Shopping in Katmandu
Souvenir Shopping in Kathmandu
Kathmandu is an interesting place to shop for souvenirs. Thamel is definitely the number one spot, and you’ll see a lot of interesting shops selling items ranging from Buddhist idols to madals, the traditional Nepali percussion instrument. Other shopping areas for souvenirs include Patan for metalwork, Durbar Marg for beads and antiques, and the outlying towns of Bhaktapur and Kirtipur for traditional handicraft.
Do remember that it is illegal to transport antiques without permission and endangered animal products from the country, so make sure you know what you’re buying. Here’s a list of a few interesting stuff you might want to pick up.
The khukuri is the traditional Nepali all purpose knife, used for chopping wood or chopping off heads in the battle fields. It is a curved blade with a thick spine, and has been made famous by the legendary bravery of the Gurkha soldiers. Now, it is available in various sizes and designs, but they can be simplified into three basic categories – the showpieces, which are intricately carved but made of inferior metal, the middle category, which can be put to light use, and the heavy duty workhorse, which can be used to chop up great chunks of meat, wood (though not recommended) and a goat or two. Ask the shopkeeper to show you the real deal, he’ll use the big one to chip away at the fragile showpiece versions.
Thankas are traditional Tibetan paintings of canvas, using real gold paint and ochre. They usually depict the Mandala or circle of life, or the unity of male and female energies in equilibrium. Original Thankas are expensive, due to the gold as well as the extreme details of the paintings. However, you can find cheaper versions of these masterpieces in the shops around Thamel. If you have the time, they will also frame your choice of Thangka in its traditional cloth frame. A great souvenir to hang in your wall back home or as a gift.
This one would be of interest to the ladies. Pashmina is the soft wool cultivated from the underbellies of the mountain goats of Tibet, and a thin pashmina shawl can be surprisingly warm. Shopkeepers will tell you that the finest pashmina, if wrapped around fertilized bird eggs, will provide enough heat for the eggs to hatch. I don’t know how much of that is actually true, but it certainly is entertaining. There are a variety of pashmina products available, from shawls to sweaters, but many have blends of silk or wool. Sorry, I don’t know how to tell if the pashmina you’re buying is genuine or not. The expensive one which says ‘100% pashmina’ on the tag is probably the best bet. Word of advice – shopkeepers will tell you to opt for a cheaper ‘water’ pashmina. These are not pashmina shawls, but made of ordinary wool.
Embroidered T – Shirts
These are a crowd favorite, being cheap and available in a variety of embroidery designs. Good gift items for a bunch of friends back home.
Singing bowls are another crowd favorite, being affordable and exotic at the same time. This is a carved metal bowl with a wooden ladle, which when you rub around the rim of the bowl produces a pleasant ringing sound. Try it with water in the bowl and see ripples with the sound.
If you’ve been in Nepal long enough, you’ll have seen Tibetan monks walking around with their prayer wheels turning constantly. Prayer wheels have mantras etched on them, and a spin of the wheel is equivalent to an utterance of the mantra. Another great item for a gift or your collection.
Nepalese woolen carpets are exported to many countries in the west, most notably to Germany. They are appreciated for their designs and their warmth. The fineness of a carpet is measured by the number of knots per square inch of carpet. The higher the number of knots, the finer the carpet. Ask the shopkeeper to help out with cargo arrangements to your destination.
You can find a lot of masks around the Basantapur area. These masks usually depict demons of the spirit world, and are used to habituate us to their sights so our spirit does not get afraid of seeing them after we die. If true, it would definitely be a worthwhile investment.
Wood carvings of intricate windows are also popular purchase items. These are usually used as show pieces in living rooms.
Tea and Coffee
Nepal has traditionally been very popular for tea, and is gaining ground over the Darjeeling varieties due to the younger age of the Nepalese tea plantations. Coffee is the dark horse, slowly making its mark felt in the world of coffee aficionados across the world. It is the highest grown organic coffee in the world, and is rapidly gaining ground in the Japanese and European markets as a specialty coffee.
Shopping for Clothes
The situation will probably not arise, but if you’re stuck in Kathmandu with nothing to wear, you can easily head over to the fashionable parts of town and pick out some nifty outfits for yourself. Durbar Marg, a short walk away from Thamel, is the high street shopping capital in Kathmandu for the latest fashion. It boasts of a collection exclusive branded outlets competing with cheaper knock offs. Be prepared to pay hefty prices if you’re shopping in Durbar Marg. If you’re larger than the average Nepali, sizes might be a slight problem.
If expensive haute couture is not your style, head down to the rather pompously named UWTC shopping center (stands for United World Trade Center) here, you’re more likely to find cheaper stuff, but decent quality. It’ll definitely get you through your vacation and more!!
Bargaining in Nepal
As a rule, bargaining always works in Nepal. Just remember the basic rules of bargaining – always smile, keep up the bon homie, and if it looks like you’re pushing too much, back off.
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