Experiences of an American woman who was married to a Serb.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Christmas Shopping in Pokhara Nepal: Land of a Thousand Pashmina

I thought I was so clever. Things you can buy in Pokhara for the folks back home are plentiful, yet limited in scope. To wit:

#1. Faux "North Face" hiking gear which has an apparent life expectancy in actual field use of about 90 days.

#2. Cheap Indian cotton clothing (including the stripy pants so awful even Lonely Planet advises against buying them) coughed up like a hairball from styles of the late 1960s and early 70s. Notably I've never seen an actual Indian citizen or a Nepali wearing anything like them.

#3. CDs and DVDs -- illegally burned copies of whatever aid workers and trekkers left behind in various hotel rooms over the years. Fairly literate and upmarket, few blockbusters but many obscure independent films. A steal at RS200-400, but breaking copyright is after all stealing, so one would not want to encourage it.

#4. Tibetan "antiques" birthed fresh daily from various refugee camps nearby. Rather cheerful, if dark colored, but not simple to ship as presents unless one has a supply of boxes and tape, which I somehow neglected to pack for this trip.

#5. Pashminas, Pashminas, Pashminas.

I use this as an all encompassing term for everything sold here that's pashmina-shaped, as much is not actually truly 100% from pashmina hair. One shopkeeper demonstrated a test today: light a Bic (or match) carefully on the tip of a bit of fringe. If it catches fire easily, it's definitely fake. If it doesn't, you know there's some new wool content, although not what type or quality.

Anyhow, because every other store sells pashminas, most of which claim to be made locally, and they're remarkably easy to pop into UPS envelopes and mail off home (one is warned against placing too much trust in the Nepal postal service - if it works, prepare to be happily delighted, if it doesn't, well that's what you expected, so no harm done), so I decided pashminas for all and sundry would be it this year.

Easy yes, but not a perfect solution, because how do you judge what color and pattern a giftee would prefer and what she'd abhor?

So I got clever. I emailed a questionnaire to everyone. All they had to do was hit "reply", check boxes to indicate preferences (ie. stripes, paisley, solid, embroidered flowers) , and type their favorite color. At the last minute I added one final question "Colors I never wear are: [ enter here]" and it's a darn good thing I did too because that was the doozy.

Save for my sister Rachel (thou shalt be blessed among women), nearly every single other person typed something like "Pink, yellow, bright colors" into the colors-I-hate box.

I set out shopping with some concern, for in a land of 1,000 pashminas there are very, very few that are not bright colors. The fact that 70% of my loved ones had specified "Brown" as their color choice made things even harder.

When you enter a pashmina shop and ask to see "all the brown you've got please" they look at you as though you're a bit sad. (The fact that I happened to be clothed nearly from head to toe in brown myself - which I didn't realize until later - didn't help.) Here, even the poorest, elderly women hobbling along on canes wear a wealth of colors layered against the fall air - reds, pinks, golds, you name it. How empty and dour our Western world must be, I could see their eyes thinking.

1 comment:

alex said...

Do a rub test as well to check if it’s colorfast. A couple of years ago, a friend of mine gave me a beautiful deep red pashmina from Nepal (she was actually there and bought “the original”). Unfortunately, the color leached so bad that everything that got in touch with it was red: my face, hands, clothing… Washing it didn’t help, it just brought more and more of the color out. Now, it sits in the closet sealed in a food saver bag and I can’t bring myself to throw it away. Maybe I’ll use it to color eggs with it next Easter. Here’s an invention: dry rub egg coloring.