When I visited India for the first time I expected to be impressed by the nation’s culinary diversity, its beautiful buildings, and its rich heritage. I certainly was. However what I didn’t expect was quite how much shopping I would do whilst I was traveling around India, or by how many incredibly beautiful fabrics I would end up bringing home. India is a paradise for shop-a-holics like me, and I was amazed by the vibrant colors and dazzling, impressive array of goods on offer. Jewelry, textiles, beautiful wooden handicrafts, even handmade toys for my nephews, my luggage on my return home looked like a treasure chest of exotic delights. I love to shop, and I actually thought that my experiences in India’s many street markets were amongst the most fun, exciting and delightful of my entire visit to India. I also hit a mall or two (or more) and was delighted with what I found in a store. Here are a few hints and tips for shopping in India, and advice on what to buy:
If haggling were an Olympic sport, the Indian people would be champions! Haggling is expected and encouraged in almost all of India’s marketplaces and smaller independently owned stores (though not, of course, in the malls and shopping centers). Whilst haggling can be daunting the first time you do it, the thrill that you feel when you drive the price down and agree to a mutually satisfactory selling price can be completely addictive. Knowing how much you should pay can be tricky, but a good rule of thumb is to offer around half of the price the stall keeper initially proposes, then increase your offering until you are at around two-thirds of that original value. The best advice for haggling newbies is the keep your cool and take your time: you don’t have to rush into agreeing to purchase anything. I always like to think about what the maximum I am prepared to pay something is, and go in with that figure in mind, without ever going over it. Don’t let your resolve crumble, and don’t worry that you’re hurting the shopkeepers’ feelings: if the price you offer is too cheap, they won’t sell it to you.
Indian jewelry has a very beautiful and very distinctive style: it is also much cheaper than jewelry almost anywhere else in the world. For this reason, jewelry is one of the most popular items purchased by tourists across India. Almost every woman in India wears stacks of traditional bangles up to their arms: these vary from very basic plain colored baubles to fancy, embellished ones. On my first trip to India, I bought excessive numbers of these bangles in a rainbow of colors, and I wear them at every occasion, making them one of my fondest and most versatile purchases, and one I would certainly recommend. When you’re in India, you’ll notice that women love to wear gold jewellery: the more the better! This certainly isn’t a place where subtlety is a buzz word! Indian 24 carat gold is considered amongst the best in the world: you’ll find it set around precious and semi-precious stones in every possible colour and design. Although I slightly blew the budget on the pieces I chose, their classic and timeless designs mean they’ll be wearable forever.
If you’re planning on doing a lot of shopping when you’re travelling in India, particularly if you’re planning to increase your gold and jewellery collection, then you are advised to ensure that your travel insurance covers the theft or loss not only the value of the goods you bring to the country with you but also the value of the goods you intend to buy and bring home. That way, if the worst happens, you aren’t left out of pocket.
The very first thing that you’ll notice when you arrive on any street market in India is how wonderfully chaotic it is: a riot of color, smells and noises. You’re likely to find stallholders shouting to attract your attention and sometimes touts can be so persistent that they are intimidating (not to mention obnoxious). At first, this can seem really daunting, but it’s important not to let the noise and the chaos put you off: in fact, if you embrace it as part of the experience you will quickly find your shopping trips become much more enjoyable. Add to the noise, take the time to watch the talented craftsmen creating their works, watch how the locals shop and interact with each other and remember that no one has control of your shopping experience and your decisions about what you purchase or what you leave behind, but you. When you take control of your own shopping trip and embrace the chaos that you have been flung into the heart of, you will enjoy your trip all the more. I definitely found it a little terrifying at first, but now the bustle and chaos of the marketplace is one of the most fun and typically ‘Indian’ parts of my holiday.
One of my favorite things to purchase when in India are the textiles. I love to touch and feel exotic fabrics, and I’m never disappointed with a wide variety of intricately decorated and embellished raw silk, cotton, and organza available across the country. From shawls to bedspreads, dresses to pillowcases, the range of textiles available is almost endless. In certain locations, it is possible to see the pieces you buy being hand decorated and embellished, and the incredible depth and range of color are truly breathtaking. Luggage allowance is always a big problem for me when enjoying an Indian shopping trip, but if you can fit the size and weight in your suitcase then I heartily recommend that you purchase a beautifully decorated pure wool rug from one of the many rug vendors found on every market: I have one on each side of my bed back home, and they truly are a treat for the feet.
When you’re flung into the riot of color and gold, and beautiful things, it can be very tempting to buy everything you see on your very first shopping trip. After all, the prices are low, the styles are fabulous, and you’re in an exciting unfamiliar environment: all ideal conditions for a shop-a-holic. However, the best advice is not to rush the experience, and instead to take your time. You’re likely to see the same, or similar, items over and over during the length of your trip, so taking your time and looking at several different variations of the same thing will give you the chance to ensure you are getting both the best quality and the best price available: remember that if something seems too good to be true it probably is, so for certain items the cheapest possible price isn’t always the best, or right, item to buy.
Photo Credit: Wikipedia
P.S.: This is contributed by one of our beloved readers and admirers, Sally Vale. She works as a freelance writer.