The Commonwealth Games might enrich the capital city with amenities as well as the sports circus, but for visitors to Delhi, it is quite likely that they will leave some of their wealth behind with its citizens. Over a game of barter: cash for craft being the best bargain. Because the one advantage Delhi has over all other metros in the shopping department is that the capital draws both export business (which throws up its leavings in street markets and surplus stores) and patronage for local crafts through both designer-mediated labels and government- or NGO-aided sales spaces.

To start with, forgo the buying at the tourist trap of Janpath and at popular Sarojini Nagar, though everyone will suggest those first. It is all too easy to be dazzled by the brightness—and the low, low prices—of Delhi’s favourite colourful, overcrowded street markets. It is all too easy to end up with dyes that run faster than Lee Evans, crooked necklines and lopsided shirttails—only to finally learn that you were ripped off at thrice the price a local will pay!

Start two streets over instead, with the file of handicrafts and handloom emporiums on Baba Kharak Singh Marg (where most shops open at 10am and close by 5.30pm). It can be a jumble in there too, though blessedly cool and haggle-free—but you might wonder why here, when most of these are also in your hometown. Unless you make a beeline for the far end, to the newer Rajiv Gandhi Handicrafts Bhavan, starting with the Crafts Council’s own store Kamala (011-23743322). This shop has a small selection of exquisite items, and they do take the word ‘select’ seriously. Prices will seem a tad higher than many other ‘emporia’, government-backed and otherwise—rest assured they reflect a huge leap in craftsmanship and quality.

Work your way backwards to Tribes (23341282), a cooperative selling the wares of tribal corners, from lovely wild and traditional grains and spices to some of the best honey you’ll find in the country, plus an impressive selection of authentic tribal-ethnic jewellery. Importantly, there is some excellent and shockingly affordable traditional art hidden away upstairs.

Further on is Indus Tree (23368397), full of woven basketry, furniture and accessories in a boggling variety of leaves and grasses from khus (vetiver) to banana—but it’s not all earth goddess hippie chic, not at all. The punchy bright colours and glossy chocolate-shop browns are excitingly contemporary, even as they scream ‘made in India’. This ‘ethnic, updated’ vibe also informs the very innovative craftsmanship of SEWA-backed Hansiba (32489374).

Most shoppers don’t make it past the on-street stores, but if you find your way inside and up, the NIFT shop (no number) on the first floor will often reward your persistence with up-to-the-minute artsy finds.

You might now be ready to head back to Janpath, better informed to compare the wares, but first you will stop at The Shop (www.theshopindia.com) and at People Tree (23340699) on Parliament Street and at Soma (23416003) in the Inner Circle of Connaught Place, en route. It will be a wrench to get past the dozens of candles, oils and incense flavours in the front room at The Shop, but persevere to the back for some excellent hand-thrown and hand-glazed pottery from Pondicherry, and then follow the walls out front again for statement linens that your grandmother would have been proud of and your granddaughter will be happy to inherit too. The quality and prices of textiles here, as well as at Soma—which has the most darling kids’ textiles as well as lovely garments both Indian and Western (don’t miss the exceptionally well-tailored sari blouses)—leave many a popular middleclass/budget brand in the dust. At People Tree, the prices can be a tad on the steep side, but you won’t find those gorgeous tie-dye Ts and batik shirts anywhere else.

Now, when you finally get to Janpath, continue walking past the Tibetan shops to the Central Cottage Industries Emporium (23323825). If you aren’t quite shopped out, this is where to look for serious art, covetable carpets and some really high-quality shawls, saris and silverware—as well as mementoes you can hand out like small change. But wait, you might do better to first check out Dilli Haat and Delhi’s design villages before you decide.

Dilli Haat is another place everyone will be happy to haul you to. The shops are fun to browse, a mocked-up rural market hall with mostly temporary tenants. Quality can be uneven, so don’t bank on finding the best; then again, this is also where some of the finest bargains and most unusual pieces of craft turn up. It’s always buzzing with something or the other and, if you have a Dilliwala for a guide, you will quickly figure out which shops have the same blah and which are the short-duration specials.

