Undoubtedly one of the most popular purchases in Nepal are products made from pashmina, the soft, light and incredibly warm underhair of the humble Himalayan goat. You might know pashmina better as cashmere, a corruption of the word Kashmir, the region that supplied the British Raj with its early wool. The most popular products to look for are scarves, shawl-sized stoles and blankets; pre-made clothing is generally a lot less reliable. There are some great pashmina bargains to be found in Kathmandu, with prices a fraction of the US or Europe, but you'll need to do some research, as price doesn't always match quality.
Here's one tip: 100% pashmina may sound the most prestigious but it's actually not very durable. Most people prefer a 70/30 mix of wool/silk, as it's still incredibly soft but has a tighter weave and so is cheaper and lasts longer.
Kathmandu has long been known for its cheap North Face knockoffs, made with dubious zips and waterproofing that wouldn’t keep you dry in fog. The fakes are still there but in recent years Nepal's outdoor gear shops have seriously upped their game. Big-name foreign brands have muscled in, and there are now legitimate shops run by North Face, Mountain Hard Wear, and the excellent Nepali-based Sherpa brand. Prices are not cheaper than abroad but the selection is probably better than your local outdoor gear shop.
Perhaps a better buy are products that are made locally but with high-quality Gore-Tex and down imported from China. Local brands like Sonam Gears and Shona's Alpine both offer excellent quality and value. The best items are down jackets and fleeces but you can now equip yourself with everything from a cheap stove to crampons. The impossibly cute baby-sized fleeces and down jackets are particularly hard to turn down.
Nepal boasts an incredible selection of locally made artisanal products. Some shops specialize in Ayurvedic soaps (we like those from Wild Earth, which has a shop at Swotha Square in Patan) and Tibetan juniper incense, while others focus on stylish and modern paper products made from the traditional Daphne bush (see photo) and handicrafts made from natural fibers, as well as metalware (think Buddhist statues) and hand-carved woodwork. Nepal (like Kyrgyzstan) is also a huge producer of felt products, from shoes to ball rugs and other decorative items.
Less common - but no less beautiful - are the stoneware ceramics from Thimi, a village between Kathmandu and Bhaktapur, which are found at select cafés, boutique hotels, and gift shops around Kathmandu.
Local Tea and Coffee
Tea is a good buy. Ilam tea from eastern Nepal is every bit as good as its neighbor Darjeeling's just across the border, but prices are much lower. Several shops offer tea tastings but the main thing to bear in mind is that the taste of tea depends largely on when the leaves were picked. Try the 'first flush' for a lighter, more floral taste or 'second flush' for a more robust, fuller bodied brew. Teas flavored with lemongrass or chai spices are also popular. Remember that high-quality teas should be drunk with lemon or sugar but never milk.
Perhaps surprisingly, Nepal also produces excellent organic coffee which is sold and served all over town. Two brands we suggest for buying beans from are Himalayan Java Coffee, Nepal's first specialty coffee house, and Kar.Ma Coffee, Nepal's first coffee boutique.
Jewelry is another great bargain in Nepal and there are dozens of shops selling silver rings, bracelets and necklaces set with Himalayan gems, particularly the turquoise that is so popular with Tibetans. Most shops will even create bespoke jewelry according to your own design, priced according to the current weight of silver and traditionally measured by the tola (11.7 grams).
Thamel is lined with clothing shops, though most are very much on the hippy backpacker end of the spectrum (walk away from the juggling pants!). Several Nepali brands combine quality cotton, hemp and bamboo fabrics with clever designs; our favorites are Juju Wears and Karuna in Kathmandu (Urbanyeti is worth checking out if you're in Pokhara).
At the other end of the spectrum, Pulchowk Road in Kupondole is lined with incredible Nepali bridal shops, like Oodni, which makes stunning handcrafted dresses.
The Bottom Line
You should budget a day or two for shopping at the end of your stay, especially if you are in Kathmandu during the high season months of October and November and thus conveniently close to Christmas. (Do take advantage of the pre-Christmas sales!) And if you find you've bought more than you intended, don't worry. The shops in Thamel will be happy to sell you a spare bag to carry all your purchases home.