The Best Things to Buy on Travel to India: Ladies This Post is For You

One of the best activities for anyone traveling to India is to go shopping. Whether you like shopping or not, it doesn’t matter. There’s no denying the quality, range, and value.

Throughout India you’ll find fine fabrics, tailors ready to custom fit you into suits or saris, art, furniture, designer shoes, handbags, fashion and the most stunning diamond and gold sets you’ve ever seen! The quality ranges from cheap to high-end. Like anything you get what you pay for.

You’ll find more colors than a Benetton ad. The colors, sights, and smells will overwhelm your senses! Additionally you’ll find outdoor shopping centers to modern malls with big food courts and luxurious movie theaters.

You can easily spend a day to multiple days shopping in India. Some people enjoy haggling (err negotiating) with stall and shopkeepers. Stall and kiosk owners are more likely to negotiate. Whereas stores at the malls are fixed price.

Whenever I’m in India, I stock up on Indian clothes, accessories, jewelry, purses, and other knick knacks. And like anything, you get what you pay for. So I tell people not to think about cheap prices, but rather focus on value. Your dollar will go a lot further when you shop there. In India I can buy a wedding-worthy sari for $100USD. I wouldn’t be able to buy a wedding-worthy sari for $100 if I went shopping in America’s “Little India” Markets such as Artesia in Southern California, Edison NJ, Devon Street in Chicago, or Jackson Heights in NYC.

I’ve put together this post of the best things to buy in India. Most of the items are for people who are traveling light. But I’ve also included some big ticket items.


If I had to recommend you to buy only 1 thing in India, I’d tell you to buy pashminas and scarves. They cost a fraction of what you’d pay in the USA for the same or similar items, they’re easy to pack, and if you take care of them they’ll last forever!

https://sewoverit.co.uk/fabric-shopping-india/

{Clothes}

I generally only buy Indian clothes in India – not Western clothes. The popular Western fashions are different than what’s popular in the US and I’ve never seen a price difference in the items I’d buy there vs. at home.

But for Indian clothes I go bananas in India. Indian clothes that you can buy in the US, all come from India so the mark up is pretty high. You can get the same outfit in India for 1/2 to 1/4 the cost in the US. Or you can get a much nicer outfit for the same amount as you would have spent on an outfit in the US.

{Ready-Made vs. Bespoke}

The only thing that’s really variable is the current fashion. The current trends are constantly changing and if the current fashions aren’t your thing, then that can make shopping difficult because that’s what the stores will be carrying and pushing you to buy.

I’m 4’11 and when I was wedding shopping the newest trend was Indian style maxi gowns. Maxi gowns…on a 4’11 woman…not gonna happen. What was even more frustrating was when shopkeepers would just automatically start pedaling that stuff almost mindlessly without looking at me and saying, “this isn’t going to work for you”. And when I’d say “this won’t look good on me”. Their response was, “of course it will, this is the latest fashion! It’s what everyone was wearing”. I wasn’t going to the right stores.

I finally found the right store when the shopkeeper did take one look at me and said, “no no, we need something else for you.” And I ended up spending as much as I would have spent in the USA on a bridal gown but what I got in terms of how heavy it was, the embroidery and work was SO much more than if I had bought something in the USA.

In India you can always go the bespoke route. There are tons of tailors and fabric houses in India. You can custom design anything from Indian outfits to suits for work. But, as you can imagine, anything custom-made requires a bigger time investment on your part.

If you don’t need to buy Indian clothes, India is a GREAT place to buy tunics. They’re super popular there and you’ll find a ton in readymade stores or you can have them custom-made as well. I had this tunic made and I can wear it out with tights or jeans, boots or ballet flats. I’d wear this on a sunny day traipsing around San Francisco or on an evening out with friends. Bonus points if you wear matching earrings and bangles too!

