|India’s vast cultural diversity has resulted in a treasure trove of handicrafts for the discerning shopper, in a truly remarkable variety of styles and prices, and in settings that range from the ritzy plushness of a deluxe hotel’s plaza to colourful local bazaars. In India, the shopping experience runs the gamut from multi storeyed, airconditioned stores selling a hand picked assortment of crafts from every corner of the country, to whole streets of shops selling speciality goods, to local fairs, where stalls, set up overnight stock a variety of exotica.
An inextricable part of the great Indian shopping scene is the local fair held periodically all over the country; at streetside bazaars with their pavement stalls and in dimly lit shops that invariably surround many of the country’s ancient monuments.
Below are some of the best buys, either for the souvenir hunter or the connoisseur.
One of the India’s main industries, silks, cottons and wools rank amongst the best in the world. Of the silks, the brocades from Varanasi are among the most famous variety; other major centers include Patna, Murshidabad, Kanchipuram and Surat. Rajasthan cotton with its famous “tie and die” design is usually brilliantly colourful, while Chennai cotton is known for its attractive “bleeding” effect after a few washes. Throughout the country may be found the “himroo” cloth, a mixture of silk and cotton, often decorated with patterns. Kashmir sells beautiful woolens, particularly shawls.
India has one of the world’s largest carpet industries, and many examples of her ancient and beautiful craft can be seen in museums throughout the world. Kashmir has a long history of carpet making, influenced by the Persians. Pure wool and woven silk carpets are exquisitely made, and can be bought for a fraction of the cost that one would pay in the west. Each region will have its own speciality; such as the distinctive, bright coloured Tibetan rugs, available mainly in Darjeeling.
Clothes are very cheap to buy, and can be tailormade in some shops, usually very quickly. Choose from an unmatchable range; silks, cottons, himroos, brocades, chiffons, touched with streaks of silver and gold thread, set with sequins or semi precious gems…..
Particularly Rajasthan (Kundan), is traditionally heavy and stynningly elaborate. Indian silverwork is world famous. Gems can be bought and mounted. Apart from diamonds, other stones include lapis lazuli, Indian star rubies, star sapphires, moonstones, aquamarine and diamonds. Hyderabad is one of the owrld’s leading centres for pearls.
HANDICRAFTS AND LEATHER WORK
Once again, each area will have its own speciality; the vast range inclues fine bronzes, brasswork (often inlaid with silver), canework and pottery. ‘Papier Mache’ is a characteristic Kashmir product, some decorated with gold leaf. Marble and alabaster inlay work, such as chess sets and ornamental plates, are a speciality of Agra. Good leatherwork buys includes open Indian sandals and slippers.
Sandalwood carvings from Karnataka, rosewood from Kerala and Chennai, Indian walnut from Kashmir. These are often exquisite and make excellent gifts.