Many of the souvenirs for sale in Bhutan are actually made in India or Nepal, but there are lots of interesting Bhutanese products, especially textiles, baskets, jewellery, incense, books, atsara (clown masks) and religious items. Local products also include Tsheringma herbal teas, flavoured with safflower and gooseberry, and the organic lemongrass oil and sprays made by Bio Bhutan (www.biobhutan.com).
Getting a Gho
Getting your very own gho or kira (traditional dress for men and women, respectively) is a novel idea for a souvenir, and you could don it before heading to a festival or event in Bhutan. Many shops in Thimphu, including the souvenir shops, sell off-the-rack versions; Sephub Gyeltsen Tsongkhang is recommended and prices there are comparableto those found elsewhere.
To get the best fit, allow a couple of days to get an item tailor-made. Don’t forget you’ll also need to invest in a kera (narrow woven belt; Nu 250), while men also need a white lhagey (inner liner) and omso (socks), and women will need a wonju (blouse).
Once you have your gho or kira, you'll probably need help learning how to wear it. You'll also need some instruction on storing the gho, which involves folding the pleats origami-style. Video your guide demonstrating it or you'll never remember how!
Crafty Thimphu Workshops
Thimphu has a small arts and crafts industry. Ask your tour company to arrange a visit to the following workshops and traditional factories in Thimphu.
Jungshi Handmade Paper Factory This small factory produces traditional Bhutanese paper handmade from the bark of the daphne bush. You can see the whole process, from soaking and boiling the bark to sorting, crushing, pulping, layering, pressing and drying. Products for sale here include lovely decorated paper (Nu 250 to Nu 800 per sheet), as well as cards, notebooks, lampshades and calendars, plus it has a stand at the Norzin Lam Craft Stalls. Jungshi means 'natural'.
Nado Poizokhang Incense Factory Easily Thimphu's sweetest-smelling excursion, this traditional workshop churns out about 10,000 sticks of handmade incense monthly. You can watch the production process (grinding, extruding and drying) at the main workshop just above the Changangkha Lhakhang, or simply browse for the final product at the nearby showroom.
Goldsmiths Workshop This government workshop, behind the long-distance bus station, is a bit rough and ready, but it's a good place to see copper and silver chasing and the production of everything from fine jewellery to large monastery pieces like toranas (arches found over statue) and finials.
A One of a Kind Souvenir
The Philatelic Bureau at Thimphu's post office is the unlikely location for one of Bhutan's most unique gifts. Bring a favourite digital photo on a USB stick, or have a portrait taken on the spot, and staff will print you a sheet of personalised stamps with your photo on them. The process costs Nu 200 (the actual cost of the stamps) and takes just a couple of minutes. The shop also sells postcards, which you can then post back home using stamps with your likeness on them. There are also some first edition stamp sets.