Fashion tourism in India will vary greatly based on whether you are A) A man, B) A woman, or C) A group with some combination of both. However, when it comes to buying clothing in India, the country is an open bazaar only too eager to accommodate travellers’ taste for the exotic. There are of course upscale shoppers’ districts in most of the larger cities, but it’s the street markets that really define Indian shopping.
One of your first stops should be Anna Salai, or Mount Road, an arterial street in Chennai that specializes in Kancheepuram silks, making it one of the more popular shopping destinations among soon-to-be brides. Sarees can be found in all colors, often embroidered with scenes from Indian history and mythology. This authentic collection of street vendors offers some real interaction with the Indian way of life, a fairly non-Westernized bazaar that eschews stores in favour of stalls, prices in favour of negotiations.
A more diverse selection can be found at Mumbai’s “Linking Road,” which specializes in cotton but sells virtually every garment under the sun. From shoes to belts, Linking Road offers a thin strip of authentic culture through India’s “fashion capital,” and one of the most globalized cities in the country. Interspersed with small, dedicated food stalls, the colors and smells of Linking Road are legendary. There are few more relaxing ways to spend an afternoon in Mumbai than strolling down Linking Road. As always, just be sure not to pay full price for anything.
Clothing doesn’t dominate all of the Indian street vendors, however, and those looking for jewellery have some equally attractive options. So-called “semi precious” jewellery, or outright artificial jewellery, is an art almost perfected by Indian artisans. Once a huckster’s trade aimed at deceiving travellers, now it is a legitimate industry all its own, attracting business even from those who would normally only shell out for the real thing. The value of the pieces sold along Chandini Chowk are not due to their materials, but their craftsmanship. Check out Chandini Chowk in New Delhi for the best selection of artificial jewellery, or for a more even mix of real and imitation, try M I Road in Jaipur.
Probably the most eclectic and diverse selection, though, will be found in Bangalore’s Commercial Street. This festival of lights seems to call out the Las Vegas Strip, but where the Strip runs on gambling, Commercial runs on trade. There is seemingly no end to the small items available, many of them hand-made in the city.
If you’re going to head to India for shopping, there’s almost no point in sticking to the Westernized city cores; if you want to go to Ralph Lauren, you can do that at home. Venturing into the chaotic and intoxicating Indian bazaar districts, however, is sure to overstuff your bags, while leaving your wallet nicely plump.