Keepsakes from Nepal

Keepsakes from Nepal

What can a country like Nepal offer as souvenirs, one might wonder. Surprisingly, some of the souvenirs you can pick up are unique to Nepal, writes Michael Patrao

Kukri knife and sheath

Souvenirs often turn out to be mundane like refrigerator magnets (which can be bought from your local curio shop), or a T-shirt which declares, ‘I love NY’ or some other city one might have visited. Sometimes a souvenir, which you may like, may be too heavy to carry back home.

What can a country like Nepal offer as souvenirs, one might wonder. Surprisingly, some of the souvenirs you can pick up are unique to Nepal. I treasure a few of them from my visit to Kathmandu.

Kukri – the Gurkha knife

Kukri — the Gurkha knife, undoubtedly, is the most popular souvenir that tourists buy in Nepal. They are available in various sizes. I brought a medium-sized one and a couple of miniature ones in brass from one of the many antique and curio shops in Thamel. It is also available in the form of a glass bottle filled with branded rum, ideal to be kept in the showcase. I was given to understand that such Kukri-shaped rum bottles are also available in Sikkim. The Kukri, with a long history and tradition, has been known as the Gurkha knife since World War I and II as they are synonymous with the Gurkha. It is a utility knife for the Nepalese people, a national weapon of Nepal, and a souvenir for the tourist.

Nepali topi

When I saw the colourful Nepali topi in a roadside shop, I impulsively bought them. It reminded me of Rajesh Khanna, in a Nepali topi, driving in a jeep in Darjeeling, singing Mere sapno ki rani and serenading Sharmila Tagore travelling in a mini train. Incidentally, Darjeeling has a sizable number of Nepalis.

Nepali topi is made of Dhaka cloth, imported from the capital of Bangladesh. The hand-crafted Dhaka topi, as it is known, has become a part of the Nepalese national dress. Not everyone wears a Nepali topi today except on festive occasions, although it is worn by government officials as a part of the national dress. While strolling through the Durbar Square, I spotted a Nepali looking smart in a topi sitting in front of a temple. I promptly clicked this smiling citizen.

Books

Pilgrim Book House, which also doubles as a publisher with its own imprint, located in the Thamel tourist district of Kathmandu, is popular with tourists. With both new and used books, it specialises in books on Everest, mountaineering, trekking,
Himalayas, Buddhism among others. I went there for a book I have been looking for a long time — My Kind of Kathmandu by Desmond Doig. I did not find it but found another equally interesting book by him — In the Kingdom of the Gods, comprising 60 stories of temples, legends, gods and goddesses of Nepal.

Another interesting book I had heard about and discovered at Pilgrim’s was Hippie Dharma, by Captain F D Colaabavala, first published in 1974.

It looks at hippie culture in Kathmandu in the 1960s and 70s and after they arrived in Goa.

Incidentally, Dev Anand had made a film, Hare Rama Hare Krishna about hippie culture in which he traces his
truant sister in Kathmandu, a role played by Zeenat Aman. Remember the song Dum maaro dum?

Lokta – handmade paper

Each country has its own handmade paper-making tradition. Lokta paper is handmade artisan paper indigenous to Nepal.

The raw material is a bark of the lokta plant, a woody shrub in coniferous forests of the Himalayas in Nepal.

The paper is made from the fibrous inner bark of this shrub. Hoping to make use of the paper in some way, I bought a few sheets from a shop which displayed them. There are also books made of lokta paper. The paper is said to be durable, long lasting and resistant to tearing. It is therefore used for recording official government records the way we use bond paper.

Rope incense

While walking through Durbar Square, I could smell the rich fragrance emanating from the myriad temples there. This, I discovered was rope incense.

Most shops in Durbar Square sold this incense rope made of herbs found in the high Himalayas. I bought a bundle containing 50 incense ropes, each about 10 centimetres long. Back home, it gave me many days of rich fragrance.

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