Shopping for Handicrafts in Nepal, Bhutan & Ladakh

A fun addition to any trek or sightseeing tour across the Himalaya is a morning or afternoon of retail therapy. There are so many beautiful products available across Nepal, Bhutan and Ladakh, from handmade paper to carved masks to woven bags. But, there is also a lot of poor quality ‘tourist tat’. If you have limited time for shopping in the region and want to go directly to the best places, follow our handy guide to shopping for handicrafts in Nepal, Bhutan and Ladakh.

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Nepal

When staying in Kathmandu, look beyond the Thamel area for the best quality handicrafts.

Sana Hastakala

Sana Hastakala is a fair trade organisation that aims to foster a resurgence in traditional crafts. Some of the best items are hand-painted or printed textiles, such as cushion covers and bed-spreads. It’s on Kupondole Road in Patan.

Mahaguthi

Mahaguthi sells handicrafts produced by Nepali artisans working across the country. There are three fun floors to browse, selling similar items to Sana Hastakala (above). There are two branches in different parts of town: one on Kupondole Road, Patan, and the other on Lazimpat Road, north of Thamel.

Timro Conceptstore

Timro Conceptstore brings together the finest Nepali design, from statement jewellery to sturdy leather bags, trendy contemporary mala bead necklaces to notebooks covered in hand-block printed paper. They also serve delicious homemade cakes and drinks. It’s in Jhamsikhel, opposite the army base and just down from the Big Mart supermarket.

Of Silk and Salt

Just around the corner from the Patan Durbar Square, Of Silk and Salt sells handmade clothes, home furnishings and accessories inspired by Nepal and its neighbours. There’s a good Asian fusion restaurant attached.

Baber Mahal Revisited

The souvenir shops within this renovated Rana-era palace are of very good quality, if on the pricey side. A great plan is to stop here for lunch at Chez Caroline, a popular French restaurant, and then spend some time browsing the shops.

The Women’s Skill Development Project

This shop has Pokhara and Kathmandu (Thamel) branches, although it originates in Pokhara. They specialise in striped, hand-woven bags, and also sell some smaller items like pencil cases and toys.

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Ladakh

Many of the items available in Ladakh’s markets are actually Nepali or Kashmiri (that is, from other parts of Jammu & Kashmir state). For real Ladakhi handicrafts, check out the following options.

Utpala Arts and Natural Dye Centre

This shop is run by Ladakhi women and there’s no hard sell here. It sells shawls as well as a small collection of tie-dyed and hand-painted cushion covers and bags.

Ladakh Rural Women’s Enterprise

This is a very small shop under the stairway, to the right of the State Bank of India, in the same row of shops in the Main Bazaar as the Ladakh Book Shop. It sells mainly woollen and felt products, including lots of felt animals. It would be a great place to pick up gifts for children.

Nomadic Woollen Mills

This in a bright upstairs showroom in the Main Bazaar. They sell very fine pashmina scarves and shawls in elegant, muted colours.

Jigmat Couture

This boutique is in the same building as Hotel Tsaskan, on Fort Road. It sells expensive but high-quality Tibetan, Ladakhi and Indian-inspired clothing, mainly in wool, felt and silk. Jigmat Couture is especially good to browse for inspiration if you’re handy with a sewing machine and wanting to pick up some fabric at the market to take home with you.

Ladakh Traditional Handicraft Products

This is in the LedEg compound, opposite Karzoo Pond, and is a good place to pick up scarves and tie-dyed woollen products.

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Bhutan

Many souvenirs in Bhutan are actually made in Nepal, and are available in Nepal at cheaper prices. So, it makes sense to do most of your souvenir shopping in Nepal rather than Bhutan. But, there are definitely a few good places to pick up real Bhutanese souvenirs.

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Lotay Handicraft

This is a general clothing store specialising in Bhutanese dress. This is not a tourist shop and sells reasonably priced kiras for women.

Chencho Handicrafts

You can check out the weavers working at this place, which specialises in weaving and embroidery.

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Lungta

Lungta, opposite the Post Office, has a wonderful selection of arts and crafts.

The weaving stall at the Takin Preserve

The small stall at the gate of the Takin Preserve sells beautiful hand woven scarfs which are much cheaper than in Thimpu shops.

The shop at the Choki Traditional Art School

This place sells good quality-fixed price art.

