So unbeknownst to me until a couple of days ago, the “must have” product in Nepal (besides possibly gem and silver jewelry), is Pashmina, a type of fine cashmere wool. I was interested in possibly purchasing a shawl for 2 reasons: 1. It’s light and I can carry it in my back pack; and, 2. My mother’s upcoming birthday in April.
The name Pashmina is derived from Pashmineh, made from Persian Pashm (which means wool). The wool comes from Changthangi or Pashmina goat, which is a special breed of goat indigenous to the Himalayan mountains. It can be found in the high altitudes of Nepal, Pakistan, and Northern India. The best wool or Pashmina comes from the goats chin according to Nepalese people I spoke to. Lesser quality Pashmina comes from other parts of the goat. Apparently, the goats shed their inner winter coat every spring and that’s when it is harvested. Related to the aforementioned, while sight seeing in Bhaktapur city, I visited a Pashmina store and was thinking about purchasing a shawl or scarf, but decided to wait. I wanted to speak with someone “neutral” (not a store owner) about the various levels of Pashmina quality and of course, the cost as well.
While traveling back from Bhaktapur city, I thought about whom I would ask about Pashmina and the answer came almost immediately, Mrs. Jigme Phuntsok Chodon, the General Manager of the Shambaling Hotel. In previous Nepal posts I have mentioned how much I enjoy staying at this hotel. Quite frankly, this is the best hotel I have ever stayed at, primarily due to their outstanding personal one on one service. Rajesh, Suraj, Sonam, Anjan, Ten zin, Rabi, Sanjan, Sunil, Norbu, Jyoti, Bishwas, and Binod are some of the hotel staff who have been so gracious and kind to me. They have all made my stay at the Shambaling hotel comfortable. Each staff person has done something special for me, whether it was providing advice on a place to visit, taking care of a special request such as my laundry, or just asking how my day was . . . This is hard to explain, but each and every time I have had contact with one of them, they made me feel like I was part of their “family.” Wow!
However, the person most responsible for ensuring this outstanding service is provided consistently and without fail, is Mrs. Chodon. I have no idea how she is able to inspire such dedicated and loyal service from her employees – I only see the excellent results. So is it little wonder that I thought of her when I wanted to know about Pashmina? That evening, she told me she would have some information the next morning about where to purchase this product and how much to pay.
As promised, Jigme provided me with the necessary information and knowledge to make an informed decision on purchasing a Pashmina shawl or scarf. She also told me about a gentleman, Mr. Ram Hari Khanal, the proprietor of the Friendly Pashmina Store in Thamel. She had done extensive business with him in the past and she highly recommended him. After breakfast, the hotel summoned a cab for me, with instructions to the cab driver to take me to this store. Easier said than done, as we had some difficulty locating the store in Thamel. We kept on going around in circles with the cab driver asking “man in the street” questions about where this store was located. Looking at the store business card that Jigme provided me, I saw a P.O. Box, but no street address. However, there was a telephone number and I eventually suggested to the cab driver that he might try calling the store to find out where it was located. He agreed and we hit pay dirt! Five minutes later we were there. In fact, the store owner flagged our cab down.
After introducing myself to Ram, we went inside his store. Nepalese custom is to offer refreshments and I politely declined (I had too many cups of coffee at breakfast). Ram explained each type of Pashmina fabric and patiently answered my questions. He asked me to feel each fabric, comparing a lower quality fabric with a higher quality fabric. In each instance, there was a distinct difference. The higher quality Pashmina having a more “gauzy” soft feel than lesser quality ones. I was fascinated by Ram’s breath of knowledge. Frankly, I’ve always thought Alpaca was the best type of wool in the world and was totally ignorant about Pashmina wool. Last year I bought a beautifully made Alpaca blanket when I visited Ecuador. The Pashmina wool has a similar feel, but it is different. As I indicated earlier, it seems a bit softer and has a gauzy like feel to it.
After Ram’s treatise on Pashmina, it didn’t take me long to decide what I liked and what I didn’t like. Ram had some really high quality products that were outside my price range. Mostly because these were embroidered with intricate threading on the sides, which obviously adds to the cost. After a bit of price negotiation, I settled on purchasing 2 shawls for gifts and a muffler for myself. How much? I’m not saying, if only because my Mom reads this blog. Let’s just say that the markup on these in the United States is astronomical, i.e., I made a good decision to purchase in Kathmandu vs. buying them in San Francisco, where Ram has a couple of retailers selling his products.
By the by, if you purchase a product in the United States, be careful about unscrupulous retailers. There have been instances where retailers will sell the man-made fabric viscose as Pashmina, labeling it as “Viscose Pashmina.” Equally important, Pashmina is not recognized by U.S. law as a labeling term per the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. That being said, any product should spell out exactly what the content of Cashmere is in the product, e.g., 100% All Cashmere, 70% Cashmere and 30% Silk, etc. I was fortunate to have Jigme assist me by recommending that I visit Ram’s shop, or else I might have ended up spending much more for an inferior product.