Shopping Tips in Tibet

Tibet is a place that many people yearn for, and some may only come here once or twice in their whole lives. Therefore, in addition to taking beautiful photos and tasting authentic Tibetan food, most people will buy some souvenirs when they leave.

Where to Buy in Tibet?

1. Yuthok Road

You’d better buy some practical items you need in Lhasa if you plan to travel to remote areas of Tibet. There are many department stores in Lhasa, mostly on Yuthok Road that supply everyday needs. For example, Lhasa Department Store, located on the west end of Yuthok Road, is the largest and best known department store in Lhasa and sells practical items such as cotton clothing, mugs, canned food, towels, and toothpaste, as well as local handicrafts. There are also some supermarkets in Lhasa, such as Hongyan Supermarket Chains mainly distributed in Lhasa downtown.

2. Barkhor Street

Tibet is full of scenic and historical wonder. Even you have explored all the wonders, your trip could not be completed without an fantastic shopping experience at Barkhor Square. So it is wise to give yourself at least half a day to explore the Barkhor Street or the other place of the city freely after you finish your sightseeing plan.

Barkhor Street is a traditional Tibetan shopping center, where shopkeepers with small shops and stalls on the street supply more traditional and fascinating Tibetan artifacts and handicrafts. These items include prayer flags, Buddha figures, conch-shell trumpets, rosaries, amulets, fur hats, horse bells, bridles, copper teapots, wooden bowls, inlaid knives, and jewelry inlaid with turquoise and other gems. All the handicrafts are unique designed and cheap and they are great souvenirs anyway that you can take back home. Among them, Tibetan knife is a special item that is not allowed on airplane, but you can certainly mail it to your home by express.

What to Buy in Tibet?

The great charm of the local culture, religion, art and folklore has made Tibet great place for picking up spectacular souvenirs. These souvenirs are very unique and remarkably outstanding creation, variable in their own way that cannot really be manufactured in any other place in this world. Thus in this part, we are going to give you some shopping items that you can take back home as the embodiment of Tibetan culture.

1. Religious Objects

Tibet has a long history of Buddhism. In Tibet, many people’s lives are dedicated to Tibetan Buddhism. Religious customs are part of everyday life, from chanting mantras and prostrating in a local square to walking the ‘kora’ around a temple or sacred site. Therefore, religious objects are essential. Among the best known religious souvenirs which you can carry back to your land from Tibet are the Tibetan Incense sticks, the Tibetan Thangka, the Tibetan prayer wheels, Tibetan Buddhas and the prayer flags.

Tibetan incense sticks, with a wide variety, is necessary for Tibetans to worship Buddhism, drive out evil spirit and hold religious activities. These sticks are made completely from herbs like nutmeg, saffron, clove and other natural flowers and herbs. Tibetan incense can not only make clothing smell good, but also have the effect of mothproof. Among them, “Guo Le Nie Incense(果乐聂阿香)” is one of the most valuable Tibetan incenses. As with most Asian incense, Tibetan incense is not rolled around a bamboo stick, but is extruded into lengths.

Hand-painted Thangka is a characteristic handicraft in Tibet, a very important product of Tibetan religion and also a unique artistic form of painting in Tibetan culture. Usually painted on cloth, brocades, embroideries and papers and scrolls and silks, with distinctive ethnic characteristics, strong religious color and unique artistic style, Thangka depicts the world of sacred Buddha in bright color.

Tibetan prayer wheel is a cylindrical wheel on a spindle made from metal, wood, stone, leather or coarse cotton, and a device for spreading spiritual blessings and well being in Tibet. Usually in the early times, these prayer wheels were rotated and the mantras inside them were chanted simultaneously. The prayer wheel helped the lamas to meditate properly. 

you can also take back Tibetan Buddha statues that come in many shapes and forms. You can get lying Buddha, seated Buddha, meditating Buddha and lot of other postures. They are made from many different materials like metals like gold and silver even. Besides, there are also colorful Tibetan flags you can see. Taking them with you always is a good option.

2. Tibet Crafts

These traditional crafts are made from a variety of things including precious metals, natural materials and so on. Silver and copper are precious metals and natural materials are bamboo, wood and even bones. Tibetan handicrafts are very popular in the whole world. The crafts include Tibetan rugs, masks, daggers and conch shell trumpets and carpets and textiles.

Tibetan rug is mainly antique carpet, Tibetan carpet, together with Persian carpet and Turkey carpet, is known as the world’s top three famous rugs. The unique texture of the Tibetan carpet, with its bright color and harmony, its softness, delicacy, fastness and durable in use, coupled with decorative pattern with strong ethnic color, makes it have a high appreciation value and can be regarded as exquisite workmanship, Beautiful designed. Tibetan carpets are best known for Gyantse carpets.

The Tibetan Mask is traditionally called ‘Ba’ in the local language. It is mostly used during Tibetan Opera and traditional folk dances as well as religious customs. These masks are unique to each other in terms of shape, style and beauty too. The Tibetan Masks are broadly classified into three types. One is the Tibetan Folk Dance Mask used in folk dances. The others are Tibetan Opera Masks for Operas and Religious Masks for religious customs and gatherings.

Tibetan textile that is most widely used in Tibet is a woolen fabric that is called Pulu. This is due to the cold in the Himalayan region. The local Tibetan people use this fabric for making shoes, caps and other woolen clothing to apart from carpets. The warm textile not only keeps out cold but also is beautiful to look at and equally durable too.