If you’re looking to put down serious cash on home décor and get stuff shipped, the seamy-seeming lanes of Hauz Khas and Shahpur Jat, touted as Delhi’s design villages, are the places to go for style magazine staples like the INDIstore (26495473) and Esthetix (26864446) and Wicker World (26512361); plus the new up-and-coming destination is Zamrudpur, where the buzz is especially around home store Zaza (29245076). But do a few recces across these urban villages before you pay up, and don’t be deterred by lack of shop-fronts and awkward entryways. These treasure chests have quite a bit of chaff mixed in.

What next? Maybe some homegrown designer labels, or local small stores whose wares leave friends back home marvelling? Expats will quickly direct you to the neighbourhood Khan Market, South Extension, and GK-I M- and N-Block markets. At the first are upmarket labels like Good Earth (24647175), Anita Dongre (32515561), Moon River (41617103), Hidesign (24615314) and more, but also well-kept secrets such as Silverline (24643017), peddling adorable jewellery both antique and extremely contemporary at shockingly down-to-earth prices. South Extension is more for bling, if you’re in the market for embellished sarees and jewels; and Karol Bagh likewise, especially if you want the latest in Bollywood or Hindi soap styling. Greater Kailash-I’s M-Block market has more of the local and international labels, but N-Block has perhaps more character with the Bamboo Store (9810328934), four Fabindia (www.fabindia.com) outlets plus its more economical cousin Cottons (41635108) and more upmarket Anokhi (www.anokhi.com).

Similarly enjoyable browsing, of a more expensive order, can be found at the Santushti complex with its designer brands.

It might seem gauche, but if you are looking for the international labels that haven’t made it to your neck of the woods yet, you’ll have to brave the overblown chandeliers and slippery floors of the glitzier malls, of which Select Citywalk in Saket and DLF Emporio have the best buzz at the moment—Emporio (www.dlfemporio.com) for the über-luxury brands to gawk at (Cartier, Bottega Veneta, Bang & Olufsen, Dior, Armani, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Leiber, Jimmy Choo…you get the drift), and Select CityWalk (www.selectcitywalk.com) for highstreet stores like Zara, Lush, Gant, Inglot, Kipling, L’Occitane et al. If you arrive on a Wednesday evening, don’t be surprised to see a faux ‘flea market’ on at the latter, featuring small labels, independent designers, tchotchkes and herb boxes! Otherwise, the mall may not seem to have much you couldn’t buy on your next trip abroad, but there are a few local-colour treasures like Play Clan (www.theplayclan.com).

So if you’re short on time and dough, save a day for the best ‘heritage’ shopping in Old Delhi—it’s surprisingly good value for money and great fun to wander through the silver shops in Dariba Kalan, or stop at Gulab Singh Johrimal (23271345) for premixed faux-Cool Water attar or a customised scent just for you. Even if you come away empty-handed, the atmosphere alone is worth the price of your plane ticket.

Unexpected treasures

When it comes to shopping, Chandni Chowk and the streets radiating off it are centres for the wholesale and retail of many goods and commodities for much of North India. There are cheap electronic goods in Lajpat Rai Market, across from the Red Fort; digital cameras a little further on; light fixtures, electrical appliances and medicines and surgical goods in Bhagirath Place. There is also much that is ‘traditional’, though the designs and materials may have changed radically. Dariba is where you come jewellery shopping; Kinari Bazaar has gota and glitter, rakhis and tinsel, and elaborate masks for staging Ram Lila. Nai Sarak has textbooks, Chawri Bazaar is where you get wedding invites made and buy hardware. Ballimaran has shoes and spectacles, Khari Baoli has spices, dry fruits and tea. Ram Chandra Krishan Chandra in Parathewali Gali sells chamkili saris, Gulab Singh Johrimal sells ittar in pretty bottles and the Delhi Musical Store in Paiwalan, opposite Gate 3 of Jama Masjid, is where you’d go for harmoniums. And in a small shop in what used to be Haveli Haider Quli, magic supplies!

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