Any tourist souvenir stall: Masks
Ba, or Tibetan masks, also make excellent souvenirs - bright-coloured, exotic. The masks are thought to originate from the 6th century when Bonpo priests performed their first ritual dances masked as animals. There are several types, including ritual dance masks (ghosts, deities, monsters, totems, etc.), Tibetan opera masks (dating from the reign of king Songtsen Gampo), and wall-hanging masks. The ones you will usually find on sale along the tourist routes are the wall-hanging ones.
The masks can be made from wood, bronze image, papier mache, leather, cloth, and other materials. In the stalls the wood and papier mache ones are the most common.Related to:
- Luxury Travel
Any tourist or pilgrim stall: Prayer Wheels
What to buy: Prayer wheels - of varying sizes - are another popular item available at souvenir and pilgrim stalls. They may contain up to a million of prayer lines, which are considered to have been said every time the wheel is rotated - it's one of the most popular ways of accumulating merit in Tibetan Buddhism.
Most common among those on sale are handheld ones, such as those rotated by pilgrims. While most of them are not particularly artistic, they - even if you're not a Buddhist - make a great rustic souvenir with their combination of wood, metal, and often turquoise and coral. Sizes vary from maybe 10cm to over half a meter.
A stroll around Barkhor will provide a fair estimate of the types and sizes on offer.
What to pay: From 50RMB upwards
Any tourist or monastery stall: The Malla Beads
What to buy: Traditional Tibetan prayer beads, known as the malla beads, are one of the items that instantly differentiate pilgrims from passers-by around Tibet's many shrines. Used to count prayers, each string of malla beads has exactly 108 beads (considered an auspicious number in Buddhism), with a 'stopper' bead to make sure you have correctly counted the full circle. There are also often two smaller strings attached to count completed circles.
In the 19th century, the malla beads were adapted by the pundits, native Indian surveyors often posing as pilgrims and working for the British to help them map undoscovered areas of Tibet (8 beads were taken out of the malla beads to make a round number and individual beads were used to count paces). Today, they make an excellent souvenir (which, together with many other religious items, can be purchased at most stalls in tourist- and pilgrim-frequented areas) to take home. Malla beads can range in price from a few EUR for a wooden string to about a thousand for one made of precious or semi-precious stones - though most of the malla bead strings you will find for sale in Tibet will be at the lower end of the price range.
Other popular materials include plant seeds (lotus and bodhi tree being most requested due to their religious significance), yak bone (often decorated), mother-of-pearl, etc.
What to pay: From a few EUR to over a thousand depending on material
Any stall/shop in the tourist areas: The Singing Bowls
What to buy: One of the most interesting souvenirs that can be brought from Tibet (and which is available from most stalls around the main tourist areas and monasteries) is a Tibetan singing bowl. Traditionally used as an aid to Buddhist meditation, these bowls are made from a blend of 7 metals (even though the technology has changed to produce them in quantities required for to supply the modern tourist industry) and produce a humming sound when a wooden stick is rotated around the outer edge of the bowl (while this may sound easy, it's not - it did take us some time to adapt to 'playing' the bowl).
The size of the bowls range from about 10cm to 30cm in diameter, and are often decorated with mantras (most prominent one being the 'om mani padme hum') and the eight auspicious symbols of Tibetan Buddhism. The sound produced will depend on the quality of the bowl, with the finer ones having a wider 'vocal range'.
What to pay: Prices start from about 15-20 EUR and can go up into the hundreds as quality and size increase.Related to:
- Road Trip
- Religious Travel
Any stall in tourist area: DZI Beads
What to buy: DZI beads are on sale at most stalls around major cities, and can be of varying sizes and designs. In Tibetan culture, the dZi beads are considered to bring good luck (and, maybe more importantly, keep away bad luck!), give longevity, etc.
Most of the dZi beads on sale are coloured glass, and are replicas of the original thing - they can be purchased quite cheaply (about 4-5 EUR a piece) and still make great souvenirs. The next rung on the dZi bead ladder - the modern agate beads with genuine inlays forming 'Buddha's eyes' patterns. Although they look much less 'glossy', they are rarer and thus are considerably more expensive. The most expensive variety is the ancient agate dZi beads, which - if well-preserved - can fetch tens of thousands of EUR apiece.
If buying the original agate ones, and especially the ancient beads, it's probably best to look in specialised stores. With ancient beads, buying broken ones is considered to bring bad luck as they've 'taken on' the bad luck coming the way of their previous owners (that's how the local tradition says the dZi beads break)
General info: Goodies
What to buy in Tibet? There are so many choices. For example, I bought a silver bracelet. The famous mantra “Om mani padme hum” is engraved on it in Tibetan Sanskrit letters. Corals, turquoise stones and many other gems of Tibet are very popular. There is a huge jewelry store on Barkor, selling a variation of corals. Jewels weren’t so cheap but there were very good designs.
