Visiting a country just to shop, would never be something I would consciously do. I have heard of people booking trips to all manner of Asian and other destinations just so they can blitz the shops. That sounds like the epitome of boredom to me, but even I was dazzled by the art, craft and pure entertainment value of shopping in India.
India is a textile mecca. Even though I only visited the Rajasthan region on this trip, I was blown away by the variety, the colour and the intricacy of the fabrics, carpets, bedspreads, wraps, shawls and wall hangings.
It is difficult to know where to start to describe the range of gorgeous textile products on offer. I love colour, so I was like a veritable ‘kid in a lolly shop’ with the rainbow of bedspreads, wraps and shawls that were all screaming “BUY ME”!!
In Jaisalmer, we were led into the KB Cooperative Art outlet and few of us walked out with credit card unscathed. The salesmen knew their sales craft well and really put on a show as they unfurled each new, more gorgeous piece to admiring ‘ooohs’ and ‘aahhs’ from the captivated audience. It all got a bit much for me as the choice was so overwhelming I simply couldn’t think straight, and I had to get out of there to stop my head spinning. Yes, I am a hopeless shopper, but I was sorely tempted.
We were told the Cooperative was formed to provide a source of income for women in the many outlying small villages surrounding Jaisalmer and that 80% of all proceeds are returned to the women who make the items. The story, and the textiles, were embellished with nomadic, tribal and religious totems and myths, all adding to the experience and the price tag. Unfortunately many of the group were later disappointed to see the exactly same items in other Jaisalmer shops (and in other parts of Rajasthan for that matter) for a half or a third of the price they paid at the Coop! So, buyer beware.
Anokhi specialises in high quality, block print materials. Unlike the Coop though, Anokhi are a more Western-style store where there is no haggling. After the hassle and hustle of the streets and a few aggressive touts, it was a pleasure to step into a store and be able to browse unmolested. I think ‘browsing’ must be a Western peculiarity and many shop keepers don’t understand that they actually lose sales rather than make sales by constantly interrupting and offering the next bright, shiny thing. I do admit to flashing the plastic in Anokhi and walked out with the softest cotton shirts, pyjamas and handkerchiefs. They also had a wonderful range of handmade paper cards, all made out of chunky recycled paper, and decorated with gorgeously ornate patterns. Now I just need an excuse to write to someone.
Many of the group invested heavily in jewellery. Stunning silver and gold jewellery are plentiful in India, and it is definitely a case of “you get what you pay for”. Unsurprisingly, at the high end of the market there are less bargains, but in you like silver jewellery and semi-precious stones, then you will be in heaven. I bought a costume ring in sterling silver with three large purple amethyst stones for less than AUD$20.00, and that included resizing. If I had had time to haggle, I am sure the price could have been bettered again.
Each city has at least one large market place. These centres specialise in the more mass-produced clothing, shawls and embroidery. Shirts, dresses and loose flowing trousers can be purchased for as little as AUD$2.00-4.00, depending on your ability to bargain. Obviously the quality of these items are reflected in the price, but mostly they are well-made and popular with tourists and locals alike.
The markets are also fabulous to learn about the eating habits and popular foods of the region as you stroll amongst the rows and rows of fruit, vegetable and spice sellers. At one fruit and vegetable stall, a basket looked particularly interesting. It was sitting right next to large containers of potatoes and onions and contained large disks of brown material. My curiosity got too much for me and I had to ask the salesman what it was. With a bit of a smirk and a heavy Indian accent he said, “it is sh*t for fire”! Yes, many locals still cook over open fires burning cow and oxen manure. Oh well, I did ask.
There is not going to be space enough in this blog to cover every shopping delight, but if you like spices, music, tea, fine art, footwear, leather goods, clothing, gems, jewellery, puppets and endless knick knacks, you will not be disappointed.
A few shopping tips:
- Haggling may not come naturally, but you will need to flex your haggling muscles unless you want to pay well-above market prices for everything.
- Decide whether you really want an item before you start haggling as it can be offensive to the shopkeeper if you simply walk away, even when they offer you their best price.
- Stay conscious of the price you are haggling about. What is the equivalent in your own currency? I have been known to haggle over 0.20c until I realised what I was doing. D’oh!
- Think about how much you could buy the same item for at home, and how much you are prepared to pay before you start haggling. Just so you have a clear picture in mind of the value.
- Maintain your sense of humour. Haggling is a given in all markets and many stores, and it almost feels like sport. So respect the seller, smile and have fun.
Traveling is not all about shopping, but who can resist taking home some tangible memories of dazzling India?
What has been your favourite overseas purchase?
What: I travelled with Intrepid on their 22-day North India Revealed tour.
Where: Rajasthan, India.
When: I flew into Delhi in mid-November and out in early December.
Why: For the ultimate shopping experience!
How: We travelled ‘Basix’ level which means we were given plenty of free time to explore.
Who: Ten people in my tour, nine women and one brave man, but no one was immune from the lure of shopping.
Related Posts: For tips and tricks on what to pack for a trip to India, have a look at my post where I highlight the essential items to throw into your suitcase.
Related Blogs: For a local perspective on shopping in India, check out Sapna’s tips:
Read About It: Don’t forget your Lonely Planet Rajasthan, available from Book Depository