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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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:
  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


    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)
  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.


    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 )
  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.


    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.


    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.


    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.
  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!


    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.


    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).

    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:


    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!