Shopping like a princess in Jaipur
Photograph by Preeti Verma Lal
When you cross the colossal pink arches spangled with white engraved creepers and you can inhale a lungful of hullabaloo and raucous honks, you would know you are not far from the hub where once even the kings and the zamindars loosened their brocade purse strings. The old city wears the signature pink, the main street divided by a cement ramp and flanked by shops that look similar in size and the boards that announce their names. Laid interestingly, the shops are arranged meticulously like ghettos - all jewellers share the common surname Saraf and hundreds of them sit next to each other.
"I shall not splurge. I shall not stuff more than two shopping bags. I shall not get tempted. I shall not covet. I shall not stand in a shop for more than five minutes. I shall say no to the shopkeeper…..”
Well, if you thought the real Ten Commandments are too puritanical to adhere to, boy! you don’t know how hard the “I shall not splurge” vow can be. Walk into the Pink City called Jaipur and you would know why. Temptation waits for you at every bend, in the narrow, crowded lanes of the old city and the swift elevators in swank malls. Here’s a warning: Hold on to your wallets before you step into this shopping haunt. The goodies there can lure you broke. Trust me, no mortal can resist what Jaipur stacks on its shelves; not sure about the gods, though.
The old city is always the first stop. When you cross the colossal pink arches spangled with white engraved creepers and you can inhale a lungful of hullabaloo and raucous honks, you would know you are not far from the hub where once even the kings and the zamindars loosened their brocade purse strings. The old city wears the signature pink, the main street divided by a cement ramp and flanked by shops that look similar in size and the boards that announce their names. Laid interestingly, the shops are arranged meticulously like ghettos - all jewellers share the common surname Saraf and hundreds of them sit next to each other. Look around and you would sit endless nagra (mojri) stores; there are endless beej bhandars (seed stores); all textile/saree dealers sit in one corner. Whoever designed the shopping area did make the shopper’s life easy. Where the princes once roamed, the plebian now shop, where once you could hear the onomatopoeic sound of the horses of the phaeton, now you hear the screeching of cars and hollering of those looking for that elusive parking space, but the charm of the old city has certainly not withered with age. Not even after 250 years! Just don’t get daunted or amused by names like Chauthmal Jagdish Prasad Dal Wala, Ishwarlala Ram Pratap Pansari Imliwala, Gopal Das Ramesh Chana Bhungde Mungfaliwala, Thanedar Patangwale, Harinarayan Gyaarsilal Jhandewale…
For centuries Jaipur has been known for its jewellery, both silver and gold. There is no better testimony than the nearly 700 jewellery shops in the old city. In the shadow of downed shutters you would find silversmiths threading delicately carved silver pendants; on blue velvet sit anklets, challa (silver bangles for the feet), chura (armlets), chokers, silver belts so huge and heavy that you might die under the weight. Most shops proclaim the percentage of real silver in the finished products, but buy at your risk – there is no system of hallmark.
If you think Jaipur, is still seeped in the traditional kundan jewellery, you just have to look around a little more. In one tiny store, the pendant is made of gold fabric (yes, it is a gold mesh that is cut and turned into dainty artifacts), in another Brazilian stones are stringed to make a wristy statement. Look at Nandini Jayal, a trained jewrllery designer from NIFT. She combines wood with silver to make impressive money clips, key chains and even mother of pearl pendants. Adds Mallyka Singh Chawla who gives her blue blood lineage a contemporary twist and makes jewellery that borrows from tradition but just about that much.
However, silver now goes much beyond the clichéd necklaces and earrings. Silver finds added meaning in miniature boxes, idols, mugs, pens, tea sets, even curios like buckets and huts. Even an inlaid hipster for your favourite drink! Yes, there are the precious stones that shimmer in the backdrop of silver and gold. Precious stones have been cut, chiselled and stringed in such beautiful combinations that you would be tempted to pick a handful.
Not just silver, every thing seems to be keeping pace with the changing times. So what if you just have a spread-a-sheet shop? Like Raju Lahwale has. He sits by the curb making lac bangles, improvising incessantly – the bangles can be plaited, square, twisted; one with a riot of colours is called ‘computer’ bangle. Raju is a motormouth, he keeps his passport handy hoping some gora sahib will take him to Amrika, but his wares are worth every penny that he quotes with amazing speed.
Looking for gifts for the entire family? Shop in the old city. You would get everything in wholesale rates – the typical lightweight Jaipuris quilts for less than Rs 200, tie and dye dupattas for Rs 50, ready-to-wear turbans for a little over Rs 100, 24-carat Thai gold jewellery, sarees and trinkets that look oh-so-Jaipur, but are really cheap (a lac necklace set for Rs 20, incense stands for Rs 35, ordinary pens with in real silver sheath for Rs 150, bani-thani painting for Rs 15…)
If all the walking and jostling makes your knees wobble, the old city has a panacea – you can get your joints fixed by Riyaz Pehelwan, if you long for your cuppa, sit on the curb and take a sip off Sajjan Kumar’s ever-simmering brass tea pan; if your heart is missing a beat you would find a tribal woman hardselling rudrakash for perssure and dhadkan (blood pressure, silly!)…If your feet land in filth from the endless drains or stacks of kachra, well, live with it. Walk on. Shop on.
