In order to truly experience Pakistan, you should shop in a traditional open-air bazaar. Be prepared for a sensory overload and some tough bargaining. I lived in Pakistan for over three years, and I have spent countless hours haggling in bazaars. Here are my top 10 choices for souvenirs from all over the country.
Pakistani women wear gorgeous colorful shawls during cooler weather. You can buy soft solid colored shawls to match a favorite coat, or you can buy bold patterned shawls with sequins and exquisite embroidery. Shawls come in two sizes, small and large. The large ones are called stoles, and honestly they would probably be too big to actually wear in the West. Alternatively stoles make great wall hangings, curtains, tablecloths and bed coverings. A typical shawl will set you back about 300 rupees ($3.75), is easy to pack and will be a sure hit with any ladies back home.
2) Multan Pottery
Handmade pottery from Multan, in Punjab, is a treat for the eyes. Traditionally the pottery is made in blue and white with floral decorations, but you can also find different designs and colors. For the best prices, go to Multan, but the pottery can be bought in the bazaars of any major city.
3) Embroidered Bedsheets
In Pakistan, bedsheets are usually custom made and are very affordable. Pop into any bedsheet store and pick out a pattern on one of their large rolls. Usually you can get the bedsheets and the pillowcases sewn up within a few hours. If you want something really nice, check out designer home décor at Bareeze or Chen One.
5) Carved Wood
Carved inlaid wood can be found in any traditional bazaar where furniture is sold. You can also find carved wooden souvenirs inside tourist emporiums, although you’ll pay a bit more to buy it there. Vases, boxes, and chess sets are popular souvenirs.
6) Men’s Felt Hats
In Northern Pakistan, many men wear curled felt hats to protect them from the cold. They are similar to a French beret but are more fitted. You can buy a felt hat for just a few hundred rupees.
7) Stone Jewelry
Precious and semi-precious stones are mined all over Northern Pakistan. In the Gilgit bazaar I love to buy stone earring and necklace sets, for less than $2 each. You can buy rubies, emeralds, sapphires and other gems for less than in the United States. In the North, there is a cooperative in Karimabad that has excellent prices and products. This jewelry has a traditional flair to it. Otherwise, you can get gold jewelry at different dealers in any major city. Liberty Market, Lahore is famous for gold jewelry.
8) Wall Hanging
Traditional Sindhi handiwork makes an amazing wall hanging that can serve a conversation piece for your living room or add some style to a bedroom. Keep in mind that there are two types, the regular type that is made to look rough and antique, and the type marketed for tourists that uses bolder, brighter colors and doesn’t have so many rough edges.
If you’ve got money to spend, a carpet is a great souvenir. Carpets, especially from Afghanistan or Iran, are not cheap but they are beautiful. Prices vary considerably by the density of the threads per square inch, and carpet buying is best done with a local Pakistani friend.