Shopping in Kathmandu
Kathmandu is not a city for shoppers who crave international brand names. The best buys here are handicrafts and ethnic arts, made by traditional artisans in backstreets around the Kathmandu Valley.
Thamel is one continuous strip of souvenir shops, selling everything from tie-dye T-shirts and gemstones to antique butter tea churns and Tibetan Buddhist dance masks. Not all the antiques are as old as they purport to be, but there are some fascinating cultural trinkets on sale.
South of Thamel, New Road is lined with camera stores selling high-spec equipment at reasonable prices. Numerous stores around Kathmandu sell knock-off trekking gear of varying quality; locally made trekking boots and waterproofs are a poor investment, but good quality fleeces are available for bargain prices. For the real deal, at international prices, head to the brand-name stores on Tridevi Marg.
Patan is famous for Tibetan jewellery and thangka paintings, while Bhaktapur is renowned for its woodcarving and ceramics, made in traditional kilns by local potters. Numerous fair trade handicraft shops are lined up along Kupondol, the road linking Kathmandu and Patan.
In the Old Town, the market between Asan Tol and Indra Chowk sells spices, dried fruit, incense, brass pots, block-printed fabrics and traditional Nepali clothes. In fact, the entire old town is one continuous bazaar, and almost anything can be found along the atmospheric alleyways between Thamel and Durbar Square.
Kathmandu has a handful of modern shopping centres, packed with stores selling clothes and household goods, though none are quite up to international standards. Popular malls include City Center Mall on Pashupati Road, Civil Mall at Sundhara and United World Trade Center at Tripureshwor. The larger malls have cinemas, restaurants and stores with genuine, rather than counterfeit international, brands.
Saturday is the official day off in Nepal, but shops that cater to tourists generally stay open seven days a week.
The most popular souvenirs are Buddhist handicrafts and thangka (cloth paintings), depicting Buddhist deities, mandalas, and the cities of the Kathmandu Valley. Shops and market stalls around the city are piled high with brass statues, Buddhist prayer wheels, inlaid ‘singing bowls’, Buddhist masks, jewellery decorated with Tibetan script, and other religious artefacts.
Himalayan textiles are famous around the world, and Kathmandu is a great place to pick up Pashmina shawls, yak wool blankets and ornately embroidered Buddhist wall hangings, as well as all sorts of hippy apparel and artfully embroidered T-shirts. Tibetan refugees knot ornate carpets in the backstreets of Jawalakhel in Patan. Almost everyone goes home with some Buddhist prayer flags, or leaves some tied atop a mountain pass while trekking.
There are no tax-free shopping options for travellers, but prices for imported cameras in particular are similar to duty-free prices elsewhere.