Shopping in Rajasthan
When it comes to shopping, Rajasthan has something for everyone. From elegant silk saris to kitschy wooden camels, even the most frugal visitor is likely to leave the state with some goodies tucked in their luggage.
Rajasthan is well known for its craftspeople, and each region has its own distinct specialties. Jaipur is at the hub of the state's tourism industry and has handicrafts from across the state but is most famous for its jewelry; if you want something with a local flair here, pick up a piece of blue pottery or a pair of emerald earrings. Jodhpur is a good place to shop for appliquéd cloth, glass bangles, mirrored, sequined bedspreads and wood furniture. Udaipur is known for miniature paintings and marble work. In Jaisalmer it’s camel leather—patchwork bed covers, shoes, purses, and even book covers are made from the desert animal's hide. Yellow sandstone statues are also popular here. The best deals can be found in local markets—large private emporia and shops in "craft villages" tend to mark their items up to recover the huge commissions they pay to travel agents, guides, and taxi drivers.
Every year, unsuspecting tourists fall prey to shady self-professed "gem dealers," who befriend foreign visitors and try to get them to transport gems back to their home countries. The victims are then asked to leave a deposit for the jewels, which are inevitably nothing more than tin and glass. Most tourists don't realize they've been scammed until they're thousands of miles away.
Rajasthan has been known for its fine selection of jewelry for centuries, and you're sure to find something special, no matter what your budget. The state is a major exporter of precious and semiprecious gems, and good deals on precious jewelry abound—just make sure you buy from a reputable source. Popular purchases include glass bangles, silver anklets, rings, pendants, and meenakari (enamel) rings and bracelets. More traditional are the kundan pieces: elaborate gold and gem jewelry with designs dating from the Mughal era.
Handcrafted leatherwork is popular in Rajasthan, and you can find purses, journals, and traditional slippers, or jootis, at bargain prices. Shopkeepers always claim that their products are made from camel hide, but sometimes cowhide is passed off as camel leather to avoid offending Hindus. Watch out for overly pungent leathergoods (sniff before you purchase), and if you do end up with something smelly, seal the item in a plastic bag along with some fabric-softener/dryer-sheets and baking soda.
Rajasthan is famous for paintings in the phad, pichwai, and miniature styles. The phad is a red, green, and yellow scroll depicting the life of a local hero; the dark and richly hued pichwais, hung in temples, are cloth paintings depicting Lord Krishna in different moods. Miniature paintings are created using squirrel-hair brushes on paper, silk, marble, or bone, and usually depict wildlife and courtly scenes, or illustrations of religious stories and mythological themes.
Pottery is a huge industry in Rajasthan, and the blue pottery here is quite famous. Most people believe that blue pottery originated in Rajasthan, but it's actually of Turko-Persian origin and only emerged in India in the 18th century. The craft nearly went extinct, but was revived in the 1960s and 1970s. The name blue pottery is misleading—although blue is the traditional hue for this kind of work, it's available in an array of colors.
Rajasthan has a rich textile tradition. Bandhani (tie-dye) has its origins in this part of the country, but don't expect to find the psychedelic designs popular in 1960s America—Rajasthan's tie-dyes are often only one or two colors embellished with tiny white circles. Handmade block-printing is also popular, and is made by using wooden stamps (mostly with patterns of paisley, elephants, or camels) to transfer natural dyes onto fabric. Detailed embroidery and appliqué, often featuring mirror work, are also popular.