We bought some pearls from a woman on Barkor streets. My friends had several colors but I only had a pink. My friend bought a rosary to her dad. Most famous ones were from yak bone. If you like amethyst, Tibet is perfect for you. Our Nepali guide gave a big one as a gift to our Turkish guide in Kambala. Several children were selling huge amethyst blocks here.
I expected to find the cure to all diseases in here. Many of the ancient stories have it, somebody gets very ill and a plant from Himalayas cures him. And I also saw a store selling natural medicines but English did not work for me in here.
Barkhor Market street
The dizzling alleys of the Barkhor area are crowded with street stalls and shops selling everything a pilgrim dreams of (and a tourist wishes for souvenirs)!
You just cant get enough of the vivid Tibetan life in this part of the town!
What to buy: Art, local craft(sometimes imports from Nepal;), pilgrim equipment (prayer wheels, prayer flags), so called antiques.....
What to pay: Ohhhh, always keep in mind to bargain, bargain, bargain......
They expect you to bargain, it is not offending at all. As long as they sell it to you in the end, be sure they make a gooood profit!
all passes: Praying Flags
Look for a old lady.
What to buy: Any pass you reach, locals are used to hang or to tied some praying flags.
A nice present indeed to your friend. You can purchase all sort of them ! short, long, colorful or plain, ......
What to pay: from 1 to 5 USD, never more !!!!!!Related to:
- Budget Travel
Many shops: Get ready for trekking
In Lhassa, there are many shops selling trekking equipment. If you did not shop in Kathmandu, Lhassa is the place. Large choice at decent price and for sure cheaper than Chengdu. (but more expensive than Kath).
What to buy: Shoesgloves, shirt, ......
What to pay: Bargain plsRelated to:
- Budget Travel
Shopping in the Barkhor
The Barkhor Area is a great place to browse around while soaking up Tibetan buddhist culture at the same time. There are numerous stalls and there are plenty of items of Tibetan and Buddhist nature to be found here, but beware: the majority of them are not produced in Tibet but rather are from Nepal, India or of course, "Made in China". Still, some items make for good gift souvenirs, and most times you can get a good deal.
What to pay: Bargain and bargain hard.
Market: Local jewelry
Jewelry of all kind is very popular by the Tibetan people. The gold and silver jewelry and ornaments with all kind of stones are still made with the traditional techniques and skill at high level. At all markets you can find the local jewelry, like here at the market of Xigaze
I liked the Tibetan jewelry and the Tibetan women at the market liked my long wooden blue and turquoise coloured earrings, bought at home. They showed their admiration for my earrings by putting out their tongue very far. I never saw before such long tongues....
Bargaining with Tibetan Craftspeople
First of all, you'll find that most of the shops located around the Barkhor Square are run by Chinese people, not Tibetans. Buyer Beware. On the other hand, the Tibetans are the ones handling many of the open air kiosks that surround the Barkhor Square - a fun activity to do before or after you've visited the Jokang Temple.
The Tibetans try to drive a good bargain like anyone else. If you treat them with respect and don't drive them into the ground, they'll give you a more than reasonable price on their goods AND send you off with a blessing and good karma.
IF however, you bargain and bargain them down to a dollar and then don't even purchase the item, you'll incur their wrath - like David did! He was told that he was a "Cheap - Cheap - CHINESE!" -- the ULTIMATE insult in Tibet, obviously!
What to buy: Those buddhist temple horns made out of metal are great buys....as are the beautiful and very ubiquitous Prayer Wheels. A "Marriage Apron" is also a great gift to bring back to someone...and a good bargain.
What to pay: See above comments!
Tibet...where the store comes to you!
In the bigger cities, you can always go to the markets and go to the shops that you will find everywhere, often no more than a blanket spread on the street itself. But if you can't decide, don't worry. As in so many poorer countries, here you will be assaulted, inundated, and approached by anyone and everyone looking to sell you things you don't want, don't need, and have never even heard of.
Don't take my "assaulted" too literally either. Although the children, in particular, can be pushy (both figuratively and sometimes literally), they are never nasty or difficult--just extremely poor.
Of course, there are some extraordinary bargains and some fascinating objects for sale as well. Be careful, bargain, and don't expect to find true relics. Even the things that look old or authentic may well have been knocked out just last week. But it doesn't really matter, does it? You are looking for mementos of a once-in-a-lifetime trip and you will find those aplenty.
Shoping in the Monasteries !!!
When looking for that Typical Tibetan Souvenir to take back home a Good place to find some thing is in the Monasteries in Lhasa !! Everything is priced very keenly and ALL of your money goes into the Monastery funds !! There is a surprising array of good quality souvenirs to pick from and of course a Great photo opportunity as well !!!!Related to:
- Budget Travel
In India (not in Tibet): Map of Tibet
I found this map in Auroville. Tibetans made it. They want Tibet without Chinese.
What to buy: Map of Tibet
What to pay: Normal priceRelated to:
- Budget Travel
- Adventure Travel
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