A typical fabric store in India 

{Real and Fashion Jewelry}

Whether you’re looking for a diamond set or fashion jewelry to match your outfits – India is a fantastic place to buy whatever you need. Indian people LOVE jewelry. Gold, in particular, has lots of cultural and religious significance. It is a status symbol as well as the symbol of the Goddess Lakshmi, who is the God of Wealth and Prosperity.

You will see hundreds of stores selling gold throughout India. You’ll see gold and silver coins with engravings of religious symbols. These are often purchased by families to give away as tokens and gifts at events and gatherings. They’re also used as a way to buy and own gold or silver and later melt the coins to make rings, necklaces, anklets and other jewelry.

In India it’s relatively easy to find jewelers who can do that. Here, in the States, not so much.

You can get jewelry custom designed and made as well. Let’s say you just bought new Indian outfits. Naturally you need jewelry to wear with them. And you’ll need jewelry that matches. You might be able to find ready-made sets that go with your outfits or you can get them all custom made.

I had this set made to match the sari I wore at my engagement party, as you can see in the photo below.

Whether you need Indian clothes to attend an event, or not, you can wear Indian jewelry with work outfits as well as social events. Check out my earrings and bracelet in the photo below. This photo was taken in a family portrait session during the holidays in Orange County.

Photo: D. Park Photography

{Accessories}

India is a great place to stock up on belts, socks, slippers, and hair accessories. And they’re easy to pack whether you’re traveling with suitcases or backpacking.

{Scarves and Pashminas}

If you don’t buy anything else in India BUY pashminas there. They’ll cost you a fraction of the cost if you bought the same or similar items at Bloomingdales, Nordstrom, and Macy’s. They are a bit bulkier to pack but the low cost and quality make them VERY worth it. I have plain as well as patterned pashminas in a variety of colors to match all of my clothes. You know when you hear people talk about investment pieces for your wardrobe? Usually they refer to high cost, one-time purchases. Pashminas from India are one-time investment pieces.

{Purses}

I also stock up on fashion purses when I go to India. They are great accessories as well as great gifts that enhance any outfit and you can find beautiful, decorative purses in unique shapes and every color!

{Bangles and Bracelets}

I LOVE bangles. And there is no shortage of them in every hue and size imaginable in India. These enhance any outfit Indian or Western. I tend to wear a single larger bracelet (like a cuff) for the office and several of the thinner ones when I go out or evening work events. The thinner ones clank against one another, and I think that’s not great for a professional environment (in my opinion). I get tons of compliments on my bracelets and bangles. See the photos below of my wrists loaded with bangles while wearing Indian clothes as well as clubbing with friends in Orange County.

{Money and Gift Envelopes}

In Indian culture, giving money as a gift is the norm. So at weddings, instead of having registries guests bring an envelope with cash. And the envelopes are decorative like these. But their use isn’t just for Indian events.

I find these to be very useful when I travel. I take a stack with me to give tips for cleaning staff, safari guides, tour guides and others. It’s just a nice and (in my opinion) a classier way to hand or give someone a tip, rather than handing them a wad of cash. I must’ve brought 200 of these in India. But you can buy as many as you want. And if you really want to go all out, you can get them personalized with your name, so that these can also serve as envelopes for cards for birthdays, events etc.

Money, tip, and gift envelopes
Go all out and get the envelopes personalized with your name.

{Small Items for Home Decor}

India is a great place to find marble and other types of coasters. I like these marble ones as they’re very unique, decorative, packable, and didn’t cost much. They’d be pretty expensive to buy in the US. Just make sure to pack them properly to minimize breaking/chipping. I love these bright maroon place mats as well that contrast with the brightness of the coasters.

India is a great place to commission pillow cases. They’re beautiful, a fraction of the cost of what you’d pay for the pillows and cases in the US and you can pack them or have them shipped easily. It does require you to have all the pillow measurements ahead of time to give to the designer.

{Stainless Steel Anything}

Steel containers are all the rage. Nobody uses plastic anymore. Everyone’s switched to glass but would use stainless steel if it was more affordable. India is stainless steel central. It’s not cheap and it’s not easy to pack but my family got stainless steels pots, pans and an entire dining set more than 20 years ago from India and it’s still going strong.

