wear bells that will warn you they’re coming. This is obviously a safety precaution, but it also shows respect to the local people and workers who use these paths to do their jobs, and supply their communities.
- Try less overpopulated alternatives to the Everest and Annapurna regions
People from all over the world flock to the Himalayas for iconic trekking routes like Everest Base Camp and Annapurna Circuit. Unfortunately, the popularity of these routes has led to major issues of overcrowding, littering, poor drinking water quality, and more. You might consider looking beyond these classic treks to less known alternatives. This is not only a positive for the environment, but can redistribute wealth to more remote regions. Routes like the Three Passes Trek offer equally stunning views to Everest Base Camp, and have far less crowding on the trails.
- Use an actual toilet, please
Speaking of drinking water quality, make an effort to use an actual toilet instead of the wilderness, whenever possible. Research shows open defecation along popular trails like EBC and ABC has a lasting negative impact on local drinking water quality. This can seriously damage the health of people who live in the region, and make trekkers sick as well.
Most of the popular trekking routes in Nepal have relatively frequently stationed teahouses or public restrooms. You may not be used to using squat toilets in your home country, but it is far more respectful (and sanitary) to use these instead of the woods. If you are trekking a remote route, you may not have access to facilities as frequently. If this is the case, learn the most hygienic way defecate outdoors.
- Use the traditional greeting
The traditional greeting in Nepal is namaste, with the hands pressed together upright in a prayer position. This is a friendly and respectful way to greet someone before beginning a conversation. Simply using namaste to greet trekking guides, porters, teahouse owners, or other people you meet along the trail will go a long way toward showing your respect. You can also say dhanyabaad, which means ‘thank you’ in Nepali. Each of these phrases is not only polite, but will show you are putting in effort to respect and share the local customs.
- Be aware of the correct etiquette around religious sites
Trekking routes in Nepal are often peppered with religious sites. So, even though you’re trekking in remote wilderness, there are some religious and cultural traditions you should be aware of.
For instance, the Sherpa people who live in the higher altitude eastern regions of Nepal are largely Buddhist. Trekkers will regularly pass Buddhist stupas or mani stones along the EBC trail. It is respectful to walk clockwise around these sites (even if that means you’re exhausted and have to walk the long way around). The same applies in other non-Sherpa areas where you find these Buddhist sites.
In other regions, you may find Hindu temples. You should always ask permission before entering if you are not Hindu yourself. Taking off your shoes, and pointing to religious sites with a flat hand (versus a pointed finger) is also respectful.
These are just a few things that will help you be a more respectful trekker in Nepal, for your own benefit and the benefit of the local people.
Article by Sarah Bence.