Jaipur – shopping
I’m clutching at the back of my friend’s jumper like a small child. This is one of the most terrifying things I have done in a long time. I’m crossing the street in India. We have gazed at the painted doorways of the City Palace, marvelled at the wonders of centuries-old instruments that measure the stars and planets, and looked down on the bustling pink city of Jaipur through a purdah screen on high. It’s time to attack the shops and we cross the road by the entrance to the Hawa Mahal. There’s the English way of crossing the road: look right, look left, look right again and if all clear, cross the road looking and listening. But this is the Indian way of crossing the road: step out into the constant stream of traffic, chatting to your friend and looking straight ahead, the traffic will brake and allow you to cross, resuming millimetres away from you when you’ve passed that individual vehicle’s section of road. I’ve now booked the hairdresser to cover the traces of my extra grey hairs.
Jaipur was built for shopping; Maharaja Jai Singh II planned the city with nine blocks or chowkris and the bazaar areas are neatly contained within this grid system (well as neat as anything in Jaipur can be). We dive down a narrow side alley and are surrounded by gleaming things; this area is dedicated to parties so contains decorative hats, streamers, party bags and even fireworks. We won’t be taking any of those back on the plane.
Easing our way through the crowds of haggling shoppers party glitter turns into wedding splendour, with crimson turbans and jewelled material for saris. Emerging out on the edge of the market, by rows and rows of motorbikes parked so close you can’t see the pavement, we find a shop with raw silk stoles. We take our places seated on the floor with the shopkeeper who, although very grumpy, gets the whole shop out for us to inspect. He will not budge from his fixed price although we try every trick in the book developed over years of living in the Middle East, but we leave happy, clutching lengths of colour.
We return several times to the bazaars, meandering down along the shop fronts. I peer into little nooks set in the wall between the shops which contain tiny shrines or utensils for chai-making. A seller presents a highly scented rose to me in the flower market; salesmen sit cross-legged on the floor behind rows of orange garlands and other pink and white blooms. We find the source of the kites that appear as soon as the sun starts to fade and children head for the rooftops with paper, bamboo and string that bob over our heads. We’ve asked Kadir about Bapu bazaar several times and he is uncharacteristically evasive. Walking towards it, the bright street starts to become gloomier. There is a soup kitchen and with disheveled men hunched over bowls of food. The eyes upon us are more intense. Flocks of birds of prey swoop and soar overhead. Reaching the corner we are lured into one of the first shops. The salesmen are very intense and pushy. They argue and argue asking inflated prices and packing things away for us when we haven’t agreed to buy. Suddenly we’ve had enough and go to leave, but one bars our way. It’s very intimidating and we flee at speed. Reaching the spice market we gaze half-heartedly at bottles of rosewater and piles of saffron but we’re relieved when Kadir finds us and his tuk tuk whisks us away.
Next time we make sure we shop during the day and in areas where there are lots of women. We adore the textile bazaars where groups of ladies all sit amid jewel coloured cloth and taking hours to choose just the right material for saris.
Of course this is not the only way to shop. Jaipur is famed for its craftsmen and in particular blue pottery, traditional camel-leather shoes, paper, wooden painted statues, block printed materials and carpets. Inevitably (as referrals are an income source) Kadir takes us to some showrooms. They pretend to make the things on site but actually bring them in from surrounding areas. This was not a bad experience as it took us into the quiet, residential back streets of Jaipur and its a less frenetic place to buy than in the bazaar. I pity the poor shopkeeper who tries to sell us pashminas (Dubai is the land of pashminas).
On our way to another showroom we stick our heads into a courtyard where they are dyeing cloth, heated over a wood fire and then visit a man dyeing thread. Our least favourite place is Handicraft Haveli – presented to us as a ‘museum’, it is chock-a-block with very expensive items for sale which other tourists are buying. There are some lovely things and fun to browse but the prices are way over the top. As we return to the hotel, for some reason R walks through the archway next to the entrance. She runs back with excitement. Right next door there are craftspeople block printing, spinning and weaving. No hassle at all, in fact everyone ignores me as a wander round with my camera.
A list of the main bazaars in Jaipur is here and the Eyewitness guide book has an excellent map, however they all merge into each other so it’s best just to wander.
We bought pashminas, raw silk shawls, cotton scarves, cushion covers, silver bangles and loose cotton baggy trousers. Sorry KP, I didn’t buy you a kite.
Read more about the sights we visited here. More about where to stay, eat and getting about to follow soon.