A Little Bit of Everything

Features Issue 186 May, 2017

It’s a one-stop destination for souvenir hunting, with the choices so many and so charming, you’ll have a hard time deciding what to buy.

When one thinks of Thamel, the rows of curio shops that line many streets and alleys of this ancient town definitely come to mind. A popular tourist hub since the hippie era, Thamel remains one of Kathmandu’s landmark tourist areas today. Even before you enter Thamel chowk itself, you will encounter various souvenir goodies lining the streets, with their hawkers idly chewing the cud with each other. The bustling lanes of Thamel are the perfect destination for travelers looking for a one-stop destination for all kinds of items, ranging from bags made from recycled jute rice sacks to precious stones handcrafted into fascinating jewelry items.

Thamel is the place to find anything and everything, albeit with a pricier price tag. Walking down the lanes you will see never ending rows of shops offering various clothing items, including ponchos hanging in front of shops with “100% Pashmina” tags hung strategically on them. This fine cashmere wool is harvested from the Chyangara(Nepalese Pashmina) goats, and are hand spun and hand woven into shawls, ponchos, sweaters, and such. Incredibly soft and smooth, the name pashmina itself means soft gold in Kashmiri. Along with pashmina products, you will also find cashmere clothing articles and yak wool shawls and blankets. Yak wool, a sustainable alternative to the expensive cashmere, is as soft as cashmere, yet tougher and warmer. If you keep a keen eye, you may also find adorable little stuffed toy yaksthat are coated in yak fur.

If you’re looking for something more religious, then you can walk a bit further and you will surely stumble upon at least one shop that sells a variety of religious metal works, such as prayer bowls, prayer wheels, and statues to decorate your home. Prayer bowls (singing bowls), historically made only in Nepal, China, and Japan,arenow used worldwide as a means for relaxation, meditation, music, and personal well-being. These Buddhist artifacts are actually bells, but unlike regular bells, they sit on a bottom surface, and the rim vibrates with the motion of the pestle-like gong. Alongside these, you will see prayer wheels. These are an important part of Buddhism, and are used to garner wisdom and good karma, as well as to purify bad karma. There are five types of prayer wheels in Buddhism; the one that you will most likely come across is known as the Mani wheel.

Along the gallisof this tourist hub, you will come across various shops selling felt goodies. Felt items are rather abundant in Thamel, as you will find them after almost every other shop you come across. These products, created by matting, condensing, and pressing fibers together, can be found in abundance throughout Thamel, as these products can be made easily from wool of various animals, or from synthetic fibers. As you venture deeper into Thamel, you may also come acrossnumerous hemp items. These THC-free and eco-friendly items are collected and made throughout Nepal and come in a variety of products, from hats to bags. The cultivation of hemp is nothing new in Nepal, as it has been a practice for years. Most commonly, you will find them as bags, as they are sturdy and light to carry. In a country with increasing unemployment, the production of felt and hemp products have provided many people in villages with a sustainable income source,since these materials are readily available sources in the country.

Of course, these are not the only trinkets you will find in the streets of Thamel, as Thamel melds together a variety of handicrafts and shops together. You won’t even need to enter a shop to get yourself some of the more popular items such as the Nepali khukuri. The signature weapon of every Gurkhali, this dagger is a Nepali icon of bravery and national pride. Almost every Nepali will have a khukuri in their home at least once in their lifetime. The basic utility knife of Nepal, it is also referred to as the “Gurkha knife” by foreigners, and is used in many traditional rituals.

Thamel serves as not only a cultural and tourist hub, but also a reliable and sustainable iconic source for many people in Nepal, as its curio shops are what puts food on the table of many Nepalis, not only those who reside in Kathmandu, but also those in villages. With so much to offer when it comes to souvenirs to take back home; marble statues of various religious figures, wooden masks to decorate your homes, hand-woven carpets, paintings of life in Nepal, and many more, pencil in a day to truly enjoy the attractions of this bustling one-stop shoppers’ paradise.