Shopping for Souvenirs in Kathmandu

       One of the joys of traveling to another country, especially one as exotic as Nepal, is the thrill of bringing home unique souvenirs of another culture, generally something that represents an authentic bit of the place we experienced. But how do you know what to look for? How do you know what you are bringing home is a genuine cultural piece and not just something the vendor whipped up to make a few quick rupees?

       Unfortunately, unless you are in a remote village or have an honest native guide, most of the pieces you find in tourist areas or on the street are not going to be the same as those used by locals. This doesn't mean they aren't regional products or not something a local would use, just that they are most likely cheap copies. You can combat this to some extent, if you are staying more than a few days, by trying to observe where the area's residents shop.

Ceremonial Tibetan Buddhist Paraphernalia at a Shop Frequented by Locals 

       Thamel is where most westerners seem to head, the neighborhood which gained popularity as the destination for hippies, musicians and artists. This is where you will be overwhelmed by tourist trinkets and the most over-anxious vendors who try to charm you into a purchase. Be wary and always bargain as hard as you are comfortable. Don't be embarrassed to walk away if a "deal" simply does not suit your budget or integrity. 

       In Boudhanath, a major Buddhist pilgrimage site, the community is a mix of different Nepalese ethnic groups and Tibetans. Good souvenir choices here include fabrics and Tibetan Buddhist artifacts ranging from jewelry to handheld prayer wheels to thangka tapestries and statues. Many items, including deity masks, furniture and tea services, are new but designed with aged, distressed finishes. Beware the shopkeeper who tries to sell you one of these pieces for an exorbitant price, claiming it is an authentic ancient artifact.

       Most travelers to Nepal and India have heard that they should bargain and barter. The general rule of thumb is to offer roughly half the original asking price and then be prepared to face a few counter offers. Even that might be more than what a savvy local would pay. Unless you are an expat living in the area long term, you are almost certain never to get a local price. Nonetheless, the price you get can be a great one. Just remember never to pay the original asking price or offer what you think a particular item might cost "at home"

Ghau Prayer Boxes and Other Jewelry Displayed Outside Shop in Boudhanath, Kathmandu, Nepal

Buddha Statues, Prayer Wheels and Trinkets Outside a Shop in Boudha District

       Try to visit areas away from the main tourist centers when bargain hunting. Backpackers guides often offer great tips on those locations. Shopkeepers in these locations are much more appreciative of extra business and less willing to lose a sale than vendors in the heavily tourist trafficked areas.

Incense Burners for Buddhist Offerings and Prayer Beads 
       A final tip: Head to the shops early in the morning, as soon as you notice they are open. It is considered bad luck for the day's business to lose the first customer of the day, so this is usually when you will find the best deals.  In my personal experience, if you are diligent, you may be able to get up to 400% off what the average tourist pays.