Fifteen out-of-the-ordinary gifts from Nepal Dec 21st 2016

are you the kind of traveler who hates the idea of a t-shirt that says “My parents visited Nepal and all I got was this lousy t-shirt?” or perhaps “Hard Rock Café Kathmandu”?

Got a singing bowl? how about a Thangka? a little golden figurine of Buddha? these are two items that seem to show up when everyone unpacks after their trip.

Video

Here is a short break taking you to a Himalayan Trek in Solu Khumbu, which by the way, I have never visited myself.

“Tokens of Love”

I happen to have those items and more, not because I bought them, but because people have gifted them to me. At the end of each class session we invariably have a ceremony in which I am given a “token of love.” Now, at this point I own about a dozen small Buddhas.

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The hospitality of Nepali people is legendary, and they are respectful of teachers due to Buddhist influence. So I get these “tokens of Love – after awhile they add up. I love this particular one – the class at GBCHH was memorable and fun.

I am  difficult to please in the Nepali scale of gift-giving. Actually, I’ve always been difficult to buy for – I don’t like clothes for example unless I pick them out myself. Frankly, I am the kind of person who enjoys books as a gift.

In the travel industry, people have made studies of the type of handicraft or souvenir that goes with different archetypes of travelers. For example, there is a specific sub-type of tourist who does in fact enjoy getting a Harley-Davidson logo item that might include the name of an “exotic” dealership – (“Harley-Davidson Waikiki” for example. Or a t-shirt from Super Bowl XVIII.  The Nepal equivalent would be a football shirt that says “Fly Emirates” I guess.

There is always a specific group of travelers who buy specific handicrafts. The handicrafts on display do not arrive there by accident.

First, India

When you take the Grand Tour of Rajasthan, the tourist people have it arranged so that when you hire a guide, the guide steers you to a specific shop that is making whichever handicraft is associated with that city or region. For example, in Aggra you are brought to a place where they do stone inlay work such as that found on the actual Taj Mahal.

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you’ll see this inlaid work on items in Thamel, but it’s from India. It is truly beautiful.

In Jaisalmer you get a class on those bedspreads made of eclectic quilted materials.

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In South Asia, the basic idea is, every handicraft is associated with a particular region or ethnic group. Here is an example of the kind of quilt they make in rural Rajasthan…..

In Jodhpur you get those moghul miniature paintings of the Kama Sutra. You get a class on the technique then an offer to buy items on a discount. When you get the backstory you end up learning how to appreciate the item you bought and you can practice what you will say when you show it to your friends back in USA.

Umm, those people with the Harley-Davidson logo? They are probably not visiting Nepal. Nepal has a high percentage of adventure tourists and vagabonds.

the top ten physical things people bring home?

  1. singing bowl
  2. thangka
  3. anything made with Pashmina.
  4. Buddha statues
  5. embroidered t-shirts (“Langtang trek”)
  6. diarrhea ( I suppose…)
  7. maybe a saree.
  8. a khukuri knife as made famous by the Gurkhas.
  9. little wooden picture frames carved in Newari style.
  10. prayer flags
  11. malla beads

as you see, these are ones I think of off the top of my head. I am not disputing the quality of pashmina or the singing bowls, I’m just saying these are what “everyone” gets.

Anyway, I tend to look for the less commercialized gift, or at least the one where the accompanying story needs to be as good as the item. Oh, and it needs to be inexpensive!

My turn to be “snooty”

I’m not better than others just because I like different stuff.

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I try very hard to de-clutter my life in USA, but I do like to have unusual items. I usually return home with

  1. those green beaded necklaces, called “potey” that you can find in the Indra Chowk bead bazaar. to find the bead bajaar, use these directions: http://wp.me/p3b3md-5b
  2. more puja posters to add to my collection. these are devotional items you can get for about 25 cents apiece, and they are often striking pieces of visual art

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    This is sample of a poster used for a home altar in Hinduism. Very colorful and intriguing. ah one illustrates some aspect of the Gods.

  3. various “paranda” – the hair tassels worn by many women, braided in as an extension ( see separate blog entry for this) http://wp.me/p1pDBL-Gz
  4. I have sometimes ordered “cholo” – those double-breasted blouses made of palpali dakka cloth worn by many of the locals. for that matter – anything made of Dakka! If you don’t know what Dakka is, is a sort of plaid. Usually hand-made on looms in Palpa district of west-central Nepal. Many patterns.

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    bolts of Dhaka cloth on display in a shop in Tansen, Nepal. To understand decorative arts in South Asia you must learn about textiles! a trip to Tansen is not complete without seeing the Dhaka factory there.

  5. haku patasi – the black-and-red saree worn by Newari women. These are made of Nepali-grown cotton. ( see separate blog entry http://wp.me/p3b3md-iW )
  6. there are a few shops that specialize in Hindu or Buddhist puja supplies esp those used by young girls at the time of  “Bel Wedding” or for kids having their rice-feeding ceremony.

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    This shop is located on the road from Ason Tole to Ratna park in Old Kathmandu. It specializes in Hindu religious items. If you are looking for an off-the-beaten path gift that will have a story to go with it, this is the place.

  7. In these places, each  item is a sort of cheap imitation version of adult jewelry. There is a beautiful traditional hair clip known as a “chandrama” and at some of the puja shops  you can get a fake one ( i.e., not solid gold) for 300 rupees. (in the picture at the top, the lady is wearing a chandrama in her hair). img_20160811_124436_hdr
  8. I bought a momo maker for a friend – about 800 rupees. I am partial to those teapots made of aluminum, and I plan to get one for myself next time. It brings back happy memories.

