For much of my shopping in India series I’ve concentrated on where to shop, now I want to talk a little on what to buy. Obviously everyone has opinions on what is a must buy in India. This is what I’ve found exciting and worth spending my hard earned money on year after year.
Saris are uniquely Indian and even if you never wear one, its worth stopping into at least one sari shop just for the experience. In the north you find 6 yards of fabric embellished with sequins, beads and rhinestones. In the south, silk is the specialty and you find the six yards decorated at the borders with intricate designs made of super-fine gold threads alongside the silk yarn woven into the palu (tail of the sari that hangs on your shoulder). Since my family is from the south, my experience is limited to silk saris. In general, I pick my saris based on colors I love and the detail in the border. Fabrics such as Kanchi silk (thicker and more elaborate patterns from Kanchi, south of Chennai) and Mysore (wispy silk almost chiffon-like with less intricate patterns from Mysore near Bangalore) silk drape well, while cotton is really hard to wear.
A maroon sari with a rose detail in gold thread on the border and palu is what I chose for my Hindu wedding ceremony. Like my wedding dress, it was love at first sight.
This traditional 9 yard sari was chosen for the ceremony because I loved the vibrant teal. It had the added advantage of not having any black dye which is not allowed when getting married (according to cultural practices of my Indian family). Both wedding saris were bought at RMKV Silks in Chennai
Stoles and Shawls
Lately I’ve been really into scarves and picked up more than my fair share on this last trip. Let’s just say I did a good job contributing to the local economy. Here you can get a variety of fabrics, but the wool from Kashmir (called Pashmina) can not be beat. Its so soft and so warm. I have a few that are a silk, cashmere blend that are heavenly. When I shop for scarves, I always look for something that has an Indian design, even if sutble. I want to remember it as a momento of my trip. Here are a few I’ve picked up in my travels
This one I loved because it had one dominant color but still showed the Indian pattern in an obvious way. This is a scarf made with Kashmir wool bought at the Rajasthan Cottage Industries.*
This was actually a dupata of a salvar kamis set I purchased at Chennai Silks in 2009. I remeber this piece because the vender was surprised at how knowledgeable I was about what I wanted to buy and more importantly, what I wanted to pay. He didn’t expect that from an American with a baby strapped to her chest. I’ve worn it as a scarf with many western outfits and get tons of compliments. The wood block print is typical of textiles made in the north.*
I love all thing textiles and after 6 trips to India have a house full of them. Bed covers, curtains, cushion covers, table cloths, you name it, I’ve likely bought it. I’d like to think it has given my house a unique style that you can’t find at the local Target, for a fraction of the cost.
This blue bed cover and curtains were bought in a small handloom shop in Nodia in the local market. We went there on so many trips they recognized us and always created us with a smile, beverages, and a discount. I miss that shop so much…*
This is my favorite tablecloth, I break it out for any occasion. Its my favorite color but also hand embroidered. This was also purchased at the same Noida handloom shop. Did I mention how much I miss that place?*
Jewelry in India is like no other country. Like most of Asian, Indians consider Gold auspicious. However, in my opinion, Indian jewelry is far more ornate. Even something as simple as a small gold earring has numerous decoration that makes it unique. And it’s all hand crafted, no two are the same and each is a work of art. I had the fortune of getting my first real taste of jewelry shopping when shopping for my wedding jewelry. Nothing like telling people you are going to be a bride to have shop keepers fawning over you and having you try on one impressive piece after the next.
I do have to say that I had a lot of sticker shock this last trip. In jewelry shops in India, the price of gold is on the wall and you know the stores add a small mark up for workmanship. All pieces mark their weight in gold and that sets the price. In the fall of 2012 gold was at record highs. I kept reminding my self that the work itself would have tripled the price in the US but that didn’t make it an easier pill to swallow when I bought two small gold earrings.
These are the “simple” gold earrings I bought on my last trip at the famous G R Thanga Maligai Jewellers in Chennai. I loved that they had intricate patterns but you had to be up close to see them. I went shopping for small everyday gold studs but the gold dangles were too pretty to pass up.*
India is known for its amazing handicrafts and we have indulged in a few of those purchases as well. However these are often harder to take home. If you do buy anything, make sure they wrap it up well so it survives the trip home. If its breakable and wouldn’t fit in my carry on, I won’t buy it.
My first trip I was fascinated by elephants. I was so excited to be going to a place where I would see one out in the open. My then fiancé thought I was nuts. (To be fair he still thinks I’m nuts). I bought all different elephants handicrafts for friends and family. For us I picked several of these cute wooden elephants. Inside the belly of each of these elephants is carved another one facing the opposite direction!*
Again on my first trip we went to the Taj Mahal. Our tour guide took us to “his friend” who did the same marble inlay work as you see at the Taj. We got shut in and shown very expensive piece after piece. I knew what was going on and kept trying to leave until they showed me this plate. I fell in love and the owner saw it. I’m sure I paid too much even after my pitiful bargaining, but it was so beautiful and to this day I don’t regret the purchase one bit.*
So there you have my thoughts and tips on shopping in India. I hope you have enjoyed the read as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it. Now it’s your turn, tell me what places do you like shopping? And what are your favorite things to buy while on your travels?
(To read the entire series check out the tag, Shopping In India)
* Many thanks to Atma Photography, who photographed these items for me.