Apart from being a country of beautiful mountains, serene greenery, world heritage sites, religious temples, amazing food and sweet people, Nepal is also a paradise for international visitors who want to indulge in a shopping spree.
Items like small yet beautiful jewellery pieces to huge showpieces, a wide variety of souvenirs can be purchased here. Nepal’s streets equally welcome the big-budget travellers and those who want to collect cost-friendly souvenirs.
Below are some of the many budget souvenirs that can be purchased in Nepal. The prices range these starts at USD 10 and can be purchased in Kathmandu, Pokhara and Chitwan.
A singing bowl, popularly known as the Tibetan Singing bowl or Himalayan bowl, produces a soothing sound. They are made of different metals like brass, zinc, iron, copper, tin, silver, gold or nickel and come with a wooden mallet.
Hit the bowl with a mallet first and then firmly press it on the outer rim of the singing bowl while making a circular motion. Doing so creates a continuous ringing sound and the resonance keeps on even after lifting the mallet. It is believed that the therapeutic sounds of singing bowls can be used to realign all the chakras of a human body.
There are 9 different types of singing bowls commonly found. They are Thadobati, Jambati, Naga, Mani, Ultabati, Manipuri, Lingam, Remuna, and Crystal singing bowls. Singing bowls made of different metals produce different notes of sound. Some people also fill the singing bowl with water to produce different therapeutic sounds.
Singing bowls make for valuable souvenirs, especially for people who are into meditation and chakra healing. The price for these starts at USD 10.
Khukuri is the national weapon of Nepal. The sharp edge of the Khukuri proved to be lethal for enemies when Gurkha soldiers used it on the battlefields, because of which it is also called the “Gurkha Knife”. Khukuri makes for an apt souvenir from Nepal as it signifies the strength and pride of Nepalese Gurkha soldiers.
The recurve in Khukuri makes it an ideal choice for chopping woods, cutting meats and vegetables, slaughtering animals, etc or it can simply be placed as a showpiece at one’s house when not using it. This antique-looking weapon not only adds intensity to the interiors of a house but also makes for a good conversation starter during get-togethers.
Basic small size khukuri can be purchased for 10 US dollars whereas the big royal ones are priced a bit on the higher end.
Lokta Paper, The Nepal Kagaz
Lokta Paper, the Nepali Kagaz is a handmade paper made out of the plant ‘Lokta’. It is quite durable for it is resistant to water, humidity, mildew, and tearing, unlike normal paper and they are not easily damaged by insects like paper crawlers or silverfish either.
The content written on Lokta paper can survive for millennia and is still in use for documenting the official government recordings. Various ancient religious Nepali texts are also written on Lokta papers. The earliest surviving Lokta paper document is Karanya Buha Sutra (sacred Buddhist text) which was written some 1000 years ago and is still preserved in the National Archives Museum.
Lokta papers made from the Lokta plant, known as “Daphne Bhoula” or “Daphne Papyracea”(scientific name) are eco friendly. These plants are cut 30 cm above the ground just like sugarcane for paper production. They then grow back naturally therefore their capability of regenerating don’t affect the forest ecosystem when cut.
The two sides of Lokta sheets are differently textured. One side of it is smooth whereas another side is rough. When manufacturing Lokta papers, one side of the sheet is spread with fibrous barks of Lokta bushes and as these sheets are sun-dried, the side which faces the sun develops a rough texture. Thus, every Lokta paper has a unique pattern.
Apart from being used just as writings papers, they are also used to make carry bags, gift boxes, and wedding invitation cards. Lokta paper diaries or calendars make useful souvenirs for people who love writing or journaling.
Prayer flags often seen fluttering around monasteries or holy places are one of the perfect budget souvenirs. Sacred texts and symbols are inscribed in prayer flags and the most common image on it is Lungta, ‘Wind Horse’. In Tibetan mythology, it is believed that a wind horse carries prayers at the speed of the wind and the energy of the horse to heaven.
Prayer flags are usually hung in a way that they can sway with the wind. A widely held belief is that when the wind blows fluttering prayer flags, the energy of the inscriptions on prayer flags gets activated and radiates peace in the environment. Thus, prayer flags are hung at places of worship, lakes, streams, hills etc. The fading colour of prayer flags is auspicious too because it implies that the prayers have travelled with the wind. Some people also burn old prayer flags so that the prayers inscribed in it is released with smoke carries blessings to heaven.
