Kathmandu is a special place to visit and you will thoroughly enjoy going souvenir shopping there! Thamel is the central district where absolutely everything is on sale and for the last few years, it has been ‘car-free’ which makes things easier. There are beautiful hand made crafts at amazingly good prices and these can be found in the Fair Trade shops on Kupondole Hill on the way to Patan. There are several other Fair Trade shops to explore in Lazimpat in the north of the city.
The Labim Mall in Patan is very attractive, with five floors of retail space plus restaurants, a cinema and a rooftop terrace bar on level 3! In complete contrast, one of the best markets is Asan Tole and it is definitely the best place to buy spices. If you are interested in buying clothes, Pote and Raki bazaars in Indra Chouk have a good selection. Importantly, for those needing it, ‘The North Face’ trekking gear and other top brands can be found in Thamel, along with ‘Sonam’ – the best Nepalese brand.
Bargaining is acceptable in the markets and some smaller shops in Kathmandu, but interestingly, even if you are successful, you will only be able to get the price down by 10-20%. If you are looking to buy an expensive article such as a piece of jewelry, a pashmina or Tibetan carpet, it is well worth taking your time and shopping around until you find what you really want at a good price.
1. Choose a beautiful pashmina
Nepal has not been producing cashmere for many years but has already gained a reputation for the high quality of its scarves, shawls, and pashminas. The soft hair from the underside of mountain goats is used and is incredibly light and warm. There are a number of specialist shops in Kathmandu and it is a good idea to buy from these as it guarantees quality. The cashmere is often mixed with 30% silk to make it longer-lasting, but you will find many cheaper products that don’t feel quite so soft as they contain nylon. The pashminas are available in a rainbow of beautiful colors either plain or with all types of patterns.
If your budget does not stretch to cashmere, a great alternative is a yak wool shawl. These are easily bought, easily packed and are very cheap to buy!
2. Lovely jewelry
Silver is the most common precious metal and is really good quality as it is 92% sterling silver. Ready-made pieces can be easily bought or you can get your own unique design made by a craftsman. It is well worth checking the current cost of silver before you begin negotiations. If you prefer gold, there is a small goldsmith’s shop located between Thamel and Asan. There are many beautiful semi-precious stones for sale too, but if you do not know how to recognize good quality stones, take someone along who does.
Bead jewelry is very popular in Nepal as it signifies a woman’s marital status. All the tourist shops have a wide range to choose from but if you are wanting something truly authentic, it is worth visiting one of the bead specialists in the old shopping quarter in Asan. The shops are well worth seeing as they are filled with thousands of different strings of stones. If you prefer, you can buy the beads loose to make your own necklaces and
bracelets. If you are looking for an unusual piece of jewelry you will find some made from carved yak bone and also Bodhi and Rudraksha seeds.
3. Admire the brassware
The local brassware artisans can be found at work in Patan. They make a wide range of objects in both traditional and modern designs.
4. Treat yourself to a tuneful singing bowl
Singing bowls are musical instruments that have been used for centuries as a traditional method of healing. The small rounded bowl is made of metal including brass and has a short stumpy wooden stick that is rubbed around the outer edge quickly to make the sound. The bowls are heavy and are either plain or patterned and their cost varies depending on the metal used. The dull and unevenly shaped singing bowls are the best as they are usually handmade. The singing bowls make a variety of sounds, so it is well worth spending some time finding the one that sounds particularly melodious.
5. Buy a colorful Thanka
Thankas are beautiful hand paintings that are done on cotton or silk and portray scenes from Buddhist life. Thankas are important in Nepalese religious culture and are used both for meditation and festivals. They are rolled up so that they can be easily transported and they do make an unusual souvenir. The best quality Thankas are those painted on silk with the finest brush strokes.
It is possible to find Thankas that have been beautifully hand embroidered rather than painted. If you would like to see Thankas being painted by artisans, Durbar Square in Patan is the place to go. A Thanka with a complex design will not be cheap to buy because such a piece can take up to 18 months to complete. If you do buy a Thanka, make sure that you are given the certificate of authenticity showing the name of the craftsman and where the Thanka was made.
6. Invest in a gorgeous Tibetan carpet
Tibetan carpets and rugs are real works of art that are colorful and have intricate designs. The quality of the carpet varies, depending on the density of the threads. The Tibetan refugee camps in Kathmandu and Jawalakhel (Southern Patan) are good places to look for colorful hand-knotted Tibetan carpets to buy.
7. Select a traditional khukuri (kukri)
The khukuri is probably the best-known emblem of Nepal. The khukuri is a distinctive looking dagger with a curved blade that is still used by Nepalese Gurkha soldiers but is also found in most homes. The khukuri is used both as a weapon and for practical uses and is supplied with two small knives (chak mak) to help keep the blade razor-sharp. The hilt of the khukuri is decorated with a traditional design and the khukuri is kept in a
decorated leather case. It is said that every time the khukuri is removed from its case, that blood must be drawn.
Certainly, a beautiful khukuri makes a fine memento of your time spent in Kathmandu. They can be bought in souvenir shops, but for really good quality knives, visit one of the specialist shops. Do remember that your khukuri must be packed in hold luggage for your flight home.
8. Enjoy some Nepalese ‘chiya’
Tea is very important in Nepal and its crop is one of the highest quality teas in the world. To ensure that the tea you buy is really good, it is best to visit one of the specialist shops in Kathmandu, where you will have the chance to taste the tea first, or you can combine souvenir shopping with a visit to one of the country’s tea estates.
It is fun to take part in some tea tasting as the ‘first flush’ is made from young leaves and tastes lighter and more floral, whilst the ‘second flush’ is made from mature leaves and is much stronger and full-flavored. The tea is sold in beautiful presentation packets and varieties include oolong, Earl Grey, Ilam, and masala as well as golden and silver tip.
9. Smell the gorgeous herbs and spices
Nepalese food is full of flavor derived from the clever use of different herbs, so what better souvenir to take home than some of the fragrant herbs and spices? There are so many to choose from including ginger, coriander, cilantro (made from coriander leaves) timmur which is a Himalayan pepper, chili, and turmeric. The herbs and spices are so fresh they smell amazing and of course, they make the ideal gifts to take home as they are cheap and easy to pack!
10. Feel the softness of the lokta paper
Lokta paper is also called ‘rice paper’ as it produced from rice husks. The paper really is lovely to feel as it is so soft and smooth and perfect for a travel journal. Lokta paper can be bought made into notepads and writing pads as well as loose sheets and made into lovely little paper lanterns. Lokta paper is nice and easy to pack, but it is fragile and needs to be treated with care.