The community of Panauti would have remained just another village at the foothills of the Himalayas if we’d simply continued driving along the main road out of Kathmandu. If we hadn’t made a left turn that would slow us down in Panauti for the next five days, I never would have had such a life-changing first-hand immersion into the culture of Nepal.
I never would have met Shila, who welcomed me with a smile and necklace made of flowers, or my “host mom,” Sabita, who took me into her home on top of a hill with sweeping views of Nepal’s glistening rice paddies. I never would have had the opportunity to go calf-deep into those very same paddies to work with Shila and Sabita’s families.
The locals I met in Nepal became, in a sense, my extended family. Travel connects you to a place in a way that changes you forever. Here are five reasons why living like a local in Nepal in particular is one of the best ways to explore this fascinating country:
1. You gain more understanding of the place you’re visiting
One of my most memorable experiences in Nepal was waking up early one morning in Panauti to trudge through a rice paddy alongside Sabita, when she and her family were planting rice (this is a significant source of income for Sabita’s family, and many others).
It’s one thing to see beautiful rolling hills carved with undulating, lush, green paddies from scenic vantage points; it’s another to roll up your pants and work in them.
When it comes to fostering cultural understanding, the old adage “walk a mile in someone else's shoes” often rings true — it often deepens empathy, and respect.
2. You form deeper personal connections
Acknowledging our shared humanity — no matter where we’re from — is one of the greatest, most transformative benefits to travel. In Nepal, I was able to connect with people I might have otherwise never met, and — despite language and cultural barriers — these connections were powerful enough to have had a lasting impact.
3. You get invited to private events
Nothing beats an unexpected party. We arrived into Panauti right in the middle of a community Newari wedding, and, during our time in Panauti, we also attended a Newari feast featuring dishes such as beaten rice, buffalo meat, and pickled tomatoes. All downed with Raksi, a strong distilled Nepali whiskey made from rice or millet.
4. You support local empowerment projects
The main reason the community of Panauti launched its wonderful homestay initiative was to help empower its women. By hosting travellers in their homes, this allows them to be financially independent from their spouses as well as graciously allows us into their everyday lives.
5. You make room for serendipity
When you slow down, you make room for spontaneity.
Crashing weddings and hiking through corn fields, bumming rides on the back of a pickup truck, navigating local traffic on a public bus, cooking Nepali meals, learning how to properly tie colorful saris, visiting schools and monasteries, and trudging through paddies to plant rice — all of these experiences provided a sense of connection, collaboration and cultural understanding that was unparalleled by any tourist-stop visit.
Want to live like a local in Nepal? Check out our Local Living Nepal tour here.