The national drink is chiya (tea brewed with milk, sugar and spices; in the mountains it is salted with yak butter). Another popular mountain drink is chang (beer made from fermented barley, maize, rye or millet). Arak (potato alcohol) and raksi (wheat or rice spirit) are also drunk. Nepalese beer is available, as is good-quality local rum, vodka and gin. Local whisky is not so palatable, but imported varieties are widely available.
Nightlife : Kathmandu has a few cinemas featuring mainly Indian films. For Western films, see the programmes of the European and US cultural centres. Most people are asleep by 2200. Nightlife is fairly limited; a few temples and restaurants offer entertainment and some tourist hotels stage Nepalese folk dances and musical shows. There are casinos with baccarat, chemin de fer and roulette, open 24 hours a day, every day, at some five-star hotels in Kathmandu.
Shopping : There are bargains for those careful to avoid fakes and the badly made souvenirs sold by unscrupulous traders. Popular buys include locally made clothes such as lopsided topis (caps), knitted mittens and socks, Tibetan dresses, woven shawls, Tibetan multicoloured jackets and men’s diagonally fastened shirts; and pashmina (fine goat’s-wool blankets), khukri (the national knife), saranghi (a small, four-stringed viola played with a horse-hair bow), Tibetan tea bowls, papier mâché dance masks, Buddhist statuettes and filigree ornaments, bamboo flutes and other folk objects.
Shopping hours : Sun-Fri 1000-2000 (some shops stay open on Saturday and holidays).
Special Events : Nepalese festivals fall into several categories. Most are performed in honour of the gods and goddesses, some mark the seasons or agricultural cycles, and others are simply family celebrations. The usual form of celebration is to take ritual baths in rivers or lakes, visit temples to offer worship, and feasting and ritual fasting. The festivals in Kathmandu Valley are the most rich and spectacular. May 2003 sees the end of the year-long Mount Everest Golden Jubilee Celebrations, with outdoor events such as white water rafting, climbing, moutain biking etc. For a list of special events and festivals in Nepal, send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to the Embassy (see Contact Addresses section).
Social Conventions : As a foreign visitor, one must be careful to respect local customs in order not to cause offence. The following are some local conventions it is advisable to adhere to: never step over the feet of a person, always walk round; never offer food and drink which is ‘polluted’, in other words, food that you have tasted or bitten; never offer or accept anything with the left hand, use the right or both hands. It is rude to point at a person or statue with a finger (or even with a foot). Shoes and footwear should be removed when entering houses or shrines. Kitchens and eating areas of houses should also not be entered with footwear, as the hearth of a home is sacred. Do not stand in front of a person who is eating as this means your feet will be next to his food; squat or sit by his side. Local Chorten are built to pacify local demons or dead persons and should be passed by in a clockwise direction, as should temples; the earth and universe revolve in this direction. Small flat stones with inscriptions and supplications next to the Chorten should not be removed as souvenirs; this is considered sacrilege by the Nepalese. Avoid touching a Nepalese dressed all in white; his dress signifies a death in the family. Shaking hands is not a common form of greeting; the normal greeting is to press the palms together in a prayer-like gesture. A gift given to a host or hostess will probably be laid aside unopened; to open a parcel in the presence of a guest is considered uncivil. Casual wear is suitable except for the most formal meetings or social occasions. Bikinis, shorts, bare shoulders and backs may not be appreciated. Men only remove their shirts when bathing. Overt public displays of affection, especially near religious places, are inappropriate. Nepalese cities are generally safe, but take sensible precautions with personal possessions.
Ethics and Etiquette
Nepalis practice cultural etiquettes that may sometimes appear unusual to visitors. However, a handful of tips could acquaint visitors with these otherwise strange practices.
- The form of greeting in Nepal is 'namaste' performed by joining palms together.
- As a mark of respect Nepalis usually take off their shoes before entering someone's home, temple or stupa.
- Food or material that contains another's saliva is considered 'jutho' or impure.
- Touching something with feet or using left hand to give or take is considered offense among Nepalis.
- Women wearing skimpy outfits are frowned upon especially in the rural parts of the country.
- As a part of the tradition some Hindu temples do not allow westerners to enter.
- Leather articles are prohibited inside temple precinct.
- Walking around temples or stupas is traditionally done clockwise.
- To avoid conflict photography is carried out after receiving permission from the object or person.
- Public displays of affection between man and woman are scandalous.
- Nodding head and a slight dangling of head from left to right means 'Yes' while shaking head means a 'No.'