My mom went on a yoga retreat last year and brought me back stainless steel bowls, glasses, and a pressure cooker. She had to get some of the items shipped as they wouldn’t fit in her suitcase but it was worth it!

{Bigger Items To Buy in India}

{Furniture and Art}

You can get chairs made and shipped for your formal dining room. Similarly commission curtains for your bedrooms and bathrooms. Or purchase art for your home.

{Get Your Mehndi (aka henna) Done in India}

You’ll see lots of stalls and salons where you can get as much or as little mehndi as you want. ProTip: Do this on one of the last days of your trip. Mehndi typically stays on for 1-2 weeks depending on how much, the quality, how long you let it settle onto your skin, and how often you wash the area with the mehndi.

If getting mehndi done on your hands, make sure you have someone who can feed you to maximize absorption.

{Best Times to Shop In India}

Indians love to shop so there’s no set times but there are certain seasons where you’ll see more inventory and sales.

The Fall

Diwali is Hindu new year and it’s a BIG deal. Think Christmas big. It’s celebrated to that level of grandeur throughout India. This is when stores stock up on their best inventory and run loads of sales. Unlike Christmas you aren’t likely to see as many post-Diwali sales because October through December is considered wedding season in India as those are the auspicious months to get married according to several religions. Shop in the fall is awesome to find the best inventory and variety, but not necessarily the lowest prices.

Expect very busy, crowded markets, just like Christmas shopping in the USA.

The Spring

In the spring, pretty much every state and every religion in India has their version of a harvest festival. This is when you’ll find great buys and food and spices.

The Summer

In the summer in South India, specifically Kerala, Onam is a big festival which again means people buy lots of fruits, vegetables, sweets and gifts. So all the stores will be fully stocked. Rakshabandhan also falls during the summer, and is another popular time or gift giving.


{Where To Go Shopping In India}

Whether you’re in Delhi, Punjab, Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata or Chennai, you will find plenty of shopping centers, open air markets and kiosks. Indian people love to shop and because each city is home to millions of people, each city can support several and several types of markets. You’ll find everything from kiosks and stands in open air markets to sprawling Western-style malls with familiar stores like H&M, Bobbi Brown, Steve Madden and Forever 21 to luxury brands such as Gucci.

{ProTips For Shopping In India}

ProTip public buses: For each market I have indicated how to get there. You can get to each via public bus. BUT (and I mean all CAPS, BUT) I don’t recommend it for women and it’s only for those for whom the adventure of getting there is part of the fun. Getting on and off buses in India is a competition and there’s no telling whether the bus will be clean and most buses are over crowded. Ladies, spend just a little bit more and go on the Metro.

ProTip: “Bohni” (pronounced boney) This is a superstition, particularly in North India, that the first transaction of the day aka “bohni”, sets the tone for the rest of the day. Thus the shopkeeper does everything he/she can to assure their optimum outcome: cash sale with no discounts.

The worst thing that can happen is the first customer of the day arrives at their store and doesn’t buy anything. I’ve had sellers use bohni to guilt me into buying something. And if I still didn’t, then the people who work there would give me dirty looks and/or tell me I won’t find anything better throughout the market, as I walk out of their store.

At first it was hard to get used to this. And it sucked the fun out of shopping. But then I learned to accept it as part of the experience of shopping in India.

I’ve experienced the same thing in Thailand, Bali, and even Singapore as well.

ProTip Cash vs. credit card: India is still very much a cash society. When you’re shopping at big malls credit card is fine. At smaller, local markets you’ll want to have cash on hand. With cash you’ll get better prices and some of the shopkeepers may only accept cash.

Rupees are not allowed in and out of the country, so you’re only option is to get rupees upon arrival. When you arrive at the airport get some from the exchange office there – enough to get you to your accommodation. Hotels – especially larger hotels have currency exchange bureaus nearby which offer better rates than at the airport but be careful to not get conned.

