Beyond Delhi: The Treasures of Jaipur

James T. Murray

Lucia van der Post goes in search of the most wonderful shawls, jewels, and antiques in the place romantically known as the Pink City of India.

The best thing about shopping in Jaipur is that it’s not like shopping at home. In fact, it’s exhaustingly, exasperatingly, exceedingly different. Shopping at home means strolling through air-conditioned boutiques, steering clear of overly attentive sales clerks, and sifting through rack upon rack of orderly price-tagged goods. In Jaipur—known as the Pink City because of the sandstone architecture—shopping involves plunging through dusty alleyways, tracking down little workshops, and tangling with bustling markets. The experience is thrilling, however, and the rewards plentiful.

Jaipur offers some of the finest goods in India. Here craftsmen remain connected to ancient skills that have been passed down through generations, and artisans take pride in their work, displaying not only the actual crafts but also the time-consuming processes of creating them. Shopping in the city isn’t without risk, of course. Not every pashmina, piece of jade, or antique is all it’s said to be, but this lends a bit of edge and interest to the exercise. Shoppers should keep their antennae up and learn as much as they can about the things they’re buying. Those looking for jewels, for example, should not snap up the first thing that strikes their fancy. Instead it’s best to poke around the Johari Bazaar, near the Ram Niwas garden, where the stones are cut, seeing what’s available, making comparisons, and getting a feel for prices.

But Jaipur is about more than just baubles, though they typically top everyone’s list. The city is also known for its incredible selection of blue pottery, handmade paper, and cashmere shawls, among other objects. There’s no surefire way to eliminate the guesswork in shopping here, but this list of what to buy and where to find it helps manage much of the risk. Stores, which typically open at 10:30 or 11 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. or later, are spread out all over the 77-square-mile city, so it’s wise to hire a driver.

Jewelry

Princesses, duchesses, and stars of the stage and screen come to Gem Palace (Mirza Ismail Rd.; gempalacejaipur.com), whose main showroom is here, to buy their jewels. Look for reproductions of 17th-century Moghul pieces, as well as Victorian rings, ropes of pearls, and every kind of loose stone—rubies, peridots, citrines. Gem Palace supplies gems to jewelers like Bulgari and Van Cleef & Arpels and makes pieces for French jeweler Marie-Hélène de Taillac, which are sold at Barneys New York and her own boutiques in Paris and Tokyo. The quality and prices of the stones may vary, but the pieces are hardly a bargain. For sterling-silver designs accented with turquoise, topaz, and emeralds, head to Royal Gems & Arts (Saras Sadan, Gangore Bazaar; royalgemsandarts.com), located in an 18th-century haveli. And inexpensive strands of semiprecious stones—from topaz to amethyst to spinels—can be found at Tholia’s Kuber (Tholia Bldg., Mirza Ismail Rd.).

Shawls

Frequented by the elegant Lady Carole Bamford, wife of English industrialist Sir Anthony, Satayam makes silk and pashmina shawls and quilts, all exactingly embroidered or woven by hand. Here traditional kurtas (long Indian shirts) are shortened to the waist, making them more wearable back home. At 174 Laxman Dwara, outside City Palace; 91-14/1260-0555

Clothing

For quilted, featherweight jackets in every color imaginable, look no further than Nayika (Tholia Bldg., Mirza Ismail Rd.; nayika.in), run by Meenu Tholia, whose husband owns the above-mentioned jewelry store Tholia’s Kuber. Choose from brilliant shades of pink and orange or the more sober navy blue and gray. And, when she’s not designing jewelry, Marie-Hélène de Taillac runs the beloved boutique Hot Pink (Kanota Bagh, Narain Singh Rd.; hotpinkindia.com). She stocks her soaring, light-filled flagship, tucked into the garden of the Narain Niwas hotel, with an eclectic mix of home furnishings and trendsetting pieces by Indian designers Manish Arora and Neeru Kumar.

Textiles

The trio of stores that make up Rajasthan Fabrics & Arts (Laxman Dwara, City Palace; 91-14/ 1260-1432) specializes in museum-quality antique textiles, saris, miniature paintings, and lithographs, with one shop in particular focusing on vintage fabrics and open by appointment only. Artisans here also create new pieces, using age-old hand-block-printing and tie-dyeing techniques to decorate quilts, tablecloths, and bolts of fabric. And at Saurashtra Oriental Arts (3–4 Jowarsingh Gate, Amber Palace Rd.) there’s a constantly changing selection of ethnic textiles from all over the country and Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Indonesia as well as handmade antique bedspreads and throw pillows.

Home Furnishings

Translating traditional block-printing onto stylish Western wares has its roots at Anokhi (KK Square, C-11 Prithviraj Rd.; anokhi.com), where proprietor Pritam Singh is something of a local legend. Here some 300 craftsman create well-priced cotton bedspreads, cushion covers, and napkins at the on-site workshop. Singh’s trademark vegetable-dyed patterns are on display not too far away at Oberoi’s swish Rajvilas hotel, on the city’s outskirts. For block-print quilts and bedding, Soma (5 Jacob Rd., Civil Lines, near Jai Mahal Palace; somashop.com) also has a modern selection in bright colors like kelly green and royal blue.

Blue Pottery

In Jaipur blue pottery is as ubiquitous as inlaid marble is in Agra. The very best can be found at Kripal Kumbh, in the private residence of potter Kumud, who took over the business from her late father. The pottery gets its distinct color from the Persian blue–dyed clay used to make it, which is glazed and then fired at low heat. Beautifully executed versions—tiles, vases, bowls, and plates decorated with hand-painted birds and flowers—are on display throughout the eccentric family home. At B18 A Shiv Marg, Bani Park

Handcrafted Paper

Salim’s Handmade Paper is the place to purchase diaries, cards, delicate sheets of fine wrapping paper, and tote bags— all trimmed with dried flowers, ribbons, or appliqués. At Gramodyog Rd., Sanganer; handmadepaper.com

Saris

Well-heeled brides come to Rana’s for their wedding saris and yards of lavishly embroidered trim. And even if nuptials aren’t on the agenda, shoppers will find embellished skirts and jackets, and silk or block-print cotton saris. (Note that many of the kurtas and Indian-style pajamas are traditional and haven’t been tweaked to suit Western tastes.) At 1 Ganpati Plaza, M.I. Rd.; ranasarees.com

Tents and Umbrellas

The most over-the-top Rajasthani tents—with scalloped borders, vibrant lining, and oversize fringe trim—come from Taluka Tent Overseas. These gorgeous showpieces, which can be special ordered and delivered anywhere, make an extravagant centerpiece for a summer lawn party. Smaller canopies or pergolas in vibrant shades of yellow, green, and blue are a bit more manageable, and the fab umbrellas can be carted back home easily. At 127 Rambagh Palace Hotel; talukatent.com