After the hustle of the old city, the silence and sophistication of Jacob’s Road can be pretty calming. There is no honking, there are no cows to jostle with, you can spend a languorous afternoon looking for the best. In Behroze Singh’s Cottons, everything traditional has been redefined tastefully. All with a surprisingly affordable tag. You can find a cotton skirt with zari border for Rs 795, a brocade bandi for Rs 1,800, quilted silk jackets for Rs 2200, cotton blazers for Rs 475, chic brocade bags for Rs 600 onwards. You would find block print handkerchief tops and even boleros with sequins. If you do not want to walk into another store, finish your party ensemble with some exquisite jewelry handpicked by Behroze from across the state. Don’t miss the bouffant pins for Rs 75. Next to Cottons, is Rukhmani famous for its collection of chiffon and georgette sarees, priced from an affordable Rs 2800 to a mind-blowing Rs 18,000. Remember, they keep only georgettes and chiffons; so if you are looking for silk and brocade Rukhmani is not for you.
Pat behind these shops, you would stumble upon Suvaasa and Soma, both stacking clothing, accessories and even quilts. There are skirts with straight cuts and dupattas with silver block prints teamed with patiala salwars or churidars. You can pick bead key chains for Rs 100 and woollen kurtas for less than a thousand. At Suvaasa, ‘special’ customers get their trinkets packed in beautiful cotton potlis.
If clothes and beads are not on your priority list and you are in Jaipur to give your house a touch of the ancient, there’s Champa known for its antiques – inlay chests, lacquered partitions, jharokhas, mirrros, handpainted wooden towel racks, embroidered settees that can double up as cushions, even an original 1914 Raja Ravi Varma calendar. Says Abha Gupta, “I walk into dilapidated havelis and pick the antiques.” She sure has several takers – her house is lined with packed goods ready to be shipped to the West. In Abha’s store, you will also find scintillating tribal jewellery that can skew any conversation by its sheer beauty.
Jaipur is crowded and finding parking can unnerve anyone. So, if you are looking for the comfort of a mall where air-conditioners whirr relentlessly and where mercifully there is always an empty parking slot, head to Mall 21 near Rajmandir Cinema. In the granite floors, not only would you find shopping easy, you would also get the most famous names under one roof. Like Gulab Chand who have been dressing up Jaipur for more than 75 years. Forgive the spelling errors in their price tag, admire all that is hand-printed with hand-crafted wooden blocks and hand-dyed. You would find kalamkari (bagru), zahota, Sanganeri, Shekhwati and Mughal block prints on fabrics ranging from silk to cotton tussar, kota, voiles.. The prices are absolutely reasonable (half the price tag in boutiques) and if you want to see how the saree would fall, the salesman would happily drape the six-yards around himself. Looking for more options, walk up to Pratap Sons. Within Mall 21 you cannot miss Kadar Bux, known for their quilts and bed covers. Says Salim Tigala, “Our family has been making quilts for nearly 250 years and anyone who comes to Jaipur picks a quilt almost as a souvenir.” The quilts that range from Rs 200 to Rs 1500 can be winter’s best friend - they are extremely light and really warm.
When in the Rajmandir area, remember to walk into Amrapali from where many a Hollywood celebrity has picked up jewellery, and Gramya, the Khadi store.
But what is a trip to Jaipur without the famous blue pottery. You would find them everywhere, but if you are looking for the best go to Neerja Pottery in Subhash Marg that is run by National Award winner Leela Bordia. She has given blue pottery a new meaning, using the ancient art not merely in decoratives but has made it so utilitarian that you could not just pick things for your home, but also for yourself – bead bracelets, chokers, ribbons, door knobs, platters, mugs, racks, pots, bowls, even tiny turtles, camels, tortoise and mojris. Remember, at Neeraj nothing is churned in the assembly line, they are all hand-crafted by the artisans in the villages that abut Jaipur.
One day in the life of a shopper in Jaipur can even tire the shopaholic, every part of the city is not just a site for sore eyes but also a shopper’s delight. All you need is a little patience combined with the art of haggling. And, yes, the fat wallet. No, not because the goods are expensive, but because choices galore.
By the time you read this, more malls would have sprung in the Pink City and more parking space would have shrunk in the old city. Shopping in Jaipur can leave you broke but this winter if you are actually broke, hire a rickshaw and take your girl for a spin around the city. Who knows you might win her over only with window shopping!
in Discover India, December 2007