© Corinne and Noel Fenech 2019

Shots and Tales - Enabling Independent and Responsible Travel

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    Shopping in Nepal is an experience in itself.  You need to sharpen your bargaining skills and often just guess whether you did a good job from the cheeky smile on the face of the seller as the sale is concluded.  But not all our shopping experiences were a complete disaster, here are some of our favourite stories

    Yak wool hats were definitely a must-buy for us.  The cosy ones which have ear protection and are so much associated with trekking pics.  During our first couple of days in Kathmandu, we hunted down one of the shops which boasted plenty of colours and designs. We choose three colourful ones and bargained from NPR500 down to NPR300 each.  Happy with our bargaining skills and with our new hats (which by the way are still one of the most prized souvenirs of Nepal) we veered off.  Lo and behold, the moment we turned round the corner we found someone selling yak hats similar to ours for NPR100 each!  To lick our wounded egos, we convinced ourselves that “ours are nicer though!”   These hats definitely served the purpose of protecting us from the cold weather during our trek and bring back dear memories.

    YAK WOOL HATS

    Another prized purchase of ours is the Thanka painting which we bought from Lama Thanka Centre in Bhaktapur.  You will find many shops that sell Thanka Paintings. We are not really experts nor can vouch for the authenticity of any of them, but what we can say is that we are very happy with our ‘The Master’ painting.  Thanka painting shop owners will gladly explain in detail the value of these paintings, who painted them and whether they were a student, a master or The Master, with the deep meaning behind them. We definitely cannot do any justice to the depth of meaning but most of these paintings depict heaven and hell and the various gates to get there. They are painted with a single hair of a yak brush.  In Buddhist tradition, monks also make 3D Thankas which take a long time to build and then they destroy them in water so as to signify that nothing is permanent. 

    THANKA PAINTING

    The souvenir of choice for our colleagues and friends were lokta paper note books.  Handmade in the Magar village of Nangi, lokta paper notebooks served a dual purpose, a great handmade gift for our colleagues who had taken care of fund raising a donation for the Nangi primary school, and a boost for the ladies who with such passion and dedication turn wood to notebooks in order to boost the community’s income. We had the pleasure of learning how to turn pulp to paper and trying our hands at making one of these notebooks ourselves, so we can appreciate the work that goes into each one of them first hand.  Furthermore, the Magar community plant trees to make sure that re-afforestation happens, giving the forest new life and giving them a source of income for the future.

    LOKTA PAPER NOTEBOOKS

    From one of a multitude of Pashmina shops in Kathmandu, we bought a pashmina scarf.  It is not the art on the scarf nor the colour or shape that really made it a unique buy, but rather the dirty selling techniques of the seller.  We had been walking in front of this pashmina shop for three days, and every day the seller would wait for us outside and ask us to come in.  Eventually, out of courtesy, we decided to visit the shop.   The guy offered us a masala tea, claiming that we are not obliged to buy.  Then he started showing us some scarves, in a few minutes he had more than a hundred scarves on the counter.   Then he started telling us about a German lady who had asked to see a hundred scarves and did not buy anything, thus playing on our guilt. Soon he started recounting his life story about how he came from Pakistan, and how he had managed to go from rags to riches after a multitude of health problems that struck.  After this went on for more than an hour, we opted to buy two scarfs, ‘bargained’ for a price like €50 each (so they were not cheap scarves at all). Eventually the guy said that he had understood that we wanted to buy four scarves and that we tricked him into giving us a great price.  Seeing that this had gone too far, we helped him tidy up and made a move. 

    HAND MADE PASHMINA

    One of the stores we loved to buy from was the “Women’s Skill Development Organisation” (WSDP) shops found in Sauraha and Pokhara. They have nice souvenirs with a noble purpose and fixed prices.  The items they sell are so nice that made it difficult for us to pass by and not drop in!  This was one of the charms of Nepal, so many not-for-profit organisations that are helping people help themselves!

    SOFT TOYS FROM WSDP

    As travellers to other countries, the money we spend has the power to fund people’s greed or sustain local communities.   We choose that as much as possible with our money we make a difference to improve local community life as well as purchase objects that elicit a story whenever someone asks us, “Where did you get that one from?”