I’ve bought a lot of cheap trinkets in my travels, like the infamous Thai Beer Can Tuk-Tuk, but there is one souvenir that makes up for all my episodes of bad judgement — a Tibetan thangka I bought in Kathmandu, Nepal.
While it’s the most beautiful piece of art I own, it’s also by far the most expensive souvenir I’ve ever purchased.
Thangkas are traditional Tibetan cloth paintings, framed with embroidered silk. The paintings typically depict the Buddha, other Deities, mandalas, the Wheel of Life (as you see in the photos here) or other important scenes from Tibetan Buddhism. Full of symbolism, they are are hung around monasteries and homes to illustrate Buddha’s teachings, as well as for decoration.
Before leaving home, I had encountered thangkas at a Washington, DC Buddhist center and at a DC shop that sold crafts from the Himalaya. In that shop, there were a limited choice of thangkas, and the prices were around $500 apiece.
I wanted one badly, however I knew I could get one for less if I went to the source — Tibet.
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