Indian Souvenirs in Delhi…with as little hassle as possible.

2 Oct

A legacy post, which I found in my draftbox, and duly finished up:

Delhi can be an intimidating city for a newcomer.  Its rickety apartments offer little shelter from the elements (suffocating heat or jacket-penetrating cold…there are only 3 weeks of good weather per year). The stench of humans, waste, or burning leaves mixes with the noise pollution of millions of cars gridlocked on the road and honking.  The expat becomes used to these things, but there is one thing which never goes away and is always annoying:  the haggling.

Oh, the brazenness of rickshaw drivers and merchants!   I was once told candidly that my English constituted a 10 rupee surcharge, despite having a meter inside the rickshaw.  During a shopping trip for mosquito nets, armed with the knowledge of mosquito net prices, I told vendors, in Hindi, that I lived in Delhi and had friends who had bought from them at the fair price.  I was still quoted the normal 200% markup.  My Indian friends had to argue with the shopkeepers, yelling, for 30 minutes for me to obtain the fair price.

Unless you’re a superhuman, superawesome bargainer, it is almost impossible to obtain a local price.  It is often impossible for locals to obtain a local price.  Sometimes bargaining takes knowing key words, such as “junk jewelry”–which signifies that you’re not looking for real silver/expensive stuff, but normal jewelry.  My advice would be to avoid bargaining, save your efforts, and shop at fixed price places (because it is difficult to bargain for much less than what you’ll get at a fixed price shop.  You may have knocked 70% off the original offer, but that is still 30% above fair price.)

Here’re my favourite places to shop + things to buy:

Places

  • Tribes India:   Best shopping experience in India, bar none.  There are quite a few scattered across India. Government-owned, this shop offers fixed, fair prices (much better than FabIndia, another great, though pricey store).  Best of all, your purchase is supporting the various craftsman and tribes of India.  Great selection including scarves, sculptures, stationary, jewelry, organic products, bags and even more products out of the normal touristy fare.  For example, I bought some lovely wild silk ties (made from wild silk worms) for $4 each, an awesome metal-cast pig for 50 cents, neem soap, handmade recycled paper, and a tapestry.  Wonderful staff. At the end of purchase, you’re given a 10% discount card for the next purchase and all of my items were gift-wrapped, complementary service.
  • Tatsat (Hauz Khas market): One of the few fair-trade places I can find in Delhi.  Boasts jewelry, elephant and camel poo paper, bags, paper-mache Kashmiri boxes (the cheapest I’ve seen anywhere), clothes, etc.  Cutely, your purchase is bundled in shopping bag made of recycled newspaper.
  • Lajpat Nagar market:  One of the best markets to shop at for kurthas, clothes, those sparkly shoes, scarves, and everything which a normal Indian would buy.
  • Surreal (Vasant Kunj DLF Promenade mall, bottom floor, right of Zara on first floor):  You’ll notice that foreign brands in India are super-expensive, even more so than in the U.S.  This is because of recently raised import duties.  A local brand, Surreal offers stylish Western clothes, with a touch of Indian craftsmanship and instinct for patterns.  It’s mostly geared for men, with a diverse button-down collection featuring divine textures, but the small women’s section is nothing short of amazing.
  • Van Heusen:  It can be hard to find stylish clothes without plunging necklines in the States.  A conservative country, India solves this problem for you and even makes the Chinese collar look sexy, placing it on flirty blouses.  Although its business clothes are nothing to write home about, Van Heusen’s party line is absolutely fantastic.
  • Da Milano: Don’t let the name fool you.  Though it sounds like an Italian knockoff, this locally made Indian brand of bagwear (they claim that they learned the trade in Italy) is the real deal.
Things
  • Kurthas/Saris/Cotton pants/Custom tailored dresses: You’ll need the sari for the inevitable Indian wedding.  The cotton pants are the most comfortable item in the heat (and Rs.80!).  If you can find a good tailor, they can make a satin cocktail dress for pennies.
  • Scarves/Stoles: Look for exotic weaves, such as angora (super-warm and light).
  • Kashmiri trick boxes and paper mache boxes: Believe it or not, there is a season for souvenirs, esp. those from Kashmir.  These lovable wooden boxes with a trap latch are available from Jan-May.  The paper-mache boxes are available all year long.
  • Art: I deeply regret not purchasing any art from India.  What can I hang on my walls?  There’s some nice watercolors and blue ink drawings at Dilli Haat, tourist trap.
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