Forget about browsing in the shops of India without yielding to temptation! Not that I wanted to ignore the tempering influence of the elephant deity Ganesha (the symbol of wisdom, his wooden statuettes and paintings were everywhere), but the laughing Buddha was temptingly at my side. Besides, when I resisted buying something in Delhi, it would tempt me all the way to Agra, the last city we visited on our train tour through Rajasthan. India is unique in its wide selection of quality crafts, which are as diverse as the 2,000 ethnic backgrounds of its skilled artisans.
In Your Bucket Because…
- Shopping in India is a cultural experience.
- What you buy from a street vendor helps his family and community.
- For tourists, travelers and indulgers.
Delhi: Textiles and Wood Art
I felt like a toddler prevented from getting into trouble as soon as we walked out of our Dehli hotel: One shop-scouter “guide” after another stopped us until we caved in, after all he could be our guardian angel through the bazaars and markets. Crammed on a rickshaw, we had an unforgettable initiation to India’s street life as we made our way to the Bazaar of Cottage Arts, located on an unexpectedly quiet lane, and later on to the boisterous streets of Chandni Chowk where prices are said to be the cheapest in India.
As traditional in India as silk, cotton is of excellent quality and had even been used as a cultural symbol of rebellion in a movement instigated by Gandhi against the influence of the Raj. Cotton is still widely used in Rajasthani clothing such as turbans for men and flared lehenga skirts for women. As for silk, I discovered more kinds than I knew existed — fine, Jamabar, raw, spun, Tussar, crush and organza — and more color variations than I could name. The choice appeared endless, which is why Delhi is the best place to shop for textiles:
- Clothing material and home furnishing fabrics
- Saris, shawls, scarves
- Cotton khadi wraps — worn in a way resembling bibs
- Cotton bed covers with silk embroideries
- Bed and kitchen linens
- Carpets (silk or wool)
- Handbags and clutches embroidered in all shapes and styles.
Dehli is also a good place to look at characteristic Indian wood arts. I would come across wooden objects in almost every store throughout India, but Delhi had a large choice of carved animals, Indian deities, hair pongs, beads, pen holders, and elaborate chess-sets. At the time, colorful bookmarks seemed too cumbersome to use, yet they would have made an attractive collection to display in a box-frame.
Jaipur and Chittorgarh: Gold Jewelry
Among the largest pieces is the thewa style, an intricate filigree-work on 23 ct. gold set on colored glass. But, inexpensive multihued glass bangles found in bazaars, or jewelry made of fabric or silver had a charm of their own.
Jaisalmer: Camel Hair and Leather
My choice of a miniature painting depicted Laila and Majnun, the legendary unfortunate lovers, whereas my husband’s choice was a painting of the elusive Indian tiger – we had not seen any tiger in Ranthamore National Park. There, crafts and arts are taught as heritage skills in centers sponsored by INTACH, a non-profit organization whose mission is to preserve and develop traditional crafts. As I looked at the surrounding desert and at camels mounted by tourists and, on this festival day, by locals riding in the dunes, I imagined people working in the quietness of their sandy environment and creating:
- Camel hair blankets and rugs
- Embroidered camel leather and fabrics
- Miniature paintings
Johdpur: Puppets, Antiques, Footwear
When I came eye to eye with the introspective stare of wooden puppets in bright ethnic costume and heavy make-up, they reminded me of a young girl with whom I had my picture taken at a desert festival in the Sam dunes of the Thar Desert. As for antiques, hunters will come upon architectural fixtures such as carved moldings, doors, and metal objects.
I also admired leather juthis footwear: Nicer and pricier than at street markets, but better made as a result of a United Nations’ program sponsoring the revival of shoemaking.
Udaipur: Dyes, Teas, Spices, Stationery
By the time we got to Udaipur, I had filled almost every nook and cranny of our small train accommodation. Instead of shopping, I browsed in the workshops adjacent to the City Palace Museum store, and observed craftsmen crushing minerals to make dyes and artists delicately stroking handmade paper.
Vials of Ayurvedic oils, tea, and spices were space-minding buys, and left an exotic whiff in our luggage. Indian stationery products are particularly attractive especially photo albums and conference folders (with inside pockets) bound in colorful printed cotton or silk.
Our very last stop after visiting the Taj Mahal was a marble shop: Colorful in-laid tabletops were remarkable, and heavy.
- Use wisdom! Unless excess luggage or shipping expenses are not an issue, you can buy what you did not get from specialized websites.
- Beware of gypsies selling low quality merchandise. And mind your pockets and purses.
- Most cities sell the same products, but prices and choices are better in the towns where products are made.
- Emporiums offer a large choice under one roof but prices are fixed.
Copyright 2012, Marie Claude Arnott. All rights reserved.