Souvenirs make great gifts for friends and family at home but they also serve as reminders of the place you visited, the people you met and the wealth of experiences you had. Souvenirs from Bhutan are no different. From cute and quirky to elegant and intricate, you will be glad to have these unique keepsakes that remind you of Bhutan.
Handicraft stores and craft bazaars can be found all across the country and are the best places to buy souvenirs but you can venture into the local markets and stores if you are feeling adventurous.
Two of the most popular items from Bhutan are jewelry and textiles. The jewelry is made of gold or silver, set with precious stones and often features traditional designs like the eternal knot. There are midrange and high-end jewelry stores in Thimphu city.
Textiles from Bhutan are vibrant, patterned and usually hand-woven. Visit a local store to buy your own set of gho/ kira or visit the handicraft bazaar for ties, bags, purses and cushion covers made with traditional fabrics in eye-catching designs.
An excellent example of Bhutanese craftsmanship is intricately carved masks that are often featured in masked dances during festivals. Handbags made of Yatha, bamboo products, carved wooden products and woven garments are also popular. Other options are wooden utensils called Dapa and intricately painted furniture.
One of the most unique souvenirs from Bhutan are stamps. The most traditional ones showcase the country's rich cultural heritage, flora and fauna. Newer stamps are popular all over the world and include 3-dimensional stamps, silk stamps (thanka) and a circular grooved stamp that plays Bhutan’s national anthem.
With Bhutanese Thangka paintings, hand-made Desho paper, Dzi beads, carved masks, honey, tea bath products and many more souvenirs available, you will be spoilt for choice. You can satisfy even the pickiest friends and family with a unique souvenir from the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan.
Arts & Crafts of Bhutan
Bhutanese arts and crafts are often sourced from raw materials and take years to master. Today, local craftsmen learn these ancient arts and find modern ways to appeal to newer generations. This way, these ancient arts are given a new life and continue to be a part of Bhutanese culture.
Zorig Chusum or the 13 arts are the cornerstone of Bhutanese arts and crafts. These were categorized in the 14th century, during the time of the Desi (temporal ruler) Tenzin Rabgye. You can learn more about these arts and pick up souvenirs made by students at the National Institute of Zorig Chosum in Thimphu.
Shingzo or Carpentry. The architecture of Bhutan is defined by intricate woodwork found on most dzongs and monasteries. You can find furniture like dressers, vanities and tables with fine woodwork and exquisite designs.
Parzo or Carving. Craftsmen carve on slate or wood to embellish furniture, religious texts and altars. Masks that are used in festivals are found in a variety of colors, shapes and sizes and make excellent decoration pieces for your home.
Lhazo or Painting. Those with an eye for art will appreciate the time and effort that goes into the murals, frescoes and paintings all across Bhutan. Thangka or religious paintings are done with natural pigmented soils. These one-of-a-kind paintings are the perfect gift for art-lovers.
Tsharzo or cane and bamboo weaving. Found especially in eastern districts, the craftsmen produce household products such as cutlery and plates, baskets and bags. These items come in different designs and colors. They are lightweight and make the perfect souvenirs that can be used at home.
Dezo or Paper making. This ancient art involves making delicate and beautiful paper from barks of the Daphne tree. Once used for traditional texts, they can now be found as books, cards, wrapping paper, envelopes and even calendars.
Troeko or Jewelry making. Ornaments and jewelry from Bhutan like necklaces, brooches, rings and containers are painstakingly crafted from gold, silver and copper. Some are set with precious stones and would complement any wardrobe and style.
Tshemzo or Tailoring/ Embroidery. Those who practice tailoring stitch traditional clothes such as the gho and kira. Meanwhile, monks are trained to embroider the thongdrel or giant religious paintings. Brightly embroidered tsolhams or traditional boots are unique and popular souvenirs.
Shagzo or Woodturning. Some of the most renowned in this craft are found in Trashiyangtse in the east of Bhutan. The wooden bowls, cups, utensils and containers are easily found in local markets and handicraft stores.
Made in Bhutan
In recent years, Bhutan has seen the emergence of a range of local products usually made with raw materials found in the country. Innovative entrepreneurs are starting small businesses that produce everything from garments and food products to herbal medicine and stationary. These products make great gifts and are proudly Made in Bhutan.
One Gewog One Product (OGOP) aims to boost the local economy and strengthen rural communities by providing support for local produce in terms of packaging, marketing and other technical support. The project supports local artisans and farmers withdeveloping at least one product from each Gewog (sub-district). Their products include tea, honey, rice, candy and many more on their website. These are conveniently packaged for travel.
The Cottage and Small Industry (CSI) Market is the place to find “The Best of Bhutan under One Roof”. Located in Thimphu, this is the premier marketplace for Bhutanese products. CSI market offers a variety of products including books, daily essentials, food, tea, edible items and other craft products.
By supporting products made in the country, Bhutanese hope to lessen the dependence on imported products. Visitors in the country can choose from a wealth of products at specialized marketplaces and ordinary grocery stores. These products are ideal souvenirs that meet high standards of authenticity, local sourcing and assured quality, while directly benefiting the livelihoods of farmers and artisans.
Textiles of Bhutan
Bhutanese textiles are known for their rich color, sophisticated patterns and intricate dyeing methods. The variety and splendor of local fabrics are especially apparent during festivals when locals don their best ghos and kiras.
According to legend, weaving was first introduced in Bhutan by the wife of Songsten Gampo. Weavers in Bhutan continue to hone this craft and it is often passed down to them from their mothers and grandmothers.
Districts in eastern Bhutan are especially well known for their weaves, especially the prized kishuthara. Meander through local clothes shops and handicraft stores if you want to get your hands on textile products that are available in different forms.
Of the 13 celebrated arts and crafts in Bhutan, Thagzo refers to weaving. This is one of the oldest vocations, embedded in Bhutanese history and way of life. Textiles from Bhutan come in a variety of patterns, colors and can feature complex motifs.
Traditionally, women would weave in the winters when there was not much work in the fields. Textiles could once even be used as a form of payment. Nowadays there are still many women in rural Bhutan who weave to supplement their income.
Though there are many textile patterns like martha, pangtse, mentha, sertha and buray, many Bhutanese women dream of owning a kishuthara or silk kira.
The textiles of Bhutan differ from region to region. The most common patterns are available in most handicraft and souvenir shops. Visit the Royal Textile Academy to understand more about this art form and see which design suits your fancy.