Sephub Gyeltsen Tsongkhang

This is a great place to buy Bhutanese cloth and traditional-style clothes. Particularly good items that you might wear to a special occasion back home are kira, women’s traditional dress, and short-waisted women’s jackets.

National Handicraft Emporium

This government-run emporium sells a wide variety of handicrafts, from textiles to festival masks, and is a handy place to stop because you can find (almost) everything under one roof.

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A Handy Packing List for Trekking in the Himalaya

As Himalaya travel experts with years of experience in the region, we at Beyond The Clouds have had plenty of time to trial and error our packing styles. While the different regions of the Himalaya have different climates and conditions, there are many important similarities. When planning a trek in Nepal, Bhutan or Ladakh, it’s important that you pack properly. You don’t need to pack the kitchen sink, but under-packing or over-packing can both ruin a trip.

This advice assumes that you will be trekking with a porter to carry your bags. Our travellers always trek with porters as they make the trek much more comfortable, and hiring locals helps support local livelihoods.

Bags

Luggage bag

It’s important to have a backpack rather than a suitcase for trekking. Even if you bring a suitcase as your main luggage to Nepal, Bhutan or Ladakh, you’ll also need a backpack for the trek because porters carry the bags themselves (and leave your suitcase at your Kathmandu/Pokhara accommodation).

A day pack

As well as your main bag that your porter will carry, you’ll still want to carry a day pack to carry all the things you’ll need while walking: a water bottle, your camera, a sweater/rain coat, etc. Make sure the straps are padded and comfortable. A good, comfortable day pack is worth the investment.

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Clothing

Sturdy boots

We recommend boots rather than shoes. The ground can be uneven when trekking in the Himalaya, and you can save yourself from rolling an ankle by having boots that firmly encase the ankles. Also bring spare laces, just in case, and break your boots in before your trek so you don’t get blisters, which can be debilitating.

Flip-flops/sandals

You shouldn’t be trekking in these, but you will want a different pair of shoes to change into once you’ve arrived at your lodge.

Casual cargo pants in a quick-dry fabric x 2

The best choice are lightweight trousers with a few pockets to carry things you’ll need to keep handy, like tissue or a phone/small camera. Synthetic fibres are best, as they can be light enough to keep you comfortable during hot weather, and quick-dry. Don’t bring jeans.

Lightweight down jacket

Down is the best for trekking because it’s extremely light and won’t bulk up your bag. Wool is warm, but it takes up a lot of space.

Quick-dry shirts

Cotton seems like a great idea until you sweat and a wind picks up—then you freeze. This can even be dangerous if you’re caught in extreme weather. It’s also annoying to sweat through a t-shirt or to be rained on and for it not to be fully dry the next day because you’re at a high elevation with cold temperatures. The best shirts for trekking are made from a synthetic fabric and have long sleeves than can be rolled up, and a high collar to protect against sunburn.

A waterproof jacket

A simple raincoat will generally be fine, as peak trekking seasons in the Himalaya don’t generally coincide with the rainy season. But don’t take this as gospel, as it can rain out of season, especially in the mountains. Waterproof pants would be a good idea if you know there will be a lot of rain, but otherwise are not an essential item.

A merino wool base layer

These are necessary if you’re getting up above 3000 metres (and much lower if you’re trekking in the winter). Wool stays warm when it gets wet, either by sweat or rain, and merino is soft and light so doesn’t itch or feel bulky, as other wool might.

Thick socks

Re-wearing dusty, sweaty socks is not pleasant, so take a few pairs. On longer treks you can handwash them in a sink, especially if you arrive early and the sun’s still shining. Thick material is essential, because trekking boots can start to rub a bit with anything thin. (And an extra tip: when you go shopping for trekking boots, wear a pair of thick socks so you can check that the boots fit properly.)

Hut clothes

It’s essential to preserve a change of clothes just for post-trek times in the afternoon and evenings. You will get dusty, sweaty and maybe even wet while walking. A long-sleeved cotton top, a light woollen jumper, and a pair of track pants are ideal. These can double as pyjamas.

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Accessories

A trekking pole

Trekking poles can save you from all kinds of mishaps. They help keep your balance when walking over uneven terrain and take strain off your knees when going down hill. Having two poles is ideal, but one will do. When purchasing, make sure the strap is comfortable around your wrist and doesn’t rub.

