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The Arts and the Art of Shopping in India

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When the shopkeeper in Udaipur found out that Sergey and Olena were from the Ukraine he quoted them a starting price that was 50% more than he had just quoted me for the same miniature painting. When they called him on it he admitted to them, "I could tell from your accent that you are from Russia so I added more to the price because I knew you would be hard bargainers!" That ended the negotiation before it even got started!

There is a vast range of crafts throughout India deriving over the centuries from many ethnic groups as ornamental art for home and body, as well as for utilitarian purposes and religious practice in daily life. We've proven, once again, that India is a treasure trove for handicraft souvenirs especially including ceramics, jewelry, leatherwork, metalwork, stone carving and marble inlay, woodwork, and clothing and carpet textiles of all sorts such as block printing and weaving cotton, wool and silk.

Shopping is typically part of travel in India, even if you are just an observer. Throughout Rajasthan in each city we visited there was a stop at a local workshop and associated store in the particular handicraft that each location is known for. We avoided any shopping emporiums where busloads of tourists frequent. Instead, I really liked the way the artisanal work was presented first by demonstration to see the technique and detail that goes into each piece. You're free to take pictures of the craftsmen and women at work and ask questions. Of course, the more you see and learn the more you're likely be interested in buying, and that's the idea. Although making a sale is the end goal of the workshop presentation, it's nonetheless done with pride and integrity and the choice is up to you. Whether it's beggars or shopkeepers, in India you have to learn to ignore the come on, let go of any guilt, and in the case of shopping just have fun with the interaction.

We visited a marble workshop in Agra where we saw the same techniques used to inlay stone on the Taj Mahal, now used to produce beautiful table tops and other pieces easily shipped home of course! In Jodhpur, known for its textiles and tailors, we all picked up our white pajamas outfits for the men and saris (compliments of Wildland for the special anniversary party previously reported), and in Jaipur it was gems and jewelry. In Udaipur we visited a local miniature painting exhibition which I was leery about before going in, but again we all appreciated the art, our interaction with the painters, and appreciated seeing an art form that dates back centuries depicting scenes of Moguls, life of the ruling maharajahs and maharanis, and the pantheon of Hindu gods and goddesses. Every one of us bought something somewhere, but in all cases the presentations themselves were revealing of the artistic traditions.

Even on the jeep safaris to the Bishnois villages  outside Jodhpur our visit with local families included one association of weavers who have been weaving distinctive carpets in  similar style, colors and patterns as the southwestern US for generations; some of our group bought carpets from him as I did two years ago and one of our group commented to me they appreciated the opportunity to buy direct from the village.

Of course, no matter where you shop in India be sure to bargain and the starting offer should be at least 50% of the initial price stated. If you end up at about 30% of the original quote that's usually what the vendor is expecting. It's best going into any bargaining situation with some idea of the value of the item (based on earlier price comparisons at other locations) and a real sense of what the item is worth to you. If you are able to say to yourself, "No, I don't really want it that bad" and you can walk out empty handed that's the best bargaining position to be in. If the shopkeeper comes running after you with a counter offer then you know you are close to the going price. If not, well you might find another one down the road and next time you'll have a better idea of the going rate. But, in any event, you'll be paying more than the local price, so if you like it get it and you'll enjoy it the rest of your life!

Keeping it wild,

Kurt Kutay

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