Shopping

India excels in producing fine crafts at affordable prices through the tradition of passing down of ancestral skills. You can get handicrafts of different states from the government emporia in the major cities which guarantee quality at fixed prices (no bargaining), but many are poorly displayed, a fact not helped by reluctant and unenthusiastic staff. Private upmarket shops and top hotel arcades offer better quality, choice and service but at a price. Vibrant and colourful local bazars are often a great experience but you must be prepared to bargain.

Bargaining can be fun and quite satisfying but it is important to get an idea of prices being asked by different stalls for items you are interested in, before taking the plunge. Some shopkeepers will happily quote twice the actual price to a foreigner showing interest, so you might well start by halving the asking price. On the other hand it would be inappropriate to do the same in an established shop with price tags, though a plea for the 'best price' or a 'special discount' might reap results even here. Remain good humoured throughout. Walking away slowly might be the test to ascertain whether your custom is sought and you are called back.

Taxi/rickshaw drivers and tour guides get a commission when they deliver tourists to certain shops, but prices are invariably inflated. Small private shops can't always be trusted to pack and post your purchases: unless you have a specific recommendation from a person you know, only make such arrangements in government emporia or a large store. Don't enter into any arrangement to help 'export' marble items, jewellery, etc, no matter how lucrative your 'cut' of the profits may sound. Many's the traveller that's been cheated through misuse of credit card account, and left with unwanted goods. Make sure, too, that credit cards are run off just once when making a purchase.

The country is a vast market place but there are regional specializations. If you are planning to travel widely, wait to find the best places to buy specific items. Export of certain items is controlled or banned.

Carpets and dhurries

The superb hand-knotted carpets of Kashmir, using old Persian designs woven in wool or silk or both, are hard to beat for their beauty and quality. Kashmiri traders can now be found throughout India, wherever there is a hint of foreign tourism. Agra too has a long tradition of producing wool carpets and welcomes visitors to their factories. Tibetan refugees in Karnataka, Darjeeling and Gangtok produce excellent carpets which are less expensive but of very high quality. They will make carpets to order and parcel post them safely. Flat woven cotton dhurries in subtle colours are best seen in Rajasthan.

Jewellery

Whether it is chunky tribal necklaces from the Himalaya, heavy 'silver' bangles from Rajasthan, fine Orissan filigree, legendary pearls from Hyderabad, Jaipuri uncut gems set in gold or semi-precious stones in silver, or glass bangles from Varanasi, you will be drawn to the arcade shop window as much as the wayside stall. It's best to buy from reputable shops as street stalls often pass off fake ivory, silver, gems and stones as real. Gold and silver should have a hallmark, but antique pieces often do not.

Metal work

The choice is vast, from brass, copper and white-metal plates and bowls from the North, with ornate patterns or plain polished surfaces, exquisite Jaipuri enamelled silver pill
boxes, tribal lost-wax
dhokra
toys from Orissa, Bihar and Bengal, Nawabi silver-on-gunmetal
Bidri pieces from around Hyderabad, to copies of Chola bronzes cast near Thanjavur.

Paintings

Contemporary Indian art is exhibited in modern galleries in the state capitals often at a fraction of London or New York prices. Traditional 'Mughal' miniatures, sometimes using
natural pigments on old paper (don't be fooled) and new silk, are reaching mass production
levels in Rajasthan's back alleys. Fine examples can still be found in good craft shops.

Stoneware

Artisans inspired by the Taj Mahal continue the tradition of inlaying tiny pieces of gem stones on fine white marble, to produce something for every pocket, from a small coaster
to a large table top. Softer soapstone is cheaper. Stone temple carvings are produced for sale
in Tamil Nadu (try Mahabalipuram), Orissa (Puri, Konark) and Uttar Pradesh (near Hamirpur).

Textiles

Handlooms produce rich shot silk from Kanchipuram, skilful
ikat
from Gujarat, Orissa and Andhra, brocades from Varanasi, golden
muga
from Assam, printed silks and batiks from Bengal or opulent
Himroo
shawls from Aurangabad. Sober handspun
khadi
, colourful Rajasthani block-printed cottons using vegetable dyes, tribal weaving from remote Himalayan villages and tie-dyed Gujarati
bandhni
are easier on the pocket. Unique pieces also from Kashmiri embroidery on wool, Lucknowi
chickan
shadow-work on fine voil or
zari
(gold/silver thread) work on silk. The
pashmina
shawl and scarf from Kashmir have travelled to every continent and are available in dozens of colours at less inflated prices. They come in various widths and quality (often mixed with silk). All trade in tush (toosh) wool is banned.

Wood craft

Each region of India has its special wood - walnut in Kashmir, sandalwood in Mysore, rosewood in the South, sheesham in the North. Carving, inlay and lacquerwork are
particular specialities. The southern states produce fine carved wooden panels and images
which are sold through the state emporia (they offer a posting service).

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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