Shopping in India…good grief!!
Shopping in India was so different for me, that I find it hard to explain. At home, I’m not a big shopper. As for clothes, I follow the fit, not trends. As for home accessories, less is more. I tend to do more online shopping than anything else. Which helps earn points to travel more, of course. However, by our 4th day in India, I needed to buy another suitcase to take my shopping finds home. To be fair, Gabi and I both used the suitcase to get our purchases home.
In the United States everything seems to be imported from China, Vietnam, etc. I’ve never been into kitchy souveniers either. That little Eiffel Tower you got in Paris was made in China anyway, and where are you going to put it? The exception for my family has been Christmas ornaments. We’ve fashioned them out of everything from miniature masks in Costa Rica to small iron bells in Thailand. So that was one thing I was on the lookout for in India. Something to make a Christmas ornament out of. Everything else I thought I could do without. Good grief was I wrong. Here are some things you might consider buying on a trip to India:
1) Made to fit clothing: The idea of picking out fabric and patterns in the morning and having it delivered to your hotel that evening was a foreign concept to me. I took a shirt and swimsuit cover up that I loved and had them recreate them with traditional Indian block fabric. I was so pleased, I’d wished I’d brought more items from home that I loved that they could copy. In fact, I went back again and had pajama pants made from some really cute hand block printed fabric too. I saw the sewing room was full of adult men and young adults, so it was nice to know I wasn’t supporting anywhere that relied on child labor.
2) Wool Rugs and Pashmina: My friend Gabi shipped a rug home for her daughter. The craftsmen from Kashmir come to sell their amazing products further south because of the unrest in their area that scares off tourists. I bought several high quality Pashmina scarves at great prices. They offered several tiers of quality in Pashmina scarves but it was still at least half of what you would pay at home.
3) Marble: Granite and marble are a big industry for India. In Agra, they are still pulling marble out of the quarry that was used to build the Taj Mahal. The government has also set up official centers for the artisans that do the detailed inlay of semi precious stones that was passed down from the families that worked on the Taj Mahal. It was at this center that I purchased a 12 inch octagonal piece of marble with inlaid flowers. My intent is to use it as a cheese board. What a great story to tell when I have a party! Gabi bought a few small vases and bowls with the same inlay. They are meant to be decorative, but could be used as well.
4) Handmade Paper: They still make paper the old fashioned way. The quality and variety is amazing. Most of it is hand died. It was easy to find pads of the paper, but we really had to hunt for the envelopes. Some of the paper still had leaves and things you could see pressed into it. Gabi is really into beautiful stationary for thank you notes and sympathy cards, so these definitely fit the bill. Real snail mail really stands out among the thank you texts and emails that are so standard these days.
If you do want knick knacks or easy inexpensive gifts, you don’t need to go shopping, the sellers are everywhere. Be prepared to be approached again and again by hawkers. Especially outside of major tourist attractions like the Amber Fort in Jaipur or the Jama Majid in Delhi. My method of being left alone was to walk as though I had blinders on. I only had words for Gabi and our guide, and I never even looked down at what they were offering. If I said anything it was, “no”. Gabi did not do the same and was surrounded a lot and our guide would have to step in for her to get them to leave her alone. She would look at their wares with appreciation but no intention to buy, however, it sent the signal that she was opening the door. Make sure to expect this on any trip to India. You’ve been warned.
One interesting thing about shopping in actual stores were the traditions of it all. Almost every place we shopped, we were offered Chai as a sign of hospitality. It did not matter if we had bought anything or had begun seriously looking. It was almost deemed rude if we did not accept. Thankfully, I like Chai tea! It seemed during this time that we actually got to interact a lot more with the Indian people. They asked about our home country, we reciprocated. We got asked about American politics a lot. Most shop owners are men (that’s a story for another post), but it was interesting none the less. I never felt threatened or afraid in anyway.
In the end, I did find a small ball made of fabric that was heavily embroidered with gold threads and semi-precious stones. It is a craft technique that mirrors some well known tapestry art in Agra. So my biggest piece of advice about shopping in India, would be, bring and extra suitcase. You might need it!