Nepal ranks high on most adventurers’ bucket lists, and with good reason. Home to the magnificent Himalayas, Nepal reigns supreme when it comes to landscapes. Its world-famous trekking routes and national parks teem with vastly underrated wildlife. In its bustling market cities, cultures collide and living divinities hold court over ancient spiritualism.
If you’re lucky enough to make it here, you’ll want to bring home a keepsake or two to remind you of your once-in-a-lifetime trip. Whether you’re sifting through the stalls in Kathmandu’s Thamel neighbourhood, visiting Patan’s fair-trade shops or checking out the vendors in lakeside Pokhara, there’s a treasure trove of unique items to choose from. To help you return with the perfect memento, we’ve compiled a list of the best Nepal souvenirs.
Before you start browsing, keep these two small nuggets of advice in mind:
Tip 1: Don’t pay over the odds
Bargaining is commonplace in Nepal. Hone your haggling skills and aim for a 15 – 20% discount on your chosen Nepal souvenirs.
Tip 2: Avoid ‘antiques’
Unscrupulous vendors will often claim their wares as ancient, but this seldom rings true. And even if you do manage to find a bona fide piece of history, don’t be tempted to try and take it home. It’s illegal to bring antiques out of the country without a certificate of permission from the government.
Nepalese singing bowls are traditionally used during Buddhist meditation and prayer. Crafted from metal, they’re usually sold with by a wooden baton. When the baton is rubbed in a circular motion along the bowl’s rim, it produces a soothing ring that helps with meditation and is believed to have healing qualities. Bring back a bowlful of calm, or just a really fancy place to put your keys.
Thangkas are works of textile art with intricate details embroidered and painted in vibrant colours. The most opulent feature gold and silver threads and pigments made from ground up semi-precious stones. Thangkas depict important Buddhist stories and were originally created to instruct trainee monks and help with personal meditation. Depending on the size and detail, they can take up to 18 months to make.
These super soft shawls are made from a fine wool that’s taken from the undercoat of the Himalayan mountain goat. Woven on handlooms, they’re a traditional product of Kathmandu Valley. ‘Pashmina’ is a Persian word that means ‘soft gold’ but you can find them in all colours and lengths. To qualify as a real Pashmina, the fabric must be made from yarn with a 97% purity, so watch out for mixes that incorporate synthetic material.
Tea plantations flourish in Nepal’s hilly climate and you’ll find beautifully packaged envelopes of every leaf variety at any local bazaar. The usual flavours like Earl Grey, oolong and green are all well represented, but for something different try masala or the intriguing ‘silver’ or ‘gold tips’. If you want to recreate the sweet taste of Nepal back home, grab some chiya. This milk-based spiced tea is drunk throughout the day and beloved by pretty much all Nepalis.
Nepalese prayer flags or ‘dar cho’ are decorated with special mantras and words from sacred texts. Buddhists raise them in the hope of increasing the life, fortune, wealth and health of all sentient beings. When blown by the wind, they’re believed to create spiritual vibrations which release silent prayers of well-being up to the heavens.
Nepali silver has a reputation for quality. Head to Thamel, Kathmandu’s commercial district, to find silver of more than 92% sterling for a very reasonable price. Strands of bright beads also make thoroughly unique Nepal souvenirs. When Nepalese women get married, they adorn themselves with beaded necklaces and bracelets to signify their new state. From beads made of bodhi and rudraksha seeds to yak bone and blue lapis, there’s strands of every kind to choose from.
Handmade from rice husks, ‘lokta’ paper is a traditional Nepalese art form. Like thangka paintings, lokta began life as a way of recording religious stories. Today, it’s used to make a host of dainty, painted objects. Lokta paper lampshades, photo frames, diaries and notepads make great Nepal souvenirs. Be sure to wrap your purchase in a protective cover if you want it to stand a chance of making it home intact.
Traditionally carried by the Nepali Gurkha soldiers, Khukuri knives are presented as a token of love, respect and bravery. Versions of these exquisitely crafted knives are specifically made for the tourist market and commonly found at most bazaars. Check your airline’s policies in advance if you’re planning on taking one home.
Keen bring back your own memories from Nepal? Discover the treasures of the Himalayas for yourself on a Rough Guides tailor-made trip to Nepal.
Top image: Singing bowl © bondburn/Shutterstock