How many Sikkim Souvenirs can you pick – not many, right? Wait till you read this. It may be the smallest state by area, but it has the rich culture that it loves to celebrate through its clothes, jewelry & ritual objects. Last time when I had visited the state, I did pick up some interesting souvenirs from there. This time, I had more time to explore the markets of Gangtok and shops outside the tourist spots. These wanderings gave me a list of things you can buy in Sikkim.
Best of Sikkim Souvenirs to shop in Gangtok
Here is my list of top Sikkim Souvenirs to bring back home:
Everywhere you go in the state colorful prayer flags fluttering in the air welcome you. You would find them on mountain tops, at waterfalls, on roadsides, on paths leading to the lakes and just about everywhere. Prayer flags are meant to spread the prayers in the air for the general goodwill of everyone. I think it is a great idea to pick up prayer flags and hang them outside your home. You get them in various sizes to choose from.
You can also get a mini version of these prayer flags with Om Mani Padme Hum mantra written on them. You would notice these small flags on car windshields and shop shelves.
Thangka paintings can be found throughout the Himalayas – in Bhutan, Nepal, Ladakh and of course Sikkim. There are Thangkas in cotton, silk and of course paper. These are miniature paintings depicting either the scenes from Buddha’s life, Buddhist deities & Bodhisattvas or the mystic Mandalas. Unless you are a Buddhist and you connect with the iconography, choose the one that appeals to you.
Thangka paintings are some of the costliest but classiest Sikkim souvenirs to pick.
Remember Thangka paintings are delicate and demand good maintenance. Most monasteries keep their prized Thangkas in multiple layers of silk and take them out for special occasions only.
This is my favorite souvenir from Sikkim. A singing bowl is something you may have seen in many Buddhist monasteries. Singing bowls are metallic bowls, I assume made of mixed metals. They sometimes have mantras engraved on them. What is intriguing about these bowls is that they come with a wooden stick that when you move on the rim of the bowl produces and sound. If you keep moving the sound leads to a crescendo.
In case the bowl sings when in the hands of the shopkeeper and not when in your hand, here is the trick to making it sing.
Hold the bowl on top of the hollow of your palm and then move the stick around it.
Singing bowls come in all possible sizes, I chose a mid-sized one during my last trip to Bhutan & Sikkim.
A prayer wheel is Small cylindrical boxes attached to a holding stick and with a beaded thread hanging from it. Usually, the cylinders are carved in metal. High-end ones tend to have precious stones on them. What is more important is the prayer scrolls that are kept inside the cylinder. Just like prayer flags mentioned above, prayer wheels are supposed to send good energy into the air when the holder rotates the wheel.
Just like you can see sadhus and priests with their rosaries, you can see Buddhist lamas with the prayer wheels. When it moves with rhythm, it is a sight to watch. If you focus on it, it can take you to a meditative state.
You can also get standing prayer wheels that can be a good curio for your souvenir collection. You can get them cheap, made in China or you can get them stone studded.
Dorjee Bell & Thunderbolt
You must have seen these two brass artifacts in most shops that sell metal craft across the country and not just in the state. The combo is called Dorjee Bell and Thunderbolt. They represent the male and female energies and are usually placed together. Dorjee Bell represents feminine energy while thunderbolt represents male energy.
Then, there are of course Buddha statues that you can always pick. These are good and easy to maintain souvenirs.
If you are one of those who likes to dress up as a local or collects local dresses, then you must buy the Sikkimese dress that is quite like a Nepalese dress. They are neighbors of course. Formal dresses come in silk and brocade, and sometimes in the thick fabric suited for the weather. To me, they seem like a reverse Angrakha of Rajasthan.
If you are not too adventurous in dressing like me, you can always buy a Sikkimese cap – that could be a nice accessory for any of your own dresses, especially for those of you live in colder environments.
Traditional Jewelry as Sikkim souvenirs
I am sure the mention of Himalayan Jewelry brings visuals of Turquoise stone jewelry. This time I stepped a little deeper than just picking up the lovely blue stone jewelry. I sat with a local jeweler and asked him to explain to me the traditional designs that are native to the state. Here are my two recommendations from that session:
Ghau Pendants: These are pendants come in the shape of an ornate box to keep the prayer scrolls inside them. Sometimes it was also used to keep sacred herbs or relics of departed gurus. Usually made of silver they have healing stones embedded in them. Turquoise is one such healing stone that is easily found in Himalayan regions. Other popular stones include Lapis Lazuli and corals. For the devout Buddhists, Ghau pendant is their personal mobile shrine. I have a feeling that it may have its roots in the wandering communities around the world.
Then there are pendants that have sacred verses, usually ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ written on them. These are a bit contemporary in style and design.
Akor Earrings: These are beautiful earrings that are worn by the Lhasa women. The distinct identity of these long earrings is that they end in a lotus bud. Akor earrings are covered in Turquoise stone and red coral may be present to give the hint of red. They used to be very heavy in weight and were worn on the sides of the ear tied by a string to the headdress. They were not hanged on the earlobes. Now, of course, you get them in lightweight. The essence of design is well maintained if you buy from a good shop.
Giant wooden masks are used by Buddhist monasteries and Lamas for rituals and ritual dances. Watch this video of Cham Dance to see the variety of masks in action. Masks are also used by common people to ward off the evil eye and evil spirits. You can see masks hanging outside homes and shops. I am told that each mask has a purpose and symbolism, but choose the one that appeals to you. All masks are carved in the wood, mostly single piece of wood.
I picked up a red Ganesha mask. Yes, Ganesha as well Garuda with spread out wings are popular souvenirs from the state.
You have heard of Darjeeling Tea and Assam Tea but maybe not Sikkim tea. Well, the state is not too far from Darjeeling and it has its lovely tea estates. In fact, when we drove from Gangtok to Darjeeling, we drove through Temi Tea Estate and it was one of our loveliest drive in the region. Temi tea is the state’s biggest Tea brand with popular tea brands like Kho-Cha. Golden Tips is another brand that sells the state’s tea powder.
Like me, if you enjoy your tea, this is a perfect souvenir to pick, maybe right from its tea gardens.
The Himalayas are known as the home of Lord Shiva. So if you are a Shiva Devotee his two-headed drum called Damru is your souvenir from the state. Damru is used both by Hindus and Buddhist. It is said that the Sanskrit grammar rules were written by Panini after listening to the rules of Damru.
I did not buy a Damru, but I quite enjoyed learning to play it. It sounds simple, but unless you hold the Damru in the right way, it is impossible to play it. The small bead hanging from the hourglass-shaped instrument goes back and forth on both surfaces and the sound it produces – well that’s up to the rhythm with which your wrist moves.
For those who enjoy eating Momos – a Momo maker may be your choice to shop in the state. You can choose either a practical one that you can use in your kitchen. Or, you can pick a traditional ornate copper based Momo maker that I am not sure how easy to use for occasion cooking.
Which of these Sikkim Souvenirs would you like to pick?
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