Monday, 19 November 2012

Golden Triangle Part 3 : Jaipur Shopping

Jaipur was a city where La Visitante and I decided not to do too much sight-seeing.  We were there primarily to SHOP!  Well it's Christmas soon right?  And I was sure that all of the folks back home would want a little piece of India for themselves.

Upon arrival in the early evening, the whole of Jaipur's Old City was lit up for Diwali.  Boy this must be one wealthy city to afford all those light bulbs and all that energy - I'd never seen anything like it (although I suppose Blackpool Illuminations does come close).  On every corner stood large groups of policemen, wielding long sticks and looking like they were expecting trouble at any moment.

In Jaipur...even the cows go shopping
We asked the driver to take us straight to our hotel - on over embellished Indian folly known as Umaid Bhawan.  Actually, this was the cheapest hotel on the trip at about £26 per night for the two of us but I thought the standard was not bad for this price. After inspecting the room and dropping our bags off, we went straight back into town in the hope of getting something decent to eat. We chose Handi's - another Lonely Planet recommendation - a cavernous canteen style eatery with a minimal amount of character.  Again, the place was full of Golden Triangle tourists, with few locals.  Unfortunately the food matched the interior, being rather lack lustre. interesting pot balancing act on Diwali night at Umaid Bhawan
After dinner, we had rather a scary adventure involving a tuk tuk that took us along some dubious and poorly lit back streets to a pashmina emporium that we did not want to visit. (Apparently "please go to the Pink City" means "I want to buy a new scarf" in Hindi, did you know that?)  After an altercation with the shop owner when we refused to get down off the tuk tuk, we managed to get the driver to take us back to the hotel. This would be one of many times that we would get conned by tuk tuk drivers on the Golden  Triangle - no matter how much experience you have of living in India, I think anyone with white skin will share the same fate.  Perhaps La Visitante is right...I need to learn Hindi (don't watch this space).

The next morning and before commencing our shopping escapade, we did a snippet of sightseeing by visiting Jantar Mantar - an observatory built by Maharaja Jai Singh and completed in 1728.  This was a remarkable place, containing huge masonry and metal instruments including giant sundials to calculate local time, zodiac instruments (I never knew Indians were into horoscopes!) and other more complicated instruments to calculate the 'azimuth of celestial bodies'.  For the first time on our trip we hired a guide to show us around as the instruments quite clearly required in depth explanation!  Then, having completed our cultural exercise for the day, we headed off for the shops (hoorah!).

Jantar Mantar Observatory in Jaipur - a fascinating place

The guide teaching us how to tell the time on this giant sundial.

The Old City of Jaipur is pretty much built on a grid system (like New York but not!) and is therefore relatively well planned and easy to navigate.  We walked the length of Johari Bazar - the centre of jewellery and gems sales (I came away with a beautiful £12 amethyst) - and then turned on to Bapu Bazar and Nehi Bazar, a long street supposedly famed for its textiles. Here we found mostly tourist tat (or stuff for people who don't know how to shop). Turning right again on to Kishan Pol Bazar (making the third side of a rectangle) I was expecting to see Jaipur's famous blue pottery and ironwork.  I saw none whatsoever and started to question our guide book.

A selection of semi precious stones in the trustworthy shop where I bought my £12 two carat amethyst.
Gopal Prasad & Co, Specialist in Beads and Colour Stones
2233, Haldiyon Ka Rasta, Johari Bazaar, Jaipur

So far we had been pretty unsuccessful in our hunt for quality textiles and had bought nothing between us that morning.  Disgusted, we headed off to lunch, to Niros - just outside of the city walls on Mirza Ismail (MI) Road.  Guess what...another Lonely Planet recommendation and yet another disappointing experience (you would have thought we'd learnt our lesson by now?)  From our experience, Niros served entirely forgettable and bland Indian food to only white faces. And not Italian as the name may have suggested!

Niro's dining room - as reflected in the ceiling mirror
After a disappointing morning's shopping and a mouthful of bland food, we came away from Niro's feeling rather dejected. However, as it turns out it, heading in that direction for lunch had been fortuitous decision - as it was on Mirza Ismail Road where we ended up finding some great shopping.  First of all Himalaya - which La Visitante had been keen to track down for its organic and natural beauty products - where we made some vital face and hair cleansing products, and then a bit further along, I found an old man's shoe shop which so happened to be selling beautiful, hand embroidered Mojari slippers.  I bought a pair for myself (of course!) and a pair for a friend back home.  Next door to this, we found a fabulous bangle shop stacked from head to toe with a rainbow of 'arm candy'.  We spent probably an hour sat on low stools going through all the boxes and making our (rather garish) selections. 

Hand embroidered Mojari slippers
Charmica Leather Shop, MI Road, Jaipur

The aftermath in the bangle shop after we'd been through all the boxes! (MI Road, Jaipur)
Feeling a little better after an hour's retail therapy, we took a tuk tuk back into the Old City in the hope of finally tracking down some decent cloth, preferably of the block-printed variety that Jaipur is so famous for (god knows what we thought we were going to do with it once we got it!).  We hunted high and low and it was only when a creepy guy started following us (he probably wanted to sell us a pashmina) that we ducked into a saree shop to escape him.  Again, another fortuitous decision because after being led upstairs, we discovered that the shop retailed the most beautiful selection of hand embroidered dupattas, silk sarees, pashminas (which we didn't want, obviously) and cloth. After a length period of umming and aaahing, we both selected a hand embroidered dupatta and some silk fabric for another friend back home.  By the time we went back out on to the street, the creepy guy had gone. Phew.

Gorgeous silk fabrics in the saree shop.
Handloom Emporium, 17, Nehru Bazar, Jaipur
As dusk approached, there were still a few items on the shopping list that we had not been able to uncover such as the aforementioned Jaipur blue pottery and cotton fabric.  We were about to go back to the hotel when out of the very corner of my eye, I spotted a stack of block printed cloth through a glass door.  Excited, I dragged La Visitante into the shop to see if we could not fill up some of the gaps in our shopping bags.  Success! This place turned out to be the best quality fabric retailer we had come across - the shop owner later told us that in fact, he supplies to FabIndia amongst others. 

Our fabrics being measured out.
Madho Behari Mohan Behari
Shop No 115, Khanda Purohit Ji Ka, Manak Chowk, Jaipur
We found beautiful medium weight plain cottons and bought three lots of each for 120 to 180 Rs per metre (average £2 pm) - enough to have several dresses made (watch this space!) - and with our last purchases made, returned highly sated back to the Umaid Bhawan hotel.

Some other images of the day:

Hawa Mahal "Palace of the Winds" - built so that the Maharaja's ladeeez could all get a good view of the street below during processions etc....without being seen.

Another interesting balancing act.


  1. And I thought I was queen of the shops! We really must plan an excursion next year - go head to head! A thoroughly enjoyable read!

    1. haha MCM....I think I would beat you hands down, sorry!



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