The Shopper's Paradise
Delhi is a veritable paradise for shoppers, who can buy objects ranging from the simplest of Indian handicrafts to international designer labels, and often within the same shopping area. Delhi is unique in that it has representative outlets for the handicrafts of each Indian State. This in itself presents a staggering array of goods, and at very affordable prices.
In the last decade there has been a dramatic change in Delhi's markets. The buying power of the public has increased and people are more aware of fashion and lifestyle than ever before. This has led to greater sophistication in display, more - and fancier - shops, competitive advertising and marketing strategies and the upgrading of certain markets in terms of availability of items.
The Medieval Shopping Towns
Delhi has long been the most important trading centre in northern India. Many of its localities, like Sheikh Sarai and Yusuf Sarai, derive their names from medieval market towns, which serviced the bygone, shifting capital cities of Delhi. Today, all of these have become a part of rapidly expanding metropolis. Instead of market towns, there are specific wholesale markets or "Mandis" scattered throughout the vast city.
For visitors to Delhi, shopping is high on the list of things to do. Tourists will find in Delhi a wide choice of items - such as carpets, silks, jewellery, leather and silver ware, handicrafts and hand-printed cotton that are synonymous with India. Since many tourists leave India from Delhi, this is an important fact to bear in mind, as "shopping" can be left for the last leg of the journey. Equally important is the fact that each item is available in a range of prices, depending on the quality and the outlet.
Another interesting fact is that each market has its own, distinctive ambience and adds its own flavour to the experience of shopping. Hauz Khas Village, Connaught Place and Chandni Chowk are world apart from one another, yet each of them reflects an aspect of this many-faceted city. In fact one of the fascinating ways of understanding a city is by wandering through its market places for it is here that contemporary culture is most visible to the outsider.
The Bazaars Of Old Delhi
The exploration of Delhi's markets could begin at Chandni Chowk. There are fascinating lively accounts of this bazaar as it was during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Despite the pressure of traffic and population, its historic landmarks survive to tell the story of the last three centuries. Many of the shops here are more than 100 years old, and the mesh of lanes and bylanes is full of surprises.
Leading off Chandni Chowk is "Dariba Kalan", the street of incomparable pearl, Khari Baoli, the spice market and Kinari Bazaar for trimmings and tinsel. In some of these bazaars the items for sale are manufactured at site, which lends a special charm to the shopping experience.
Well integrated into the culture of the old city, these bazaars offer the visitor a glimpse of life in Old Delhi. There are some antique stores behind Jama Masjid, and more lining the entrance to the Red Fort, where the Meena Bazaar once was. These offer items ranging from jewellery to paintings and furniture and cater almost entirely to tourists.
An Imperial Touch
Connaught Place, New Delhi's original shopping arcade was planned as part of the Imperial capital in 1911. Its colonnaded arcades retain their colonial touch even though many shops are distinctly contemporary. Close by, on Baba Kharak Singh Marg, are the numerous government State Emporia. These afford a glimpse of the handicrafts of each state. So does the recently inaugurated new Central Cottage Industries Emporium on Janpath.
Across the road from "Cottage" as it is popularly known are the inviting stalls along Janpath. The Tibetans sell jewellery and ritual objects, while closer to Connaught Place are available embroideries from Gujarat and Rajasthan, readymade garments and bric-a-brac. When the weather is good, it is pleasant to amble down Janpath where bargaining is the order of the day.
Sounder Nagar Market is a fine place to shop for antiques and silver jewellery. The well-appointed stores keep a choice selection, especially of silver jewellery from Ladakh, semi-precious stones, some textiles and brass, copper and silver object d' art. Not far from Sunder Nagar is the Crafts Museum Shop, attached to the museum in Pragati Maidan.
The Contemporary Supermarkets
Moving further south are the upmarket shopping centres of South Delhi - South Extension, Greater Kailash I and II, Green Park and Hauz Khas Village. The haunt of the nouveau riche, these markets offer a combination of ethnic chic and designer labels, Indian and international. One of the more visible results of the liberalisation of the Indian economy is the burgeoning of international designer-wear outlets.
Hauz Khas Village has set very interesting trends as a market. Over the centuries, a village had developed around the medieval college and the tomb of Feroze Shah Tughluq and as such it was one of Delhi's many "urban villages" which are being engulfed by the sprawl of the city.
A few years ago, an association called "Dastakar" - established in the tradition of providing village crafts through an organised marketing system-set up a showroom in the village. It didn't take long for entrepreneurs to capitalize on the distinctly rural setting. Now the village has a plethora of boutiques, galleries and restaurants, which co-exist with buffaloes, cowpats and men smoking 'hookahs' on 'charpoys'. Far from being a deterrant, the "rural" ambience is a positive attraction. Other villages like Mehrauli, Khirki and Lado Serai are fast following suit.
Seeing the popularity of crafts held periodically in the capital, Delhi tourism has set up a permanent outlet for craftsperson's at Dilli Haat, where space and the availability of Indian cuisine's make a visit a very pleasant experience.
A more upmarket outlet for Indian handicrafts and antiques is the bazaar near the Qutub Minar. Foreign tourists frequently visit this place, which is an en route to the nearby complex of monuments. The Santushti Shopping Arcade opposite the Ashoka Hotel has become another popular upmarket haunt. Developed by the air force wives association, it has a select number of boutiques where apparel, furnishings and accessories are available. A restaurant and patisserie add to the quiet charm of the place, which is also beautifully landscaped.