Nepal “abolished” the caste system in 1963, but millennia-old habits take time to change.
Though professions are changing and “love marriage” is more popular, caste and status still determine whom most Nepalis may (or must) marry, where they can live and who they can associate with.
When Nepali men bathe in public, they do it in their underwear, and women bathe underneath a (sarong). In Nepal, the forehead is regarded as the most sacred part of the body and it’s impolite to touch an adult Nepali’s head.
The feet are the most unclean part, so don’t put yours on chairs or tables, and when sitting, try not to point the soles of your feet at anyone.
The do’s and don’ts listed here are more flexible than they sound.
You’ll make gaffes all the time and Nepalis will rarely say anything. As a foreigner, you’re likely to be an object of curiosity, and you may be joined in the street or on the trail by someone who just wants to chat.
Nepalis will constantly be befriending you, wanting to exchange addresses, take photos and extract solemn promises that you will write to them.
Giving the Nepali greeting, (“I salute the god within you”), your palms held together as if praying, is one of the most attractive and addictive of Nepalese customs.
Wherever you travel you should be sensitive to minor caste restrictions: for example, you may not be allowed into the kitchen of a high-caste Hindu home. Meeting for the first time, Nepalis observe a ritual of asking each other’s name, home town and profession, which helps determine relative status and therefore the correct level of deference.
Girls in Kathmandu and Pokhara do wear shorts or short skirts, but this is relatively new and you run the risk of being seen as sexually available.
Generally, looking clean shows respect – and earns it.
Ungroomed travellers may find themselves treated with significantly less courtesy.
Only women with babies or small children bare their breasts.
Couples who cuddle or kiss in public will at best draw unwelcome attention.