Mostly you will be doing your shopping in Thamel in Kathmandu or Lakeside in Pokhara. There are other shopping areas such as Durbar Marg or Baba Mahal Revisited that might attract you if you have time to visit them. These two areas provide you with upmarket (original) sportswear, jewellery and electronic shops, and unique gift and material shops, respectively.
In Thamel and Lakeside you will find that most shops sell the same things – trekking gear and clothing and souvenirs. The only thing we can say is, if you are after a higher priced article such as pashmina shawls, Tibetan carpets or local jewellery, take your time with your purchases and don’t feel pressured to buy something you are not really happy with.
While bargaining is normal in Nepal, don’t expect a huge discount – 10-20% is probably the norm. In any case, if the seller suddenly can drop 50% or more who wants to shop at a place which was trying to rip you off so much, right?
But be aware, with shops bulk buying they may now be available more cheaply in your hometown!
Beautiful handmade brassware is available in traditional and more modern styles. You can find many shops selling these articles in Patan, near Patan Durbar Square.
You will see people selling flutes or the traditional sarangi (small stringed instrument) in the street. They can be interesting talking pieces to take home.
Whether of Buddha or Hindu gods you can find statues in a range of materials from clay to brass and copper. It is unlikely you will be buying any antique piece (which is illegal anyway) so don’t be taken in if presented with a high price tag and told it is “original”. But do expect to pay for the workmanship.
Used in traditional healing methods, singing bowls are interesting souvenirs with a multitude of uses when you get home. Try out a few until you get a sound you like and again, expect to pay for the workmanship but don’t expect to be buying an ‘antique’.
A Thanka is a hand painting on cotton or silk, usually depicting a Buddhist deity, or a mandala. Traditionally they are kept unframed and rolled up when not on display. Originally intended for personal meditation or instruction for monastic students, they make beautiful gifts in memory of your holiday in Nepal. You can witness Thanka being painted around Patan Durbar Square.
Whether its silver jewellery, beads or semi-precious stones you can find it all in Thamel. Silver jewellery is usually easier to price (check the current price of silver or gold in the country in the newspaper and add in something for the craftsmanship and shopkeeper’s profit). You can buy something readymade or get something crafted which is uniquely yours.
Gold jewellery is less available in Thamel but just walk a little towards Ason to come across small goldsmiths. Bead jewellery can be found around Thamel in the shops catering for tourists or go to the old shopping quarter of Ason and look for local shops selling only thousands of strings of coloured beads (used by women to symbolize their married status).
Be a little careful when buying items with semi-precious stones in them. Unless you are an expert it will be very hard to know whether you are paying the correct price and getting what you think you are getting!
Yak Wool Shawls
Easy to carry, colourful and a versatile item for your home or as a gift, yak wool shawls are inexpensive and available at a wide range of shops and street markets.
There are many beautiful designs available at different prices (depending on the quality of the weave). Either shop in Thamel or ask your hotel to arrange for you to go to the Tibetan Refugee Camp (both in Pokhara and Kathmandu) where they make carpets.
Well the sellers have been chasing you around for days trying to sell it to you, so why not? This Vicks produce will be very handy when you are trekking to keep the cold at bay or when you develop a runny nose!
Tibetan Prayer Flags
The colourful flags that you see at Bouddha and other Buddhist shrines and at many other locations around the country are Tibetan prayer flags, or dar cho in Tibetan, meaning ‘dar’ to increase life, fortune, wealth and health, and ‘cho’ meaning all sentient beings.
You will notice they have different symbols and sacred text on them, which are then sent on the wind as prayers. They make a lovely gift to take home, particularly if you have the blessings of a Rinpoche. Or hang them in your garden to remind you of your trip.
This is the famous long knife used by the Nepalese Gurkha soldiers. But it is also commonly used in every village home in Nepal. These can be bought in specialized shops in Thamel and again make a good souvenir of your trip. Don’t forget to pack them in your hold luggage!