No matter what you love to accumulate, India is a shopper’s paradise. The selection of merchandise on offer is staggering, the prices sometimes too small to be believed. Some first-time visitors to India can feel inundated with the array of goodies available on every corner – textiles, jewellery, carpets, handicrafts, paintings, leather, instruments, incense, shawls, spices, silks! For many its hard to know when to start (or when to stop!).
Sometimes its useful to get some tips & tricks from someone who has learnt to navigate the intoxicating experience of shopping in India. Here is the first of my personal list of must-have authentic Indian purchases:
At first I thought it was strange that leatherwork is so prolific in the land of the Holy Cow until I realised that the leather on sale actually comes from camel, buffalo or goat. Whew. After I realised this I was happily filling up my bag with inexpensive and unique leather goods. My favourite leather things to look for are chappals (or shoes) in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, where you can choose from hundreds of different shoe designs in a multitude of colours and designs for around £2, and beautiful leather-bound notebooks from a bazaar near the City Palace in Udaipur, Rajasthan. These notebooks come in every shape and size and make brilliant presents for friends and family, costing a measly 20p up to around £7 for the most beautiful & ornate designs.
Unless you live in a country with very strict quarantine laws (poor New Zealanders) most tourists to India can’t resist buying some local spices while wandering through local markets. If you avoid the tourist shops you can find amazing bargains on extremely fresh and high quality spices. My local spice-wallah (spice seller) in Jodhpur measured out spices kept in huge vats on an old scale with brass weights to my exact requirements each day. Many of these he had ground himself. No commercial packets or jars in sight. My favourite bargain buy has to be saffron where you can get a huge pinch for about Rs 150 (£1.50).
For lovers of kitsch like me – India is a cave of wonders. Every market from North to South , East to West has a unique selection of small little oddities which I always collect with fervour. Whether its small pots of decorated kohl eye makeup, teeny tiny bottles of saffron or cheap and cheerful religious figurines, they happily collect themselves in the bottom of my backpack. The best things about shopping for trinkets are that they usually cost a handful of rupee coins, take up small amount of valuable backpack space, and make vastly more interesting & authentic keepsakes than the usual tourist-oriented tat.
I shamelessly admit to my obsession of Indian antiques. I can’t help it. Over the years I have found that if you are careful about where you shop, what you are buying, and who you trust, you can obtain some amazing (and authentic) antiques of all sizes and prices all over India. My personal favourite places for finding unique and genuine antiques & collectables are Jodhpur & Udaipur (Rajasthan) in the North and Kochi (Kerala) in the South.
In the blue city of Jodhpur I have built up a good network of reliable antique warehouses where (if you know who to ask) you will be allowed to poke around in the cavernous dusty backrooms or basements of unsorted and unpriced goodies and negotiate great bargains to reduce their stock backlogs. You can find anything from small items of rare jewellery, to tribal textiles to colossal doorframes and ornate elephant howdahs (saddles) to add to your collection. The more reputable warehouses will ship any item globally, a service which I have successfully availed on more than one occasion.
Eight hours’ drive across the Aravali Ranges in Udaipur I prefer to hunt out smaller items of religious art, tribal jewellery and vintage Bollywood posters (a cheap and colourful addition to any wall). The competition for the tourist dollar is fierce in Udaipur so if you know the best shops and are a clever negotiator you can find fantastic bargains.
Drive 1,500 miles south and you will find yourself in Kochi where I love to wander in the historic area of Mattancherry (also known as Jew Town). I find the quality of antiques in this district to be very high (somewhat less raw or rustic than in the North). Prices can be higher too, unless you go to the source. I know a fabulous dealer here who sources direct from the neighbour state of Karnataka and if you play your cards right, and place a reasonable order, you can get the items at wholesale price.
When it comes to successfully buying well-prices and authentic antiques in India I think its definitely a case of who you know which counts.
Ok guys, I’m ready to shop!!!
If its the unique shopping experiences drawing you to India then we can point you in the right direction. You can easily incorporate brilliant shopping opportunities within one of our small group tours – or if you prefer a more intensive shopping adventure then talk to us about arranging a tailor made shopping tour of India to meet your idea of retail heaven. Whichever way you chose we guarantee that shopping in exotic India is an adventure in itself!