The 5 colours of the prayer flags signify the five elements of the earth. The blue colour of the prayer flag represents heaven sky, the white represents air, the red represents fire, the green represents water and the yellow represents earth. Together, the 5 represent balance.
There are horizontal and vertical prayer flags. In Tibetan, the vertical prayer flags are known as ‘Dar Cho’ where Dar means to increase life, fortune and health and Cho represents sentient beings.
One should be careful when hanging a prayer flag and ensure that they never touch the ground because it is regarded as disrespectful. Prayer flags make for the perfect present for loved ones since it signifies good luck when received as a gift.
The climate and geography of the hills of Nepal provide an excellent environment for tea cultivation.
People who travel to Nepal often get addicted to the tasty tea commonly drunk nationwide. One way to introduce the flavours of Nepal to people living abroad is to carry local tea leaves as a souvenir.
Varieties like ‘Silver-tip tea’, ‘Golden tip tea’, ‘Earl Grey’, ‘Oolong’ and ‘Green tea’ are all available at the shops that specialise in tea. Even the ‘Masala tea’ of Nepal is gaining popularity among those who love strong flavours.
Muda (मुडा) is a handwoven wicker Nepali stool. This authentic piece of furniture can be found in almost every Nepalese household. What makes the Nepali Muda special is that it provides a comfortable seating option while also adding beauty to the interiors of any room.
Various local Nepali brands like the ‘Tyre Treasures’ manufacture Muda these days and they can easily be purchased online too.
The main Dhaka product is ‘Dhaka Topi’, the men’s cap made out of Dhaka fabric. Nepali men wear them during national and international formal events, weddings and other important celebrations.
Dhaka Topi like any hat has a circular bottom and has a height of 3 to 4 inches. It is an emblem of what the mountains of Nepal look like after ice melts. Originally the Dhaka muslin was imported from Bangladesh. Later on, with the development of various handlooms in the Palpa, western Nepal, authentic Dhaka production started there.
Dhaka weaving style is so intricate that no two Dhaka designs resemble. Every clothing pattern of Dhaka is distinctive. The trick to distinguish a fake Dhaka product from an original one is to examine the backside of the fabric. If the backside of Dhaka fabric has floating yarns going from one pattern to another, it is an original Dhaka woven in handlooms of Palpa.
King Mahendra of Nepal in the 70s declared Dhaka topi as Nepal’s National Cap and a symbol of Nepali identity. Chef Santosh Shah, the runner up of MasterChef Professionals 2020 also wore Dhaka Topi at the finale.
Since Dhaka Topi symbolizes the country’s mountains it makes for a wonderful Nepali souvenir. Not just Dhaka Topis, many other Dhaka products like blouses, women tunics, shawls, vest coats, handkerchiefs, purses, ties, table mats, bags etc make perfect souvenirs.
The Irish cricketer, Kevin O’Brien was spotted flaunting the Dhaka Topi during his Nepal visit. The Bollywood actors like Amitabh Bachchan, Anupam Kher, Boman Irani were also seen donning it.
Nepali Silver is famous for its purity and so are silver jewellery statements for gifting. Multicoloured beads ornaments and Rudraksha (stonefruits) garland are very popular amongst Hindu visitors. One could also buy bead necklaces of bodhi, blue lapsi, yak bones, etc. commonly found in Nepal. Potey, the traditional Nepali hand-sewn glass beads necklaces could be an apt budget souvenir.
Various home decor items are made of metals like copper, bronze and brass in Nepal. Metal items like karuwa (water jars), anti (alcohol pitcher), sukunda (oil lamps) are generously available in the market. They can easily add beauty to the interiors of a home giving it a rich lavish look at affordable prices. These worthy souvenirs are loved by visitors.
Silver utensils can make for good souvenirs gifts too as artistic silver utensils have a very royal look but they could come at higher prices than the aforementioned metal ones.
Handmade wooden crafts make for aesthetic showpieces.
Wood carving has been a part of Nepali heritage and architecture for centuries. The three beautiful Durbar Squares of Kathmandu valley, also enlisted in UNESCO World Heritage Sites are incredible examples of wood carvings.