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    used to make momo. widely available.

  9. those saffron and orange cotton shawls used by the shiva devotees.
  10. I have bought several thangkas while there, but for these I choose the subject carefully to make sure the story is aligned with something in my life. for example, I have one depicting vajarayogini, because she is the patron deity of the heroine for my novel. I have one showing the Wheel of Life. And the biggest one, four foot by six foot, once hung in the lobby of a hotel and shows the mandala made up of all the significant religious locations of Nepal.
  11. I got some costume jewelry in the “Kandan” style for some friends. This is actually not Nepali but was popularized by Bollywood actress Aishwarya Rai in a movie and it’s a big hit. You can get these at Indra Chowk on the street that goes toward Basantapur.

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    okay, so it’s based on a Rajasthani design, not Nepali. But -it’s fun.

  12. at Boudha they play “Om Mane Padme Hum” on a continuous loop, pounding it into your brain. The CD is available for 500 rupees. https://youtu.be/gx1SrxDwxXo
  13. I was given a “madhubani” style painting while in Janakpur. This is a particular style associated with the Maithili ethnic group. It’s distinctive and wonderful. said to have inspired Picasso!

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    Madhubani painting on silk. This one depicts a wedding

  14. I own a conch shell, they kind used by sadhus or in front of funeral processions.
  15. in Terai there is a particular kind of shawl the men wear, hand-embroidered cotton.

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    you wouldn’t even notice this unless you already knew what it was. For many Hindu etivals, the kids act out the legend of one God or another. This crown would be worn by somebody impersonating Krshna. It cost $3 US.

  16. diarrhea (not limited to the unsophisticated traveler; discriminating travelers also acquire it, and just like with a tangible object, the story to accompany is often entertaining).
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    closeup of one of the manikins outside the Lagankhel shop. The “real” jewelry would be solid gold and $$$. this is an inexpensive alternative….

    As you can see, I gravitate to the offbeat. because I am given many “tokens of love” at the end of any given teaching session, I try to make sure people are told not to give me any item that contains glass or that can’t be crushed when it is shipped back to USA. That’s why textile items are so handy – they don’t break when you drop them!

    Most of the above items can be found in “Old Kathmandu” – the neighborhood of Ason Tole or Indra Chowk south of Thamel but north of Kathmandu Durbar Square.

    and of course a copy of the Nepal edition of my novel. Here is the back cover:

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    The back cover of the USA edition was a short synopsis. By the time we printed the Nepal edition, there were some reviews to quote and they were more colorful. In a bookstore, people make decisions to buy based on the first page and back cover, or so they say.

    I will edit this in future, hopefully to add pictures and also locations of some of these things ( I already posted blog entries about the Bead bajaar and where to get Haku Patasi).

    If you got this far, please feel free to add suggestions as to what exotic items you would bring back…… there are so many!

Haku Patasi is the name for the black-and-red sari of Newari women

 

I already own a singing bowl, all the Thangkas a man could ask for, and every small gift item you can think of. When I teach, the students give me these “tokens of love.” When I want to bring a present to my daughters, they expect something unusual. I can’t just send a postcard and call it good.

If you have visited Bhaktapur, surely you must have seen women wearing this outfit, even when they are just doing chores of daily life.

Or, perhaps just enjoy this video:

I wanted one. Not for myself. I wanted a special gift for people in my life. I’m very particular about things I bring back to USA. They can’t be run-of-the-mill souvenirs. Need to have some sort of provenance.

Here is another video. For this one the tune is a classic folk song; the visual component shows the weaving process for the Haku Patasi cloth. Simply wonderful!

 

The Newari-language name is “Haku Patasi.”

I never saw these for sale, so I asked around among my Nepali friends. They sent me to Ason, in the heart of Old Kathmandu south of Thamel. ( well, specifically, Indra Chowk).

Here is yet another video, the tune is titled Haku Patasi” – so – it’s nakkali!

What’s not to like? first, the woman shows classic Newari beauty. Next, the guy has a wonderful singing voice; finally, the scenes of Newari women’s culture are stunning.

I needed to ask around, but ultimately a guy brought me to this shop:

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The shop is on the second floor, the sign is below the one for Star Tailors

Typical of such shops, you can have a seat while they show you many samples from which to choose.

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The selection in this shop focuses on hand-woven items made of  Nepali-grown cotton. The fabric has a wonderful feel to it.

IMG_20160810_153417Note: the blue-and-white checkered cloth is for a lungi a man would wear. .The fruit-sellers with the bicycles full of bananas usually wear this. I always wondered where they got this – now I know! (600 rupees if you have to ask).

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And above, are some typical waistband cloths. If you are observant when you go out in the morning to buy vegetables, you will notice many of the women wear these.

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I also got the red and  white shawl to accompany the Haku Patasi, he showed me how they wrap it. here is first step.

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Turns out that Haku Patasi is just one of many Nepali textiles still in daily use in Nepal. You can get them all in the shop pictured above.

Here is video showing the above.

The Tour

I need to do a separate blog on the subject of Palpali Dhaka. Many shops at street level sell Dhaka, focus on Haku Patasi for now!

Below, is a ten-minute tour of items in the shop:

and the business card for this particular shop:

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He waved good bye from the window when I left.

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I recommend this place if you are looking for something that is closely tied to Newar culture. It’s common for young girls to have the child-sized version of the same outfit, and they sell these too, readymade. I did not photograph one, though I should have. They can help you order a “cholo,” the double-breasted jacket, in the traditional pattern.