November 20, 2010
As I mentioned earlier the shopping in India is amazing. I have always been a bit of a shopaholic and I love a good bargain so India was a recipe for serious shopping destruction. Shopping in India can put a serious dent in your wallet if you are shopping for precious and semi-precious jewels because their selection is stunning and well priced for what they are. However, diamonds and sapphires even at a bargain price were still too pricey for me so I had fun buying costume jewelry and way too many scarves to count.
I chose two markets in New Delhi: Lajpat Nagar, which sells clothing and accessories, and Dilli Haat, an old fashioned colorful market selling handicrafts and other souvenirs. Lajpat Nagar is fun to go to because there are very few tourists. I was definitely the only foreigner there and it was fun to see the locals buying and haggling at the market.
India is very famous for both their silk and cashmere scarves and since I needed some presents for friends and family back home I went a little scarf-crazy! Going into a scarf store may seem a little intimidating, but I promise it is really fun when you are assertive and confident. It is not like a usual store where the merchandise is all on display for the customer to see. Instead all the scarves are in plastic bags stacked up on the walls. I am usually extremely sales-man-phobic because I hate the pressure I feel to buy something, but here you have no choice so I suggest diving in headfirst. You tell them what you are looking for and suddenly scarves start appearing in front of you of all different patterns and colors and textures and quality. They are trying to make a sale and get you to buy as much as possible so you must be very assertive and tell them what you like and what you don’t. They are actually very helpful and when they started to understand the colors I like and my tendency towards more traditional patterns hundreds of beautiful scarves appeared at my fingertips for my perusal.
Now actually buying them is where things get tricky. When I was looking I asked about price a few times, but they just kept saying to wait until I had chosen everything I wanted. Of course this is smart for them because you invest your time and energy and begin to really like the items and are less likely to move on to another store. However if you are hard-core bargainer you must remember that you cannot grow attached to the items and always be ready to walk out the door. I ended up buying 8 scarves for 6,000 rupees (about 135 USD). I bought mostly high quality cashmere and silk blends and one pure high quality silk and I was told by my hotel and a local guide I got a good deal so I was happy! Just to give you an idea the starting asking price was 20,000 rupees (about 450 USD) and I bargained down going so far as to walk out the shop before they came running after me an accepted my price if I paid in cash. When bargaining always carry cash on you to get a better deal- and if buying smaller items have small bills so you can say “oh well I only have 50 rupees.” You can’t say that and then ask for change for an 100.
Dilli Haat is much more touristy than Lajpat Nagar, but you can find some wonderful souvenirs and see local entertainment and get a henna tattoo. Dilli Haat was built to look like the old traditional open-air weekly markets around India, but all the stalls are permanent. Bargaining is not as good as it is in Lajpat Nagar, and some of the sellers refuse to bargain at all, but all the items are reasonably priced. There are crafts from all over India and you can find everything from bangles to draperies, to large ornamental carvings 6-foot-tall. I particularly liked the kite maker who is apparently famous for winning many kite making competitions throughout India. His pieces were all hand painted and very colorful. I also got a henna tattoo on my whole hand, for which I paid 500 rupees (about 11 USD) and was later told I way overpaid. The woman was going on and on about feeding her poor family so I decided not to bargain too hard, but in the background of the picture I took you can see her sister on her cell phone headset! It was still fun though and it is amazing how fast they do the intricate work. At the end of the day you want bargaining to be fun- the sellers like the interaction of bargaining and the buyers like the better prices, but remember to figure out first what the item is worth to you so you know when to buy and when to walk away.