The Newars of Kathmandu Valley are impeccable wood crafters. To preserve their culture, they have been passing this craftmanship from generation to generation. Wood carvings are such an intricate part of the Newar culture, that their language has specific terms for every detail of the craft. The oldest wood carving of Nepal dates back to 1396, found in Indreshvar Mahadev Temple of Panauti town, which is 34 kms (21.1 miles) outside of Kathmandu.
Wooden Sculptures of deities, demons, animals, religious symbols, lattice doors and windows are some of the wide varieties of wood carvings that can be bought at any wallet size.
Hemp is the fibre extracted from the stem of a cannabis plant. The Himalayas of Nepal is an abundant source of hemp. Handwoven hemp bags and backpacks have gained popularity as they are fashionable and versatile. Products from the hemp fibre are durable making it a worthwhile purchase. Hemp products can be easily purchased from Thamel in Kathmandu or from Lakeside in Pokhara and are heavily sought after by international visitors.
Bagh Chal Gameboard
Bagh Chal is a board game like Chess that originated in Nepal. This board game requires the use of wit, rationality and is very interesting to play. This classic game allows 2 players. It requires a physical board with 5 x 5 points connected orthogonally to form a grid. There are 4 tiger pieces and 20 goat pieces in this game where tigers are supposed to engulf the goats whereas the goats are supposed to block the tigers’ movements. A very simple board game, the Bagh Chal makes for a good souvenir for intellectuals.
Masks and Statues
Masks and statues are some of the most demanded souvenirs from Nepal.
There are two types of masks – tribal masks and classical masks. Tribal masks represent shaman masks. They belong to ethnic groups like Gurung, Rai, Magar, Tharu etc. and are often used for purposes like healing, oracle augury and even for life crisis initiations. They are also used during festivals and ceremonies dedicated to ancestors.
Similarly, classical masks are related to Hindu and Buddhist Gods and Goddesses and can never represent the ancestors or dead people like Tribal masks do. It is crucial to follow rules and prescriptions mentioned in local manuals of iconography when making classical masks. It is believed that breaking the rules can lead the mask of a deity to turn into a demonic force. These masks have a third eye on their foreheads represented by a mark or by ornaments like earrings, crowns, hairnets or hair bands. Classic masks are made of clay mixed with cotton and a gum-like paste of wheat flour and are lifeless until they are consecrated for religious activities. These masks are worn to dance the “Lakhey Dance” during many religious processions.
But of course, the classical masks on sale are never consecrated and are free of any powers mentioned above and are solely made for selling. Therefore they make for unique souvenirs to carry back home. People interested in spirits and energy often purchase tribal masks. Prices can go from USD 8 to USD 500.
Pottery items have been a part of Nepali culture for the longest time. It is estimated that the oldest record of Pottery comes from Lumbini from some 2600 years back. Potteries are common in Nepali households, especially clay water pots that keep the water cold.
Ceramic products are made out of a special black clay known as Dyo Chya in the local language. Only the Newar potters, Prajapatis, the masters of the art of pottery making, have the authority to dig earth for black clay in Nepal. The digging of this clay is a risky task yet the potters do it because the products made from black clay make stylish decor pieces.
Keeping in mind the preferences of international visitors, potters these days form various statues and fancy decor items. Clay Products made here are high in-demand worldwide and are exported in large quantities. So, purchasing these products as souvenirs at a bargain is a good idea!
Handknitted yak and sheep wool products like socks, sweaters, caps and gloves can be abundantly found in the market.
Hand-knitted bamboo straw shoes called “shu ya lakkan”, where shu means ‘straw’ and lakkan means ‘shoes’ are found in Nepal. The Newars of the Khokhana village, 10.7 km away from Kathmandu specialize in making shu ya lakkan. These shoes are mandatorily worn during death rituals as they are considered pure. Besides, they are also generally worn as in-house shoes especially lactating mothers post-delivery. These hand-knitted shoes can be taken as souvenirs and they are sure to grab various compliments!
Mithila and Other Paintings
Mithila painting is an art form made by Maithali women of the Mithila/Janakpur region of Nepal. Janakpur holds a special place in Hinduism since it is the birthplace of Goddess Sita from the great Indian sub-continent epic Ramayana. A depiction of Mithila art can be seen in Ramayana where King Janak of Janakpur invited various artists to decorate his kingdom with paintings for his daughter Sita’s wedding. That is how Mithila Art came into existence.
