After spending so long in Nepal, I’ve become increasingly aware of how little people seem to know about this country. To be fair, before coming here, I knew absolutely nothing. But, every once in a while, I get asked questions that make me burst out laughing. After getting some of these questions multiple times, I realized how many misconceptions there are about Nepal and the people here. So, here are some of my favorites…
You Can See Mt. Everest Everywhere
I definitely laughed out loud when I was sitting in Kathmandu, and a friend asked if I could see Mt. Everest from my hotel. Everest is huge! There’s no denying that. But, it’s part of the Himalayas, and it’s located in the Northeastern part of the country. Nepal is small, but it’s still the size of a U.S. state. No matter how tall something is, chances are you can’t see it from everywhere, especially when it’s surrounded by other mountains. In fact, you can’t even see Mt. Everest from Everest Base Camp.
No One Speaks English
I dated a guy in Nepal once, and a friend asked how we communicate. I didn’t understand the question at first, but later, I realized that she thought he couldn’t speak English. Out of all of the countries I’ve been to in Europe and Asia, Nepali people speak the most English. So much so, that sometimes I forget I’m in a foreign country. I have some Nepali friends who I’ve never actually heard speak Nepali. I’m currently the only foreigner at the gym I go to, and I assumed the class was taught in English for my benefit. One day, I watched another class with no foreigners, and it was also taught in English. In the schools here, there are eight subjects and seven of them are taught in English, the only exception being Nepali class.
A Sherpa is a Guide
I was definitely guilty of this misconception when I arrived. Every time I heard the word Sherpa, it was associated with a mountain guide. Truth is, Sherpa is an ethnic group. A large percentage of the indigenous group live in the mountainous regions of Nepal. Because of this, they helped early explorers climb the high altitude mountains that they called home. They’ve since become famous for their climbing skills. Anyone can become a mountain guide, but you need to be born a Sherpa.
If you want to know more about Sherpa’s check out my post on Sherpa Culture!
No One Eats Beef
In Hindu culture, a cow is considered a god, so Hindus do not kill cows or eat beef. I spent months in Nepal before realizing that this isn’t always true. Although the residents of small villages and older generations tend to stick to this rule, it seems younger generations and people from major cities aren’t as strict. A friend of mine worked in a McDonalds in Japan, and when I asked if it made him uncomfortable, he responded that he ate the burgers every day. A few Hindi friends have invited me to burger joints around Kathmandu and described beef as, “so tasty.” I’ve actually ate more beef with locals than with foreigners.
You’ll Eat Dal Baht All Day
Dal baht is a Nepali dish similar to an Indian thali. You get a big plate of rice, lentil soup, a vegetable curry, and sometimes if you’re lucky a green vegetable, pickles, yogurt, and papad. You always get free refills on the rice and lentil soup, although some restaurants will refill everything. Nepali people generally eat dal baht for lunch and dinner, so there is a running joke, “Dal baht power, 24 hour.” The misconception is that food choices are limited in Nepal. The reality is that in major cities you can get any type of cuisine you can dream of. There are amazing Vietnamese, Japanese, Mexican, Italian, and Israeli restaurants to name a few. Even on treks, you can order a myriad of dishes to please your palate.
Check out my post on the best restaurants in Kathmandu to see all the different options!
Everyone Lives Off the Grid
Pictures on blogs and in magazines always show villagers in small towns living simple lifestyles. We see these pictures a lot because it’s so different from our own culture, and we find that fascinating. What you don’t see are pictures of millennials who live in the cities hanging out at the club taking hundreds of selfies and posting them to Snapchat and Instagram. Sometimes I forget I’m in Kathmandu and think I’m back in New York City. There is electricity here. There is wifi and cell coverage. Everyone has a smart phone. In fact, most of my friends have two (a Nepali thing I still can’t explain).
“Wow, aren’t you afraid to travel by yourself there?” It’s the question I get asked the most back home. I always ask in return, “Why would I be afraid?” The answers vary a great deal. Some people are concerned about natural disasters since the earthquake that hit a few years ago was devastating. While earthquakes and landslides are a concern, we also have flooding, hurricanes, tornados, and earthquakes back in the U.S. Large earthquakes are highly unlikely and usually happen over 50 years apart.
The second answer actually upsets me a great deal. People never say what they really mean when they answer, but they always imply one of the following. I might get mugged, kidnapped, raped, or murdered. While all of these things are a possibility anywhere in the world, I’m a lot safer in Nepal than in New York City where I lived for eight years. No one ever asked me if I was afraid to live there by myself. Nepal is the second safest country I’ve ever been to. Singapore was the safest thus far.
Nepal is Part of India
This is basically like saying Mexico is part of the United States. It’s highly untrue, but a common misconception. Many tour companies sell Nepal/India packages which group the two together. Parts of India used to belong to Nepal which makes it a little confusing. The Indian government has also had a hand in Nepali politics for a while. In addition, the Hindu culture is strong in both countries followed by Buddhism. For people unfamiliar with Nepal, it’s an easy mistake for them to make, but Nepal is it’s own country and the locals will be very upset if you group them together with a country that they’ve had political problems with for years.
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Michelle Della Giovanna
Writer at Full Time Explorer
I’m just your average New Yorker who quit her job in the fashion industry to explore the world. Come find out what it’s like to trade in five-inch heels for squat toilets.