A waterproof poncho

If you’re met with a sudden downpour and your proper rain gear is packed away with the porter, a poncho can be thrown on over the top of everything and will keep you dry. Plus, if the weather is hot and humid, they can be more comfortable than a tight-fitting raincoat.

A cap/sunhat

Even if it’s cold at high altitude, the sun will shine a lot of the time and you’ll need a hat. Handy fold-down caps are available in Kathmandu and Pokhara.

A woollen hat, scarf and gloves

At higher altitudes, you’ll definitely need these. There are lots of hand-knitted versions with ear flaps available in Nepal. You probably won’t get much use out of a scarf and gloves while you’re walking because you’ll generate body heat, but you’ll be glad of them once you stop for the night.

A bandana or light scarf

Many places are dusty, especially if you’ll be walking along or near a road. A bandana or scarf can be tied around your nose and mouth to keep dust out, as well as for protection against the sun.

Tissues/toilet paper

Toilet paper is rarely provided in trekking lodges. If you’re not comfortable using the hand-and-water method, take your own paper and dispose of it in the bin next to the toilet.

Water purifier

Bottled water is available to buy in most areas, but constantly buying new bottles is environmentally problematic. Instead, take sturdy water bottle and a water purifier. Filtered water is available in most lodges, but sometimes you’ll need to refill water bottles from taps coming off the mountain, and while this is quite clean, it’s a good idea to purify it.

Head torch

A comfortable head-torch will save you from stumbling around during night-time toilet trips, and will also enable you to relax with a book in your lodge at night, where the power might be intermittent. Find one with a comfortable elastic strap.

Quick-dry towel

You may not be showering very much while trekking, but it’s still a good idea to have one with you. Quick-dry towls are better than the ordinary variety as they pack up smaller and, well, they dry quickly.

Toiletries

A few basics in sample sizes are a good idea while trekking. Shampoo bars are also ideal as they cut down on plastic waste. A lip balm and all-purpose moisturiser are essential while trekking. As is a good sunscreen. If you’re fair skinned it’s better to get these from home as varieties are limited in South Asia. Tampons and pads are available in Kathmandu, Pokhara and Leh (Ladakh) but it’s better to bring these from home as you will have more variety. Alternatively, a menstrual cup is an environmentally friendly option.

Sunglasses

The sun can be very strong at high altitude, so glasses with strong UV protection are ideal.

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Where to buy gear?

All essential items should be brought from home. Items like trekking boots should never be bought just before a trek, as they need to be properly worn in first. Failing to do so can lead to horrible blisters!

Other less essential items can be picked up in Kathmandu or Pokhara in Nepal, or Leh in Ladakh. We don’t recommend relying on picking things up in the shops in Bhutan, as these are not extensively stocked.

Choosing the Best Trek in the Himalaya for Your Needs

Choosing the Best Trek in the Himalaya for Your Needs

If you think trekking in the Himalaya is all about super-challenging hours upon hours of walking then we’re here to tell you about many different options. Here are a few options of the best treks in the Himalaya for your individual needs.

When's the Best Time to Visit Bhutan?

When's the Best Time to Visit Bhutan?

Dreaming of visiting Bhutan but want to understand its climate better before making a commitment and planning a trip? Here’s everything you need to know about the weather in Bhutan, the best season in Bhutan, and amazing Bhutanese festivals.

Top 10 Things to experience in Ladakh

In the remote western Himalayas lies an ancient kingdom, heavily influenced by Tibetan culture from the east and Persian culture from the west, isolated from modern developments and technology for centuries. Here, treasures have been preserved and traditions retained that elsewhere have been lost. Ladakh has plenty to truly reward the adventurous travellers who make the journey to visit it.

Many of the top sights in Ladakh are monasteries – remnants of the age of the Tibetan Empire, which once included Ladakh. However, on top of these are several other perhaps overlooked but absolutely unforgettable experiences that should not be missed on your journey beyond the clouds in the Himalayas…

1. Villages on the northern outskirts of Leh

All travellers begin in Leh, the capital of Ladakh. But the best way to get under the skin of this village-like city is to take a walk to explore the smaller villages on the northern outskirts of the city, such as Sankar. Although a wide road winds up the hill from the city centre, travellers are better off on foot finding their way via the small lanes and pathways that pass between the houses and farms. You will meet the local people, who smile as they greet you, may encounter holy cows grazing on overhanging fruit trees, and will stumble upon local shrines (walk around them clockwise). This is also a great area for views of the Palace without city buildings in the way.

