Shopping in Delhi
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Delhi is a shopping center for goods from all over India, making it the best place to stock up on gifts and souvenirs. Bargaining is often appropriate—and almost mandatory. A good rule of thumb: When the price is written down, it's probably fixed; when you have to inquire about the price, it's negotiable.
In shops where foreign customers are uncommon, the staff is likely to follow your every move with great interest. If this bothers you, simply state your objective or emphasize that you're just looking; they'll cooperate if you indicate nicely that you don't need to be followed around.
Old Delhi is an endlessly interesting place to shop, admittedly more for the experience than for what you'll take away. The sidewalks of Chandni Chowk are lined with clocks, baby clothes, tacky toys, blankets, and much more; the shops on Dariba Kalan are filled with silver and gold jewelry. Stalls behind the Jama Masjid sell metalware and utensils, and one street specializes in stationery, especially Indian wedding invitations. Kinari Bazaar glistens with Hindu wedding paraphernalia. Khari Baoli, west of Chandni Chowk toward Lahori Gate, is renowned for its wholesale nuts, spices, and Indian pickles and chutneys.
India has one of the world's foremost Oriental-rug industries, and there are carpet vendors all over Delhi. Unfortunately, carpet sellers are a notoriously dishonest crowd. In addition to being obnoxiously pushy, they are likely to sell you inauthentic merchandise at colossally inflated prices and then deny it later. There are some exceptions to this rule, but they tend to sell out of their homes rather than upscale showrooms—so call before you go.
Clothes shopping is one of Delhi's great pleasures. Khadi, the hand-spun, hand-woven cotton that Gandhi turned into a nationalist symbol during the Independence movement, has made a roaring comeback and is now worn by many Delhi women during the long, hot summer. You can experience khadi in a salwar-kameez—the classic North Indian ensemble of long tunic and loose pants, also popular in a variation called the kurta-churidar—and in Western-style tops and skirts. Some Indian fabrics can fade or bleed easily, so it's always a good idea to wash clothes first before wearing.
If you find yourself shopping for a sari, savor the experience of learning about this amazing handicraft. Silks and attractive cotton saris are sometimes sold at Dilli Haat market, depending on which vendors have set up shop that week. Silks are sold en masse at upscale stores in South Extension, Greater Kailash I, and Connaught Place, but the highest thumbs-up go to Kalpana and Padakkam.
For crafts and curios, Delhi's fixed-price government emporiums near Connaught Place offer good values to travelers with limited time. They're also conveniently open seven days a week. The best market for fine curios and antiques is in the exclusive leafy neighborhood of Sundar Nagar. In addition to the shops listed here, a few shops on the southern (right-hand) side of the market have collections of old optical instruments.
Jewelry is another popular item on visitors' shopping lists. India consumes more gold annually than any other country in the world, mainly because gold is an essential part of a bride's trousseau. With Delhi's upper middle class spending ever more money, and now chasing such Western fancies as diamonds and platinum, jewelry is big business here. The flashiest jewelry stores are clustered in South Extension, Greater Kailash I, and Connaught Place, offset by a handful of older shops in Sundar Nagar. Indian gold is 22-karat, and some Westerners tend to find its bright-yellow tone a bit too flashy. For a gold Indian piece in a subtler antique style, stroll through the market in Sundar Nagar. Hit the glitzier stores for the princess look. Indian jewelers as a group have been accused of adulterating their gold, but alas, you as a consumer will have no way to determine the content of each piece. Old Delhi is packed with jewelry and curio shops, though you have to search harder for fine designs. Stroll Dariba Kalan for the best selection of silver and gold.
As the center of India's English-language publishing industry, and, arguably, India's intellectual capital, Delhi has something of a literary scene. For those with hard currency, Indian books are great bargains, including lower-price local editions of titles published abroad. If you'll be in Delhi for a while, hunt down the elusive but excellent Old Delhi: 10 Easy Walks, by Gaynor Barton and Laurraine Malone (New Delhi: Rupa, 1997)—these painstakingly detailed routes are fascinating and manageable. The top hotels have small bookshops, but Khan Market has several of the capital's best.
South Delhi is best for discriminating music lovers.
Most shops are open six days a week, as each neighborhood's market area closes one day a week, usually Sunday, Monday, or Tuesday. Most shops in Old Delhi are closed on Sunday.
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