8 ways to look like a local in Nepal

Published: May 23, 2024

Nepal, and Kathmandu in particular, can be a real tourist trap. This isn’t a recent revelation for me; however, it was certainly put into sharp relief during my parents recent visit.

Upon their arrival in Tribhuvan International Airport an official porter helped them with their bags. Now these porters are suppose to be official airport porters, yet they demanded a $10 tip (1000 rupees) for their service.

8 ways to look like a local in Nepal

1. Dress like a local. 

You could go all out and adopt a Kurta Salwar (Typical South Asian dress of a long tunic top with loose fitting pants). I never went this far in Nepal, and instead preferred to match a kurta top with leggings (as is fashionable for lots of the young Nepali women).

Attempting to dress like a local isn’t always easy. You have to spend money on news clothing. Also it’s not always comfortable wearing a new kind of outfit. The loose pants are far too awkward for me, however the kurta are comfortable especially during the hot summer.  

So if you don’t want to wear traditional clothes just look around and see what type of western get-up the locals are wearing and go with that.

Then there are other extremely typical local fashion trends you could copy and you’ll fit right in. Wear a facemask. They are not only a fashion statement but a necessity if you are going to living in Kathmandu long term and want to attempt to minimize long term damage to your respiratory system. You can also buy some really cute face masks. If I was living here permanently it’d be difficult not to own serval to match with my outfit. Or you can get a colour that makes your eyes pop. I currently own a black mask and a navy blue mask with white polka dots.

If you really want to go local match a pair of socks with a pair of shoes you’d never dear to wear socks with when you are at home. 

There is also the typical Nepali style of wrapping your scarf over your hair. This one is great because it also hides the fact you are white. Try pairing a scarf with a face mask, it’s not only fashionable but you’ll hardly even have any white skin or blonde hair exposed.

2. Wear high heels. 

So this is practically the same as my post before but specific to shoes. Wear shoes that look smart. People always say you can tell a lot about someone from their shoes. Honestly, I never ever look at other people’s shoes. However, apparently some people do dedicate time to looking at and judging others based on what shoes they are wearing. If you are wearing obviously comfortable (and extremely practical for the state of Nepali road) shoes you will look like a tourist. 

So the reason I said high heels specially is that they not only look nice, but you have to be a Kathmandu pro to actually walk through the rubble that is considered to street in some parts of the city.

3. Keep yourself clean, presentable, and put together. 

It’s always tempting when you travel, especially in places like Nepal and India, to put aside your make-up and luxuries when you travel.

Talking of baths, it really is difficult to find a hot shower when you are Nepal. I know this was one of the things my family struggle most with coping with in Nepal. Load-shedding means that hot water tanks often go unheated. Some hotels and homes have solar heating on their water, however solar heated water is best in the afternoon and cold the rest of the day.

Don’t not wash!!! It’s very common to meet tourists who forego washing all together because of the difficulty of finding a hot shower, or concern to save water

You’ll be able to shower easily and quickly, a cold shower will be less painful (and you’ll save what hot water you have, if you have any!), and you will be saving water. Every bathroom in Nepal (and India) has a small plastic cup somewhere inside it, learn to use it (it took me months to master how to take a bucket shower. I think I should write a post on bucket showering also). 

So things might not be up to the standard they are at home, just learn how to get around it and cope and keep yourself looking nice.

4. Know how much things cost. 

This is an obvious one, and goes for traveling anywhere in the world. If you know how much something is suppose to cost before trying to buy it, you’ll look like you know what you are doing and not be messed with.

5. Talk Nepali. 

Easier said than done. However, learning the basics has really helped me to fit in. These days I know enough to get a taxi and do my shopping in Nepali (if you want to save money in Kathmandu these are the two times you are most likely to be ripped off).

Here are a few words and phrases I commonly use in Kathmandu:

Hello                                                                       Namaste
My name is [Eleanor]                                             mero naam Eleanor ho
I’m from New Zealand                                           mero desko naam New Zealand ho
Do you have [insert what you want here]?             [what you want] chha?
Can you take me to [insert place name]?                [place name] jaani ho?
how much?                                                             kati rupiya?
that’s expensive!                                                     mahango Chha!
Tasty                                                                      mitho chha
good                                                                       ramro chha
ok                                                                           teek chha
thankyou                                                                dhanyabad

6. Find yourself some Nepali friends. 

This is probably the most fail-safe way to look like a local in Kathmandu / Nepal. If you are out numbered by Nepali people, then people will automatically assume that you live here (If white people outnumber Nepali people then they assume you are a group with a tour guide). Also Nepali friends are great for bargaining and helping you to get discounts! 

7. Don’t shop or eat in tourist areas. 

The reason behind this is obvious. If you are in an area that is not a tourist destination and you don’t look lost or like you just got off a bus that took you to a totally different part of town to what you were expecting (this really has happened to me more than once in Kathmandu), you will look like you live here. 

It’s uncommon, but not unheard of, to see white people in the area of Kathmandu where I live and work (although I’ve seen white people, other than myself, around this area a few times). Nobody ever rips me off in the shops, and the restaurants are much cheaper than in the tourist area (although their hygiene is questionable). 

The same principle applies to taking public transport. If you are doing something  tourists don’t normally do or are somewhere far from tourists, people will assume you know what you are doing and where you are going. 

8. Walk with confidence.

Someone wisely told me that you and go anywhere and do anything you want in life if you walk with confidence.

So if you have been staying in Nepal for 1 day or 1 year, don’t be afraid to be confident. If someone is ripping you off, just walk away from them. Don’t let a taxi driver convince you that it’s going to cost 600 rupees to drive you from Thamel to Kathmandu Durbar Square. If you don’t want to pay for a guide, walk with purpose and prove to them that you know where you’re going.

If you act like you belong, then nobody will question it.

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