Many visitors to Kathmandu stay in the Thamel district, which is chock-a-block full of souvenir shops and trinket sellers. But while good-quality items and reasonable prices can be found in Thamel, and it is a great place to buy books and cheap clothing, it’s generally better to shop elsewhere if you want a memorable shopping experience and high-quality items.
The fair trade craft shops dotted around the city are a better bet. These are concentrated along Pulchowk Road in Lalitpur, as well as on Lazimpat Road in Kathmandu. My favourite shops are Mahaguthi and Sana Hastakala, both on Pulchowk Road, as you head up the hill after crossing the Bagmati River into Lalitpur. The prices are perhaps a little higher than you’d find in the markets, but the quality is better. Some of the best items are hand-painted or printed textiles, such as cushion covers and bed-spreads. These can be had for around $10-50. Other worthwhile purchases are cashmere blankets and sweaters, paper products, ceramics, jewellery, and knitted gloves, socks and hats.
Another place to find high-quality souvenirs in the form of jewellery are the small, blue and green shuttered shops around the Patan Durbar Square. Silver earrings, rings, pendants and bangles, many with semi-precious stones, and Tibetan jewellery can be picked up from around $10. It’s best to aim for the smaller shops on ground level, not the big showrooms, as they sell very similar products but at better prices. The lighting might be dim and the items dusty, but that is all part of the fun.
The souvenir shops within the Babar Mahal Revisited complex are also of very good quality, and this old, renovated Rana Palace complex and courtyard area is a beautiful and peaceful place to browse. You can combine this with lunch at one of the high-end Nepali or international restaurants within. However, the prices of everything—clothing, jewellery, paper products—are extremely high here, so I would advise window-shopping only. It’s also best to avoid the shopping malls in Kathmandu, as they’re rather drab and sell the kinds of things easily available ‘back home’. But there is no good reason to leave Kathmandu empty-handed, with such a range of other beautiful shops to visit.