ProTip: Bring $100USD bills. Travel bureaus want these larger notes, not $1, $5, $10.

ProTip traffic: Traffic is a thing in India. It can take an hour to drive 5 miles if you’re stuck in traffic. And many drivers don’t exactly adhere to driving laws. In other words if there’s space to get your car or motorbike through, it will get occupied. The first time I drove the Delhi Metro I felt liberated. It was like I could finally travel around Delhi the same way I’ve traveled the rest of the world – independently and self sufficiently. The Delhi Metro is the best metro system I’ve ever been on throughout Europe, the States and the rest of Asia.

ProTip Patience: The old adage, “patience is a virtue” is true. Your patience will be tested in India, so mentally prepare. I always tell people that once you’ve been to India, nothing else on your travels will phase you. It’s a country with a rich culture, ancient beliefs, innovation, progressive and backwards simultaneously!, kind, hardworking people, yet rampant corruption, lots and lots and lots of people, extreme poverty but also extreme wealth.

Your senses will be on 24/7 overload and you will experience nothing else like it anywhere on Earth. Enjoy!

{Conclusion}

Shopping in India is fun and an adventure of its own. You will find everything from swap meets, to chaotic open-air outdoor markets to luxurious Western style malls. I focused on the outdoor chaotic malls as they represent the old, authentic Indian shopping experience. Big malls are nice but if you’re going all the way to India, my bias is towards unique experiences vs. something you don’t have to fly across the world to see.

Traffic throughout India is a challenge. It can take an hour just to drive 5 miles. That’s why I recommend relying on public transport. The metro systems are good and speedy. As the second most populous country on Earth, everything in India is crowded. So avoiding crowds really isn’t a thing.

In the various markets, you can find everything from touristy trinkets and high end and brand name fashions to furniture and art. For those traveling with just a backpack I recommend buying pashminas in India. They cost a fraction of what you’d pay for similar cost and quality in the USA and they’re easy to pack and if you take care of them, will last forever.

Skip Forever 21, Steve Madden, Bobbi Brown, H&M in India. You won’t save any money by buying items there vs. the USA and the fashions they carry fit Western styles that are popular in India, which is not always the same as what’s popular and fashionable in the USA.

Always be cognizant and safe when shopping. Crowded malls, food courts, and metros are breeding grounds for thieves. Check out my post on Safety and Avoiding Theft on Your Travels.

{Stay Connected}

Did this article help you? If so, let me know in the comments as I LOVE to hear from our readers about their trip planning as well as their adventures afterwards. How was your drive to La Fortuna?

Also, you might like to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. I’m constantly adding new images and info that you might catch your eye or pique your interest.

{About PassportPages}

I created the PassportPages travel blog, to provide nuanced, detailed travel advice, tips, and hacks for traveling all over the world — from a unique and different perspective than the other popular travel blogs. There aren’t as many travel blogs geared towards:

  • nuanced, detailed travel tips and advice
  • vegetarians/vegan travelers
  • ethnic Americans, Canadians, and others
  • petite women

{About Samta}

When I’m not traveling and/or adventuring (and even when I am), I operate my tech startup, ShaadiShop. ShaadiShop is a marketplace for Indian-friendly wedding venues in California.

During undergrad I decided to study abroad which triggered my travel passion. I lived in Adelaide, Australia for a year and after that, for the next 10 years I spent 1-2 months each year, traveling to various destinations around the globe, on my own while I managed my direct marketing company.

I think traveling solo, prepared me to become an entrepreneur – journeying into new experiences, figuring it out as I went, self-reliance, facing your fears head on, trying new things, and so much more!

Then I decided to get a Masters in Business Administration, and I met my husband. Now we travel around the globe together and often. I love backpacks, vegetarian and vegan cooking and of course planning our next trip. I’m also kinda addicted to blueberries. =p

Check in on the blog or better yet follow PassportPages to get nuanced travel info from around the world. And definitely post your questions and comments. I love hearing from our readers! Cheers!

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Samta, Founder, PassportPages

 

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