The vast majority of Tibetan shopping opportunities are located in Lhasa, where vendors flock from across the region to sell their wares on Barkhor Street. Tibet’s liveliest shopping street may be best known for its bustling open-air market, but several shops are also housed within ancient buildings.
Some of the Tibetan souvenirs visitors can buy on Barkhor Street include traditional carpets, which are among the world’s finest, and handmade jewelry. The unique works of art sold here include embroidered or painted banners called thangka, frescos, and paintings drawn on wooden tablets. Sand paintings are created with minerals and colored sand which is poured through a small hole at the tip of a cone.
Time consuming bronzes, animal and human masks, clay models, and carvings of wood and stone are among the three dimensional works of art sold on Barkhor Street. However, butter sculptures may be one of Lhasa’s most unique forms of art. These sculptures, made from butter, ice water, and mineral dyes, are traditionally created to celebrate the Lamp Festival, held during the 15th day of the Tibetan year’s first month.
Most other Barkhor Street goods are Tibetan Buddhism ritual objects such as musical instruments symbolizing praise, baskets and vessels symbolizing attendance, rosary beads and bells showing devotion, writings and images signifying protection, and objects bearing Buddhist teachings to symbolize guidance.
Although Lhasa now contains a growing number of modern shopping centres, visitors should still purchase handmade items directly from local vendors, and barter with them when necessary. Supporting the Tibetan economy is always appreciated, especially as buying local goods helps to maintain the local culture, which is in danger of disappearing.
The only items which should be avoided altogether are jewelry made from coral or turquoise, which may be fake, and items containing bones or skin from wild animals which may be endangered.