With its combination of bohemian jewellery, exotic spices, scents and trinkets, colourful clothing and cheap prices, Nepal is an ideal place to easily grab gifts from your travels for friends and family back home. As with any destination however, there are a myriad of tricks or scams around to encourage travellers to part with more of their cash than necessary. Take a look at a few of the most common souvenir scams in Nepal, and remember to take a second look before buying when you are next on your travels!
Bone – After spending only a few days in Nepal, chances are you will see anything and everything made out of yak bone, with jewellery and kitchen utensils being the most popular. However it is fairly obvious after awhile that if all the products sold to tourists in Nepal were real yak bone, then there would hardly be any yaks left in the country. In reality, much of the items purported as yak bone is cheap plastic. If you do wish to buy a souvenir made from yak bone, make sure you take a close look at its surface; bone tends to be more porous, and a texture similar to wood. Also, don’t be afraid to give it a light tap with your fingernail, which should tell you whether it is plastic or not.
Cheap branded outdoor gear – North Face for £10? Gore-tex mountaineering jackets for a quarter of the price they charge back home? If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. Nepalese tourist companies will often advise visitors to purchase their trekking kit in Nepal, and for some items, like basic ventilation tops, water bottles, etc., it is a good idea. However it is best to be aware that much of the branded items the outdoors stores stock are either knock-offs or are used gear bought off of previous travellers. If you want to buy the real branded gear, several of the most popular outdoor brands like Mountain Hardware and Black Yak have their own flagship stores in Kathmandu, while The North Face also has a store in Pokhara. The prices will be closer to those charged in Western countries, but will still be a little cheaper than back home.
Semi-precious stones and metals – Jewellery is arguably one of the most popular souvenirs in Nepal, whether it is Buddhist prayer beads, pendants with Hindu or Buddhist symbols, or Bohemian-esque earrings, bangles and chunky rings made from semi-precious stones such as amber, turquoise or garnet. Like yak bone though, many of the items touted as ‘semi-precious’ stones are just as likely to be made from plastic, glass or cheap metals, rather than silver. If you are looking to purchase a particular type of stone, do some research beforehand for tell-tale signs or characteristics to look out for before heading off on your trip. Generally synthetic stones are heavier than semi-precious stones as they are more dense. Also, glass stones tend to have bubbles or small scratches in the stones, while synthetic stones will have imperfections inside the stone. If you plan on buying jewellery in the city, take a look at all their jewellery; if you notice a couple of items are fake, there is a good chance other goods will be too.
Pashminas – These scarves are ubiquitous with shopping in Nepal, with practically every store selling some version of a ‘pashmina’. However, many stores take advantage of the fact that very few travellers are knowledgeable about the material and craftsmanship involved in making one of these scarves, and instead the term ‘pashmina’ has given rise to a subversive product made from a combination of viscose, silk, wool or a small quantity of cheap cashmere and produced in bulk lots. In reality pashminas are made from very fine cashmere wool sourced from the extremely rare Pashmina goats in India, Nepal and Pakistan. They are renowned for being very soft and fine to the touch; in fact, they are so fine they can’t hold any embroidery thread. To find out more about the pashmina market in Nepal, check out this very helpful thread from Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree Forum here. Be aware however that a majority of pashminas in Nepal are fakes, and if you want to see the top quality a store offers, you will need to ask them outright and expect the quality to be reflected in the price tag.
Yak wool – There has been much attention to yak wool in the outdoor media recently, with people questioning whether it is better than merino wool. Many people have jumped on the media bandwagon, and now yak wool is another popular item traveller look for in Nepal. Do some research before buying however, as in some cases in Nepal items purported as ‘yak wool’ are simply brushed merino wool. As far as souvenir scams go, its probably the least annoying one yet and you are still receiving a good deal for an item that would cost a lot of money back home. When looking for yak wool however, keep in mind that some places will sell yak hair as yak wool. Although the two sound the same, yak hair sits on the top of the yak’s hide, while yak wool is the inner insulation layer that yaks grow during winter to keep them warm, and then shed in the spring. Yak hair feels coarse and itchy, while yak wool is soft, similar to that of cashmere.
Have you got any advice for travellers when it comes to buying souvenirs?