I thought I would share some of the negative experiences I had as a foreigner while travelling throughout Nepal last year.
I feel sharing my experiences may help other foreigners to understand certain behaviours before they travel to Nepal.
Even though it’s common for many tourists to be overcharged and ripped off whilst travelling through Asia, I must admit it was pretty ludicrous in Nepal.
It first started on one of my first shopping trips to a scarf shop in Thamel.
The price the man gave me for a handmade shawl was around $30 AUD. I left the shop and told Rabindra the price outside.
Two minutes later Rabindra went in and the salesman offered it to Rabindra for $6 AUD. So I figured this is how it was going to roll in Nepal…but that wasn’t so bad.
This was virtually repeated during most of my 6-week trip to Nepal. I don’t mind paying extra to support small shop owners -and let’s face it our dollar is worth much more than the Nepali dollar- but it riled me up when I would have to wait and hide around a corner and get Rabindra to do the shopping for the stuff I wanted to buy.
It was also pretty ridiculous having to hide in a nearby shop or street when Rabindra or his brother were negotiating our taxi fare rate across Kathmandu. It seemed every single time they saw me the price would magically increase so to get a fair price I would have to hide somewhere away from the taxi, it was pretty stupid!
Another thing that annoyed me was the fact that entry prices to museums, parks etc had two prices- a local price and a foreigner price (which was usually 500% more than the local price).
Because I was travelling with locals, it was a bit different than if I was travelling with other tourists. We could go and pay the entry fee and it would end in a big argument with the guards because Rabindra tried to argue I was a local- even with my red hair and fair skin obvious to everyone!
The arguing was not all about money. It was a matter of principle. In fact, it was about equality.
Rabindra would say: “mero budi nepali ho,” “wahaako nepali passport ho” roughly translated to “my wife is a nepali”, “she has a nepali passport.”
The guard would look at us and refuse and more arguing would ensue (even one time we got pulled into a special room – gasp-). Eventually they would let me in on the cheaper price, mostly because of Rabindra being so tall and towering over the top of them!
The common situation was us rocking up together with mummy, dad, rabindra, rabindra’s bhai, didi, aunty and cousins all in tow and being told “that’s 50 rupees each – but hey—whose this foreigner? Let’s charge her 500 rupees!”
It’s pretty degrading to be singled out every single time and I got sick of preparing myself for another long argument of Rabindra v The Entry Guard at every new place we went.
It happened at the museum in Pokhara, the Mankanama Temple cable car, the elephant breeding park at Chitwan, the main entry of the Pashupatinath temple and a couple of other times.
But the next examples are even worse.
One day we went to Bhakatpur, and for those not familiar with Kathmandu- Bhakatpur is a public space in an outdoor area.
Yes, the area is heritage listed but it’s still a public place which has shops, temples and normal buildings around it.
To me, it was any normal, outdoor public place in Nepal. As we approached the entry in our vehicle, the guard saw everyone in our Jeep and thinking they were all Nepali, he started to wave us through without having to paying anything. But then he saw me in the back of the Jeep and asked the driver to stop.
He then told the driver it was free for all 7 Nepali people in our car but I would have to pay $30USD to enter a public place.
By this time, I’d really had enough. It was bad enough having to pay a different “foreigner” price at private companies but this was a public place and there was no cost for Nepalis.
For about 20 minutes my Nepali uncle (who is actually my friend’s father-in-law) argued with the guard about how discriminatory it was before I finally got let in at no charge.
He has travelled throughout Australia and other countries and said it was a disgrace that that happened to me.
But more discrimination was yet to come.
While I was in Nepal I rolled my ankle and had to get x-rays. Our friend went to a doctor’s practice in Pokhara and asked how much it was for an ankle x-ray to see if my foot was broken.
Our friend returned and told us the price and that he had booked an appointment for me in the afternoon.
When we went back that afternoon, the receptionist told me that an x-ray on my foot would be almost four times the price my friend was originally quoted.
Straight away we knew it was because they saw me and thought they would jack up the prices.
My friend had a boisterous argument with staff at the practice and roughly translated he said something like “She doesn’t have a f***** iron leg mate”!
Suffice to say it was a bit of a drama.
But actually my most negative experience that really made me upset was when I was refused from every Hindu temple I tried to enter.
It happened on three occasions- twice in Kathmandu and also in a very remote region of the Himalayas.
Before entering these temples, it never once crossed my mind or Rabindra’s mind, that I would not be allowed in.
When I went to enter the guard would tell us it was not their policy to allow foreigners (read: white people) inside temples.
I guess it’s because most of us ‘white’ people eat beef and cows are the Gods of Hindus. It may also be because many believe you are not a true Hindu unless you are born a Hindu, and you can’t convert to Hinduism.
It made me think about the many cross-cultural relationships in the world where one partner really respects and begins to follow their partner’s religion/culture. If you were serious about the religion and this happened to you, it could cause problems in your relationship.
It also made me think about the genuine ‘white’ Hindus who have converted to Hinduism and may practice the religion much stronger than other ‘brown-looking’ Nepalis.
What about if we have kids and they have white skin but they have been brought up as Hindu? I wonder what the guards would do then.
Anyway, the first time we went we didn’t want to make a scene so I just waited outside by myself while Rabindra and everyone else went inside. I wasn’t that affected by it.
The second time I could tell it really upset Rabindra. I was also sad and he only went inside for a minute or two before leaving and coming outside.
Rabindra confronted the guards on the second two times and made a very important point.
He said to the guards: “look at my face. How do you know I am not a Nepali Christian or a Muslim. You can’t tell by the look of my face just like you can’t tell by the look of her face what she is. How do you know I don’t eat beef?”
I was really proud of Rabindra for sticking up for me and he made a really strong point to both guards.
Yes, they don’t accept foreigners but why? Is it because we eat beef? Or is it because we have white skin even though Hinduism may be all we’ve ever followed.
The policy of rejecting foreigners is extremely flawed in Nepal. While I can understand them not wanting non-believers in their temples, people who ‘eat’ their Gods, their policy is blatantly racist as you can’t tell by the look of someone if they are of one religious persuasion or another. For all they knew, Rabindra could have been a beef-eating Christian!
The funny thing is that as a result of all that rejection in Hindu temples, I was whole-heartily welcomed in every Buddhist temple. Rabindra now jokes he is a Buddhist not a Hindu as it is a much more accepting religion, and I have to agree.
So, there you go, I experienced plenty of discrimination whilst in Nepal.
I made some poignant points to Rabindra and my other Nepali friends which I hope is shared amongst other Nepalis in the world.
- In Australia, Asians or other “foreigners” would never be singled out and expected to pay a separate, inflated price simply because of the colour of their skin. In Australia this would be called blatant racism.
- Public places in Australia (except for events that are held in public places) do not have a guard at the front picking and choosing who looks “Australian” and who does not. I have never ever heard of someone letting in Aussies for free and charging a price for different looking “Asians” , once again a case of racism.
- In Australia, whilst shopping in most stores, tourists will generally pay the exact same price as a local. No bargaining over here.
- And lastly, even whilst I am certainly not a religious Catholic by any means, no Catholic church would ever refuse any man or woman from entering their church (unless they were dangerous, drunk, violent etc)- no matter whether their skin was black, white, blue or green.
No double standards in that regard.
Can anyone related to my experiences?
Did you experience discrimination in Nepal, India or another country?
Do you think I’m overreacting to my experiences or should all tourists expect this when they travel through Asia?
Please share your thoughts here.