The skills of Mithila paintings have been passed down over generations, especially amongst Maithali women. They paint decorative motifs on the exterior house walls hence calling it the Mithila Art. Artists from other communities (also men) are now drawn to Mithila paintings and their mediums now are papers, canvases, clothes, and even leather products making the art accessible for a larger group of people.
Bright colours like white, red, yellow and black are sourced from natural resources to make Mithila paintings. The painting is done with fingers, twigs, brushes, nib-pens, and matchsticks. Eye-catching geometrical patterns are an important component of the painting. The paintings demonstrate humans and their association with nature. Thus, the sun, moon, and plants that have a high significance in Hinduism like Tulasi (Holy Basil or Ocimum tenuiflorum) are usually drawn as a part of Mithila Art. Some Mithila arts display scenes from holy books, mythological events and various Hindu deities. One distinguishing feature about Mithila art is that it is all filled with drawings of various animals, birds or geometric designs and not a dot space of the canvas is left blank.
Mithila paintings look attractive and are splendid souvenirs. Apart from Mithila paintings. many oil and watercolour paintings of the Himalayas, people, temples and Durbar squares made by local artists can also be taken back as souvenirs from Nepal.
Felt is made of wool fibres or animal hair condensed and pressed together. It is produced without any form of spinning, knitting or weaving. Felt products are best used in the extreme cold season. Thus, for international visitors from cold countries, felt products can be a good go-to option. Numerous felt products like bags, purses, slippers, mats, decorative items, accessories and even carpets are available in the Nepalese market.
Nepal is a paradise for music lovers because a wide range of musical instruments can be purchased from Nepal. The instrument of classical nature that represents the Nepali folk culture is Panchey Baja. Panchey Baja is a set of five musical instruments played especially for celebrations and includes Jhyamta/Jhurma (cymbal), Nagara/Damaha (drum), Tyamko (small kettledrum), Sanai (a kind of clarinet) and Narsinga (a trumpet). It’s best to buy the whole set of Panchey Baja at once but just picking one instrument at a time is also fine.
Other musical instruments like Madal (hand drum), Bansuri (flute), Sarangi (a form of chordophone played by bowing), Murchunga (a jaw harp), Dhimay (a small drum), Jhyali (cymbals), Tungna (a form of chordophone played by plucking), Khainjadi (tambourine), Dholak (two-headed hand drum), Dhyangre (a frame drum), Pungi (snake charmer’s flute), Sankha (Conch shell), Yalamber, Ekatara (one-string chordophone), Urni (one-string fiddle), Masak (single-reed bagpipe), Dakari (six-stringed instrument) make special Nepali souvenirs.
Being a multiethnic country, Nepal has a variety of cultural dresses that are now becoming popular in the International market too.
Chaubandi Cholo, is a traditional double-breasted wrap-around woman blouse. It can be paired with a wrap skirt called fariya or saree.
Haku Patasi is a black saree with red bottom borders worn by women of the Newar community.
Chhuba, the traditional dress of the Sherpa community, is a robe worn with a belt. It is made of fabrics like wool or Chinese brocade.
Daura Suruwal is the national dress of Nepali men. Daura is a variant of tunic or kurta worn as a shirt and Suruwal is the trouser. The ensemble is completed with a vest coat, coat and Nepali Dhaka Topi.
These cultural dresses and many others like the one in the photo above of Gurungs can be purchased as keepsake reminders of Nepal’s beautiful cultural diversity. Apart from these cultural dresses, various cotton garments exclusively made in Nepal can also be purchased from brands like JuJu Wears.
Prayer wheels are also called Mani wheels by Tibetans. These wheels are hollow and cylindrical in shape and are made of metals, woods or stones and are placed upon a metal or wooden rod/stick. These wheels have the mantra ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ inscribed on them in the Tibetan script that translates to “The jewel in the lotus” which means that through practice and wisdom, humans can move their body, speech and mind from being impure to purity just like a lotus which grows from the mud. It is believed that spinning a prayer wheel leads to the repetition of the mantra which is regarded as powerful in Buddhism because all the Buddhist teachings are condensed in it. The mantra invokes attention and the gift of compassion.
Prayer wheels can be easily found in areas around stupas or monasteries. Small prayer wheels are found in various forms like pendants, small lockets, frames etc. and are suitable to be purchased as gifts for people interested in spirituality.