Kathmandu is an excellent place to shop due to the wide variety of handicrafts available at very cheap prices. The best souvenirs are jewellery, clothes off the racks, Pashmina shawls, decorative metal plates, "kukri" knives, rice paper, tea, pottery, carvings of wood, woollen carpets and "Thangkas" (colourful Tibetan/Buddhist paintings depicting tradition or religious subjects).
Most visitors head towards Thamel, the tourist district, where you can find handicrafts, gems, garments and pashminas at bargain prices.
Below in our Kathmandu shopping guide we give you some hints on how to get the best deals and learn about the best places to shop in Kathmandu. Most shopping areas have good value Kathmandu restaurants where you can relax and take a break from shopping. For more general shopping information, take a look at our Nepal Shopping Guide.
Kathmandu Shopping Guide
Durbar Marg is Kathmandu's most chic address, with exclusive stuff on sale. Imported luxury goods can be found near Durbar Square, in the shops on New Road and Khicha Pokhari.
In the market between Asan and Indra Chowk, you can find an entire assortment of everything from spices, dry fruits and pots to textiles. In the south east of the city, near the Singh Durbar government offices, is the Bahar Mahal Revisited Complex, a former palace of the Ranas.
Inside this complex you will find a labyrinth of upmarket stores selling clothes, carpets, art and antiques. Shops usually close on Saturdays but those which specifically cater to tourists are open every day.
There are numerous tourist shops on the main street and inside the shopping arcades of hotels in Kathmandu, which are replete with enticing jewellery, pictures, clothes and typical Nepalese craft.
In some of the smaller villages, shops sell traditional handicraft and beautiful pieces of pottery. Antiques can only be taken out of the country with the special permission of the Department of Archaeology. Another place that is famous for Nepalese handicrafts is the "Traditional Craftsmen Colony" in Patan.
Nepali craftsmen are churning out an ever increasing range of contemporary crafts which adapt traditional motifs and materials to Western tastes.
They make everything from unusual textiles such as Dhaka, attractive greeting cards made of hand-made paper, paintings in Maithili-style, goods made of ‘papier mache', toys including dolls dressed up in their traditional dress, readymade clothes, woollens, leather goods, scented candles, ‘batik' paintings to creative items made out of bamboo and pine needles.
Nepalese tea, which is packed in boxes or embroidered bags, also makes for a good gift item and is widely sold in a number of shops in tourist areas.
Boutiques which sell Kashmiri handicrafts are innumerable and offer an identical range of items. These mostly sell silk carpets, tapestries made in chain-stitch and goods made from ‘papier mache', soapstone and sandalwood.
Fashion and Clothing
Among the best bargains you can get in Nepal are winter clothes. Thamel and Freak Street are bursting with shops that sell woollen sweaters, jackets, mittens and socks. Beware of garments that are sold very cheaply because they may come apart at the seams.
Fashionable goods which are sold here are caps, kit bags and other accessories made from black felt which have rainbow coloured Tibetan fringes on them. When you buy clothes from shops, you can get machine embroidered designs made on them by tailors who sit inside the same shops.
At Indra Chowk, you can find saris and dress materials. Here you will also find the cheapest shawls and scarves made from pashmina wool, the Nepali version of cashmere. Nepali men wear caps or "topis" like Westerners wear ties. These caps can be found around Ason Tol.
"Thangka" and Other Fine Arts
It is hard to tell where you can find a "thangka" or "paubha" at a good bargain. There are so many typical motifs and differing levels of quality that comparing prices is like comparing apples and oranges. You will find the largest group of dealers north of Durbar Square, in Makhan Tol. However, there are many others on Tri Devi Marg and in Thamel as well.
Kathmandu has many book shops that have a wonderful collection of books in English. Browsing through books is one of the city's major forms of nightlife and hence many shops are open till 10pm. Most of these bookstores are nondescript and nameless.
Jewellers from Bangkok come all the way to Kathmandu to buy in bulk silver studded with semi-precious gemstones processed in India. The wholesale rate of silver is published everyday on the front page of the "Himalayan" newspaper, so that buyers are aware of the cost of the metal minus the cost of labour. 1 "tola" is approximately equal to 11.6 gm. Silver that is stamped as "92.5% sterling" is almost always near the claimed percentage.
Carpets and Rugs
Thamel has a number of shops which sell good quality silk and woollen carpets. Shop number 13 at L.P. Jyoti Line, called "Royal Collection", has a good variety of carpets and after some aggressive bargaining you can get them at a good price. Some shops charge a service fee for payment with a credit card, so be sure to clarify this during your negotiations.
Beware of a lot of antiques that are fake and are sold by clever salesmen, or plastics which are palmed off as wood. It is illegal to export genuine antiques out of the country. These may have been stolen from temples. Good quality bronze antiques can be found in Patan, the sister city of Kathmandu. If you are interested in buying statues of Buddha, read the book "Shopping for Buddhas", which is available in book stores.
"Pashmina" is the South-Asian word for "cashmere". Pashmina shawls and scarves can be purchased here for a throwaway price as compared to Europe or North America. Look out for pashmina items made by the Tibetan refugee camp just outside Patan or by other charitable organisations.
Due to the lack of sales tax and import duty on electronic items, many people like to buy a camera or other electronic gadgets in Kathmandu. You will find good electronic shops in Thamel and around New Road.
You will find Nepalese musical instruments at a few small shops in Thamel and at Khichapokhri south of New Road. In Thamel you will also find minstrels peddling the traditional fiddles called "sarangi". At Durbar Square you will find cheap bamboo flutes.