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Sherpa Customs and Etiquette

By Mountain Kingdoms in Ask an Expert, The Himalaya - 13th June 2013

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"Namche Bazaar" © 2008 kkcondon, used under a Creative Commons Attribution license

As regular readers of our blog will know, we've featured a number of different aspects of the fascinating cultures of the Himalaya, from Himalayan festivals to legends of the Himalaya, and everything in between. In doing so, we hope that anyone, no matter where they are in the world, can learn something about the peoples of this incredible mountain range - and that trekkers arrive primed with cultural understanding of the land that they are exploring. For those making an Everest Base Camp trek, it is useful to know a little of the Sherpa customs - simple to learn, but a great mark of respect that travellers can display in return for the famous Sherpa hospitality. Read on for two key pieces of etiquette. 

On the Everest Base Camp trek route, you will see walls or piles of stones with symbols carved into them - these are Mani stones, which carry special religious significance, and should only be passed with your right side facing them. When visiting temples or monasteries, remember that stupas should only be circumambulated in a clockwise direction.

There are some important things to know for anyone who is invited into a Sherpa home during their trek to Base Camp or beyond. General deference to your host will go a long way, but one key thing to remember is that the household hearth is not just functional: it is the heart of the home, and has long been held sacred, so nothing should be thrown into it.

Additionally, as there are many places in the mountains - both natural and constructed, including the mountains themselves - that are considered sacred, knowing how to display due respect is useful. The great peaks of the regions are believed to be the homes of gods, so treating the landscape conscientiously is not only an environmental consideration but a cultural one, too.

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