3. Wooden Bowl

With the characteristics of good thermal insulation, light and portable, Tibetan wooden bowl is usually used for drinking tea. Wooden bowl is divided into two types, common type: made of Kirinoki, birch and other tree roots, simply polished, no additional decoration, affordable price; and valuable type: made of precious wood, black color, decorated with silver, appears gorgeous and noble, the price is expensive.

4. Medicines

Except for handicrafts and the other religious souvenirs, the medicines are also important aspects to test your shopping experience in Tibet. The Tibetan medicines are totally herbal but they work very fast unlike the modern day medicines. The Tibetan medicines Like saffron, aweto and snow lotus are the popular medicinal herbs that they use for curative purposes. 

Saffron is a very valuable Tibetan medicine, deeply loved by female friends, can be used for women’s beauty care. For the elderly, it has a great effect of preventive care. Saffron also has other medicinal effects, such as anti-tumor, health care for liver, gallbladder and kidney. Due to the shortage of saffron medicines and high prices, there are many fake saffron products on the market.

5. Snacks

Most of the snacks are edibles that should be eaten within one day or two days. For a long journey back home, noodles are the best options. You can also take back dried fried yak sausages, the corned meat made from yak meat and cheese. Also the dried canned meats are quite popular. Except for these, you can try the momo with chocolates, yak wraps and Naizha cake which are cheesy and extremely tasty.

6. Tibetan Accessories

Beautiful Tibetan accessories are born with the magic of the land. Natural stones, corals, animal bones, and silver are the main ingredients for Tibetan accessories. Small patterns, engraving and inlay, all skillfully form the design style of Tibetan accessories, and emit a strong flavor of primitive simplicity. All the accessories are made by hand, many of them are made by lamas in the temple, and each one is different. But now pure handmade Tibetan accessories are rare, many of them are imitation products from Yiwu, and the quality from Nepal will be more reliable.

7. Tibetan Knife

Tibetan knife, also known as Tibetan waist knife, is not only an indispensable appliance in the production and life of the Tibetan people, but also enjoys a high reputation at home and abroad because of its unique ethnic characteristics, such as its shape and workmanship. Therefore, when describing Tibetan characteristics, people are always associated with knives. Tibetan knife is used for cutting meat and body protecting, and also is kind of adornment. Men’s knife is sharp and rugged while women’s is fine. The scabbard ranges from wood, copper, iron to copper and is often carved with Tibetan language as well as delicate designs such as dragons, phoenixes, tigers, lions and flowers. Some designs are adorned with gems and agates, making the scabbard even more beautiful. In Tibet, if a friend gets married or a baby is born, sending a Tibetan knife to the host or hostess is very significant and will make them very happy.

Some Tips for Shopping in Tibet

1. There are many souvenirs you can buy in Tibet. Religious articles such as small prayer wheels, prayer beads and so on. Many women love Tibetan clothing, dzi beads, Red Turquoise and turquoise very much. Others include Tibetan medicines and tonics, like cordyceps sinensis, Saffron, Truffle and snow lotus, etc.

2. Lhasa has a lot of handcrafts full of local flavor and ethnic style, every tourist to Lhasa will pick one or two to take home for commemorating. Shopping in Lhasa is concentrated on Barkhor Street. Although there are a lot of fake or crude products, most of them need no special identification and can be identified at a glance. As long as you select carefully, can get what you like. There are a variety of Tibetan accessories, Nepalese jewelry, pendants, small crafts, religious objects, rugs, tapestries, thangka and so on.

3. The ethnic tourism arts and crafts shopping mall next to Barkhor Street is a good shopping place with lower price and most of objects there are guaranteed. Try not to purchase Tibetan medicine, cordyceps and saffron at Barkhor Street, where they are basically fake. You can get them at Tibet Tibetan Pharmaceutical Factory, Lhasa Tibetan Pharmaceutical Factory or its retail department, but you can’t bargain.

4. To buy fruits and vegetables, you can go to Zongjiao Lukang Market(宗角碌康市场) next to the Potala Palace, which is the largest vegetable market in Lhasa.

5. Do not forget to carefully examine jewelry for quality. Though lots of jewelry of excellent quality is available, some is coarse and poor in quality. It is very easy to find appealing items that are uniquely Tibetan. Exotic Tibetan opera masks and costumes are really attractive. Brightly colored, beautifully homespun Tibetan rugs and khaddar are also popular souvenirs. Tibetan carpet can be bought at the Tash Delek Tibetan Rug Factory.

6. As in other traditional markets throughout the world, you should try to bargain with the shopkeepers so as to buy nice things at lower prices. Cutting half of their asking prices is usually proper. Except shoppers, you may be accompanied by hundreds of prostrating pilgrims. It is a thrilling experience that will certainly remind you that you are in Lhasa.

Other Tips

  • Don’t believe any jewelry selling at very high price on the outdoor booth. They are usually made of fake materials.
  • If you need to buy jewelry, go certificated stores, and carefully examine jewelry for quality.
  • You are not suggested buy any items pricing higher than 10,000 RMB unless you are good at checking authenticity, such as gold stuff, diamonds, antiques, etc.
  • Don’t believe any people who advise you to buy something during sightseeing.
  • Dancing and singing shows which are operated by private organizations are usually not worthy trying.
  • Tibetan people call white copper “silver”, so the cheap silver ornaments are usually mixed with copper. If you want to buy real silver jewelry, go to shops or department stores.
  • If some locals try to sell you souvenirs but you are not interested, don’t be afraid to refuse.