2. Leh Palace

Once the home of the Ladakhi royal family, the palace was turned into a museum and opened to the public when the royal family were moved to Stok Palace, just across the river. The palace is unmissable, holding a commanding fortress-like position on the spur of a ridge. Higher above it is a small temple, which is also worth the climb up the sandy path for excellent views of the whole Leh valley, and is popular with locals. On the way up to the palace from the city, follow the arrows and hand-painted directions on the cluster of ruins and ancient houses, and stop in for a peek at some modern Ladakhi art at the LAMO museum.

3. Hemis Monastery

Heading east down the Sengge River, hidden up a narrow and steep side valley is the largest and richest monastery in Ladakh – Hemis Monastery. While the monastery itself is beautifully painted and delightful to spend half a day exploring, the real highlight is in the museum below it – hundreds of religious and cultural artifacts have been gathered, and are displayed with clear explanations of what the object is and what it is used for in traditional Ladakhi life.

4. Pangong Tso

Carrying on from Hemis Monastery, you can reach the lake of Pangong Tso (“tso” means “lake”) in a long single day, or easier two-day drive from Leh. Sparkling blue waters stretch out under desert sand dunes, while nomads graze their herds of yaks on the nearby meadows. Pangong Tso is an interesting sight to visit, as one end of it lies in Indian Ladakh, and the other end crosses the border into Chinese Tibet. Although you cannot cross the border here, you can see the expanse of the Tibetan plateau just on the other side of the water.

5. The Women’s Alliance of Ladakh

Situated at the top of town is the Women’s Alliance of Ladakh. These women have achieved great things in the region – it was their campaign that led to plastic bags being banned in Ladakh, and they have established women’s alliances in almost every village in Ladakh now to empower the local women through education and practical training, enabling them to run businesses and participate in areas of society that were previously restricted for them. Here in Leh the WAL run a small shop stocked with their own locally made products, and open their workshops to show visitors how some of these are made.

6. Alchi Monastery

Going the other direction from Leh, following the Sengge River west, you’ll reach the small but impressive Alchi Monastery. Renowned in the world of Himalayan art for it’s fine paintings, any visitor can clearly see why when they step foot inside the first chapel. The style has been heavily influenced by Persian and Greek art, brought along the ancient trading routes, and the figures of Buddhas and their retinue look almost like European Christian figures. The paintings are carefully preserved, meaning no photography, but books and postcards are available for sale, which also supports further preservation of the monastery. Afterwards have lunch or even join a cooking class at the award winning Alchi Kitchen, serving up delicious traditional Ladakhi meals.

7. Traditional Home-stay Experience

One of the businesses that the Women’s Alliance has been encouraging in Ladakh is Home-stay experiences, so that women can work from their village without having to move to or travel daily to the city. Now, in almost every village in Ladakh you can find traditional homestay experiences that range from sleeping on the floor on mats to proper comfortable beds, helping with daily life in the fields to being treated to locally grown and homemade delicacies. Speak to us before your journey to arrange this for you.

8. Lamayuru Monastery and “Moonscape”

Further on from Alchi Monastery, past several more small villages and through a dramatic canyon, you’ll reach Lamayuru Monastery and the so-called “Moonscape” scenic area. Lamayuru Monastery seems precariously balanced on the edge of a cliff, when seen from below, and overhangs several small meditation caves that can only be reached through narrow tunnels burrowed into the cliff. It looks like a film, too impossible to be real. Surrounding Lamayuru is the distinctively weathered rock that has become known as the moonscape, due to its extra-terrestrial appearance.

9. Stok Palace and Museum

Coming back toward Leh, Stok sits on the south side of the Sengge River, directly across the valley from the capital. Stok is where the royal family reside, and near to the palace is a monastery-museum filled with beautiful royal treasures dating back centuries. It is a fascinating insight into the life of the royal family of Ladakh and their historic pedigree.

10. Eat your heart out

Finally, one of the top experiences in Leh is to sample the local food – go for the organic dried apricots (or fresh if there in August!) and apples, sip on chai or fresh mint tea, try the momos, thukpa or skyu, the staples of Ladakhi home-cooking. Leh also has a wide selection of western-influenced Ladakhi food if you’d like something a little closer to home – try the yak cheese pizza or chocolate momos for a unique meal!