There are many good reasons to visit India: the temples, the culture, the palaces, the sights and sounds, the experience – I could go on. But one of the really fun things to do is of course the shopping – a pastime adored by most women, and misunderstood by men. I call it redistribution of wealth and try to put a philanthropic spin on it. But if you need to buy gifts for those back home, there is no better place than India, where there are so many fantastic things that are lightweight, easily packed and transportable. Admittedly most gift ideas are for women and things for men are a bit thin on the ground, but you can’t go wrong with a cashmere scarf or two, can you?
You’ll find silk items all over India, from scarves to cushion covers, bed spreads to table cloths, inevitably made up in glorious, outrageous colours. The silk from the city of Varanasi is renowned for being especially fine, and along the Ganges you’ll see boat-loads of women pouring in to visit their favourite shops and buy new saris. You’ll find silk shops all along the river front, and they make wonderful, calm retreats after the chaos of everything happening outside.
Shawls and Pashminas
These can be found all over India, with a variety of qualities, from the dirt cheap to the hugely upmarket. If you’re suddenly feeling cold, there are shawls with printed patterns you can pick up for almost nothing, but you can also go to specialist places and find genuine, fine items, both patterned and plain, for more credit-busting prices.
In Rajasthan, especially Jodhpur, you’ll find fantastic embroidered and mirrored wall hangings, said to be made up of old desert wedding dresses. Each one is unique, and guaranteed to make a statement in any room.
There are jewellery shops all over India, selling silver and a wide variety of precious and semi-precious gems. One of the most fun afternoons I had was in Delhi, in a shop in the arcade leading up to the Red Fort, where we were allowed to pour through boxes of rings, bracelets and pendants, pretty much for all going for the price of costume jewellery in Europe.
- Shoptastic Istanbul!
An overview of all the incredible things you can buy in Istanbul, including rugs and kilims, cushion covers, ceramics, jewellery, teas and spices and of course Turkish Delight.
- Shoptastic Riviera!
An overview of the kinds of things you might like to buy during a visit to the French Riviera.
- My Ten Favourite Places in India
A brief travelogue of India, surely the most fascinating place on earth, with a selection of ten of the author's personal favourite places.
It was in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, that there were a great many specialist spice shops, though you’ll find stalls all over India. Here you can buy huge bags of black mustard seeds, nutmeg, star anise, saffron and all the spices that are either hard to come by or expensive in European or western stockists.
The Indians are hooked on Chai, which is sweetened tea boiled with milk – the first sip you take tastes pretty filthy but it quickly grows on you – especially on long train rides. In Jodhpur again it’s possible to find a variety of teas for sale: mint, ginger, rose and a wonderful concoction called Himalayan Kava (not to be confused with the alcoholic Spanish Cava!), which is made up of saffron, cardamom pods and cinnamon, boiled for five minutes.
India is full of smells, from musky incense sticks to the rosewater sprinkled to calm dusty streets on a hot day, and it’s possible to stock up all kinds of products, including essential oils, such as jasmine, lavender, rose or amber, as well as incense sticks, perfumes, solid perfumes, soaps, shower gels, shampoos and massage oils, like this wonderfully-named Heart Erection.
Ganesh, Shiva and Buddha, there are replicas of religious icons to be found all over India. They needn’t cost much, but might be a tad on the heavy side – buy at your last destination!
All over India you’ll find traditional Indo-Persian style paintings, many of which depict Gods, Goddesses and Mughal Shahs, as well as decorated elephants. In Varanasi I stumbled upon a watercolour artist who painted Varanasi’s architecture and lively ghats – easy to roll up and slip into the side of your suitcase.
Rugs & Kilims
Less easy to transport back, perhaps, but in plentiful supply nonetheless, many of the rugs are taken from the Mughal style which is, of course, influenced by the Persians. True ruggies may disapprove, but they still make an elegant addition to any room.
Colourful Bits & Bobs
India is perfect if you’re shopping for girls, with colourful handbags, notebooks, sparkly pens, bangles, hanging mobiles – all sorts of gift ideas. Sadly for boys it’s trickier. My kitchen cupboards are adorned with cheery Indian porcelain door knobs, and you'll find lovely hooks for kitchen or even bathroom towels, too.
A Word on Haggling
Everyone does it and everyone accepts it, but I have to admit (and maybe I’m soft), that there seems something vaguely obscene about a relatively wealthy westerner haggling over what is essentially pocket money with someone for whom that amount could quite possibly buy their family’s supper. Does it make any real sense? So in the past I’ve gone through the motions but accepted the second price offered (if it seems fair, of course – no-one wants to get ripped off) and left it at that. I’d love to know what anyone else thinks!