Delhi is home to more than 18 million people, and sometimes all of them seem to be on the streets at once. Not for the faint of heart, India’s capital city is a chaotic, exciting swirl of humanity, and a place of incredible contrasts. There are, of course, the centuries-old Mughal ruins and ramshackle storefronts, but there are also plenty of slick new shopping malls and chichi boutiques.
In fact, whether it’s high-end or low-end you’re after, Delhi is something of a shoppers’ paradise. The heart of its retail richness is set within the manageable radius of Central and South Delhi, which is also where most of the tourist hotels are located. It’s the perfect place to start exploring the amazing range of arts, crafts and clothing for sale in the city.
1. Cotton and Silk Basics
The South Delhi neighbourhood of Greater Kalaish I (known as GK and divided into blocks) is home to a string of must-visit shops including two in the N-Block that focus on traditional hand-woven textiles.
The legendary Fabindia sells clothing and accessories made by craftspeople in villages throughout India. The store specialises in natural cotton and silk kurtas, tunics, skirts, saris and other Indian classics in both traditional and contemporary styles. There are more than 150 Fabindia stores worldwide, and a Singapore branch is to open at the end of this year.
Similarly, Anokhi excels in affordable and fun cotton prints in a gamut of colours and styles, many with a Bohemian, East-West flair. In the same market, Cottons is another shop for inexpensive tops, scarves, skirts and Indian styles in bright colours and patterns, and Kilol offers a collection of pretty, ethnic-style cotton and silk kurtas, tops and skirts.
A few kilometres awayin Defence Colony, Shaw Brothers is the go-to spot for high-quality embroidered Kashmiri and Pashmina shawls.
2. High styles
Not far from the 12th-centry Qutub Minar tower and snuggling up against the medieval domed tombs of Muslim royalty are the designer boutiques and funky eateries, galleries and bookshops within Delhi’s arty-farty Hauz Khas Village.Don’t miss Raj Creations for hand-woven textiles (called khadi) and Ogaan for unusual Indo-Western formalwear.
Though the maze of cramped shops and tangled electrical wires may not look like it, Khan Market, near Lodhi Gardens and India Gate, has been ranked the most expensive retail real estate in India. Aside from outlets of the Ogaan, Ranna Gill, Anokhi and Fabindia clothing chains, plus lots of Western-style cafés, check out Shades of India for retro-chic bags, scarves and other accessories. Stop by Finesse for Indian-style sandals, Amrapali for gorgeous, high-end, gem-studded 22-karat gold and silver jewellery fit for queens, Srihari Diagems for classic gold kundan antique pieces, and Silver Line to get your hands on affordable silver jewellery with semi-precious stones. For homeware with an Asian twist, visit Goodearth, Ishatvam and Oma.
Set within a quiet garden in the Chanakyapuri neighbourhood, the serene Santushti shopping cluster specialises in upscale clothing boutiques and jewellery shops including Christina, Ogaan, Ranna Gill and Amrapali outlets. You’ll also find Tack here, a popular leather goods store offering everything from belts to bags, luggage and more.
The Sunder Nagar Market is full of high-end shops, including Bharany’s for gold and silver jewellery.
Also have a look at the neighbourhood of Shahpur Jat, which dates back to the 14thcentury and still contains a few ruins of the Mogul kingdom that once thrived there. Today, the warren of low- and high-end stores sells everything from cheap bangles to over-the-top, high couture Indian saris. Plus, browse quirky stuff like cartoon-print pillows at Tan Him, funky lamps at Alter Ego, and Just Around the Corner’s hip shoes and Bollywood-inspired T-shirts and jewellery.
3. Market Madness
Sample Delhi’s gritty street-market ambience and hone your haggling skills with a stroll along the jam-packed lanes of Lajput Nagar for fabrics and shawls of every pattern and hue, and Sarojini Nagar Market for cheap and cheerful fashions. A funkier, somewhat higher-end version of these shopping hubs is Meher Chand Market in south Delhi’s Lodhi Colony, a cluster of shops brimming with eclectic stuff.
For an authentic street market feel minus the claustrophobic lanes and touts, make a trip to Dilli Haat, on Aurobindo Marg near Safdarjung Airport. It’s an open-air, fenced-in market run by the Delhi Tourist Office. Master craftsmen from all over India sell inexpensive handicrafts, from handmade paper to rustic copper wind chimes, jewellery, shawls, bags and casual Indian fashions.
4. Malls and More
The DLF Emporio shopping mall and a growing number of others like it are Delhi’s answer to Singapore’s gleaming, high-end malls à la ION and Paragon. A mix of international brands including Gucci, Burberry and Jimmy Choo co-mingle with more interesting local designers, from Tarun Tahiliani to Kimaya, Rohit Bal, Satya Paul, Suneet Verma, and Ensemble for haute couture.
Connaught Place, in central Delhi, is the city’s colonnaded colonial core built by the British in the 1930s. Here you’ll find the reliable Central Cottage Industries Emporium, a one-stop, air-conditioned, tout-free shop for arts and crafts in silver; stone, sandalwood and brass from all over India; plus shawls, jewellery, Indian clothing, lamps, bedding and much more.
Across the street, Janpath is a road lined with small inexpensive shops where you can pick up traditional Indian sandals, clothing, cheap jewellery and souvenirs. Do try to bargain here, especially if you’re buying several items in one shop.
Nearby, representing many of India’s 28 states, is the State Government Emporia line Baba Khadak Singh Marg (street) selling good quality local handicrafts, fabrics, homeware, jewellery and clothing.
Retreat from retail frenzy
The perfect balance to a shopping spree in dizzying Delhi is a night or two of peace and quiet at the Neemrana Fort Palace hotel in the state of Rajasthan, a two-hour drive southwest of Delhi on the Delhi-Jaipur highway.
The core of the property is a 15th-century fort-palace perched high in Rajasthan’s ancient Aravalli hills. One of India’s oldest heritage hotels, the multi-level stone complex channels medieval India with its Persian-style scalloped “peacock” arches, turreted parapets and a curved driveway that leads to a massive spiked wooden door designed to thwart invaders. Within the ramparts, zigzagging staircases lead to small verandahs and landings with scenic views of the fortress grounds and the valley below.
Converted into a hotel in the late 1980s, the 60 rooms and suites are decorated with an eclectic mix of traditional Indian and colonial furnishings, from antique wooden divans to stained glass, Indian-print bed covers, stone latticework (or jali) windows, and framed miniatures of traditional paintings of Mogul court life.
Over the past decade, Neemrana has been tastefully expanded to include brand new rooms, a pool and spa. Though soaking up the fortress ambience is activity enough for most, thrill seekers can try the new zip line next door that whizzes guests between the nearby hills. You can also sign up for a camel-pulled cart ride to the village of Neemrana to have a look at the ancient step well. Meals are family-friendly and buffet-style in the hotel’s outdoor and indoor restaurants.
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