The craftsmen of the Kathmandu Valley were well respected at the royal court of China in ancient times. The very same crafts which earned them fame are practiced here today, side by side with their modern brothers and sisters. To step into a Kathmandu Valley workshop is to step back in time 400 years. And those items which you bring home with you will forever link you to the days of exotic courts and arduous trade routes.
Handmade garments like shawls, woolen sweaters, jackets, trousers and caps are very functional as well as interesting articles to take back home.
Kathmandu boasts one of the widest selection of loose gems in the entire region, often at comparatively low prices. Many stones inculding ruby, aquamarine, black and green tourmaline, quartz and "healing stones" are mined in the high mountains of Nepal.
Apart from necklaces, bracelets, rings and the traditional silver beads made especially in Patan, old Tibetan jewelry also abounds in the markets of Kathmandu. A glass bead market tucked away near Indra Chowk stocks colorful glass beads imported from all over the world.
Khukuri, the curved metal knife, is synonymous with the the valor of Gurkha soldiers. Manufactured by local iron smiths with traditional implements, this impressive tool has become a well loved memento for many people visiting this part of the world.
Decorative house wares are still made of the traditional copper, brass and bronze and then elaborately engraved. Pieces like karuwas (Water jars), antis (liquor jars), bowls and hanging oil lamps are very popular souvenirs - useful ones too!
Traditional Nepalese paper, popularly known as "rice paper", is actually made of lokta bark found in remote areas of the country. Many stores in Thamel and Patan sell writing pads and bound journals, as well as calendars and lamp shades of lokta paper.
These traditional paintings, depict deities and religious symbols from Buddhism. Painted on cotton scrolls, the best paubhas are made using ground stone pigments to create their vivid colors. Powdered silver and gold are other key ingredients.
Extremely proficient in the delicate art of making both terra-cotta and glazed earthenware, Kathmandu's potters make various articles from the black clay that abounds in the Valley. Their products range from household utensils to inexpensive decorative souvenirs. Not a small part of the fun of buying pottery is watching the potters in action, a scene which can be witnessed in Bhaktapur's potters' square.
Since ancient times, traders have followed their noses to the spices markets of Asia. Kathmandu's markets offer exotic ingredients to add flavor to your curries - nutmeg, ginger, saffron, mace, green anise, fenugreek, black pepper, coriander seeds. Painstakingly ground by hand and mixed with a skill handed down from time immemorial, the spices produced here promise new experiences for the taste-buds.
The casting of bronze, brass and copper statuary in Nepal dates back to the 13th century. Casters in Nepal use the ancient and labor intensive "lost-wax method" in which ornate figures, modeled in bees-wax and used to create the earthenware molds, are melted away and "lost" prior to the actual casting.
Nepal's eastern hilly districts districts, notably Ilam, produce a variety of excellent tea, most of which is exported. Kathmandu's shops offer a wide selection of fine Nepalese tea in attractive packaging, which makes it suitable as gifts. The tea also makes a great drink.
The expertise of Newar craftsmen in this field can be seen in the intricately carved windows, doors, pillars and latticed art-works fitted in temples throughout the Kathmandu Valley. Ornate doors and windows, picture frames, jewelry boxes and furniture are produced in the workshops of Patan and Bhaktapur for both domestic and export sale.
Carpets made in Nepal are hand-knotted using the traditional techniques of Tibet. The best of them are woven from a mixture of the highland Himalayan sheep's wool and New Zealand long staple wool. Vegetable pigments, derived from natural components, are of course the most culturally authentic but most manufacturers prefer using imported chemical dyes which are fast, enduring and economical.
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