Jaipur

An insider's India

Jaipur, whose exquisitely ornate architecture has earned it the moniker The Pink City, may be literally crumbling due to traffic and pollution, but it is still a shopper's paradise. Well, not so much paradise, maybe, as Mount Everest. Navigating Jaipur's shops and bazaars is a challenge both exasperating and exhilarating, a crash course in local culture and folklore. Prices are almost always negotiable and Indian merchants are expert hagglers, so putting a figure on anything is near impossible. We do offer one rule of thumb, however: Aim to pay half the asking price, which means starting your offer at one third. If crowds and constant jostling aren't for you, stick to the hotel boutiques. But you will miss the thrill of finding spectacular gemstones, intricately woven textiles, and hand-pressed paper. You can always escape the chaos later, in the calm of Jaipur's superb Rajvila¯s hotel.

Bazaars

NEHRU, BAPU, and JOHARI These three bazaars have an abundance of the stuff Jaipur is famous for: brass and copper ware, blue pottery, miniature paintings, carpets, and kitschy enameled trinkets like elephants and Indian deities. If you're looking for exotic oils and perfumes, head to Nehru and Bapu, where merchants will custom-blend musk, rose, patchouli, gardenia, and various oils intended for the face, body, or even virility and fertility (about $3 a bottle). The markets also have plenty of textiles and jootis, traditional handmade embroidered slippers, and camelskin sandals called chappals (about $5). Head to Johari for jewelry like glittery silver bangles that cost a few dollars and make great presents. It also has a wide selection of tie-dyed (bandhani) fabrics, which are often worn as shawls and scarves, for about $10. The patterns are extraordinary and unlike any you'll find in the West. Take the lead from designer Paul Smith's buyers and have the fabric cut and hemmed. The shopkeepers there will usually do it in minutes for a small fee.

Johari also sells yard after yard of good-quality cotton in a staggering variety of solid colors, from dark muted tones to rich purple and bright turquoise. (Remember, the fabric softens with washing and the unattractive sheen fades.) Most people buy lengths to be made into pants and shirts by one of the city's excellent tailors, many of whom work out of the city's good hotels. If your hotel doesn't have one, ask the concierge to recommend someone who will come to you. The cost is usually about $20 for pants or a shirt.

Flower dealers are also popular at Johari; you'll see their sacks full of brilliant marigolds and strings of intoxicating jasmine. There are also spice sellers and an abundance of fruits and vegetables, but for the sake of your health, avoid sampling the cooked foods that look and smell so delicious. Barbers and dentists perform publicly in the markets.

The best way to visit the three bazaars, as with most shopping in Jaipur, is to take a taxi to a point nearby and ask the driver to wait for you (you'll need a couple of hours). Ask your hotel to give the driver instructions. And be firm about which shops or markets you want to visit, since drivers will often try to take you to stores where they get a commission. Nehru is closed Tuesday; Bapu is closed Sunday; and part of Johari is closed Tuesday and Sunday.

Jewelry

GEM PALACE When people who know India think of Jaipur, they think of gems. The Gem Palace is the first stop for jewel seekers. You'll find everything: rubies and diamonds as well as citrines, peridots, and aquamarines. It's always a curious thrill to see even the rarest stones strewn about in dazzling, seductive piles, as if they were gumdrops and licorice. (You can buy stones already mounted, but the Indian custom is to buy them by weight and have them set or strung.) We fell in love with some fire opals that were blindingly intense. They were also shockingly expensive ($8,000- $10,000 for three strands). The quality and prices of the stones vary, but there are no real bargains here. The Kasliwal family, who own the store, supply stones to many jewelers, including Bulgari and Van Cleef & Arpels. They also sell reproductions of the incredible jewelry that once belonged to the Majaraha (they display the real things in a small gallery). On Mirza lsmail (M.I.) Road; 91-141-237-4175.

SURANA JEWELERS The Gem Palace is a great place to browse, but you will probably want to buy from one of its lesser-known but equally good competitors (Surana sells stones to Tiffany's). This store has virtually the same assortment of gemstones as the Gem Palace, at 25 percent less, and is more open to negotiation. At B-7e Surana Enclave, Ram Singh Road; 91-141-237-2544.

AMRAPALI The focus here is on silver and gold. You can see some of Amrapali's designs at Selfridges in London and in Donna Karan's DKNY line. But it's worth going straight to the source for these hammered and tooled designs ($20-$100 for a silver bracelet; $100-$2,000 for a gold ring with precious stones). At Panch Batti, M.I. Road; 91-141-237-7940.

PANSARI ART JEWELLERY This shop was highly recommended by a chic Indian friend for high-quality gems and semiprecious stones like rose quartz and amethyst. She was right. What's great here is that the owner, Mr. Pansari, a sixth-generation jeweler, does the cutting and polishing himself, which means that prices are lower than at other stores (a three-strand emerald necklace at $20,000 is still a good deal). At A-7 Arjunlal Sethi Nagar, Agra Road; 91-141-260-2736.

Textiles

SAURASHTRA ORIENTAL ARTS You'll find an outstanding selection of textiles from all over India here: from simply embroidered cottons and silks to elaborately hand-worked antique fabrics. Many are sari lengths, originally part of a bride's dowry, and come in shocking pink, orange, and bright blues and yellows with intricate gold and silver stitching ($50 for a solid-color swath to the thousands of dollars for richly embroidered cloth). Prices are fixed and usually not negotiable. At Jorawarsingh Gate, Amber Road; 91-141-263-5774.

RAJASTHAN FABRICS AND ARTS This is a favorite of textile curators and collectors looking for some of the most rare and complex textiles in India. Subhash Sharma, the engagingly academic owner, is passionate, knowledgeable, and often on hand to help and advise. We especially liked his handmade choga kurtas, traditional tie-dyed suits for men and women (which he sells to the London label Dosa and offers here for $80). Prices for swaths of fabric start in the tens of dollars and soar to the thousands. On Laxman Dawra Road; 91-141-260-1432.

NAYIKA This shop is known for its quilted silk jackets in pastels like lilac and lime ($75- $150). They're very popular with Western visitors because their simple, coatlike shapes are easy to wear and don't lose their appeal when you get them home (unlike those cute enameled elephants in the bazaars). In the Tholia Building, M.I. Road (near the Gem Palace; 91-141-236-2664).

Paper and Printing

SAADH TEXTILES and JK ARTS These are only two of many excellent printing shops in Sanganer, ten miles south of Jaipur. It's worth hiring a driver (for about $100 a day) to take you. Stores here practice the traditional Rajasthani art of wood-block printing on cotton, silk, and paper. They churn out mass quantities for places like Designers Guild in London and Kate's Paperie in New York, who commission their own designs from Sanganer makers. But you and I are more than welcome to buy as well (and at the many stores like it on Sanganer's main street). Look for bedsheets, photo albums, frames, and stationery, as well handmade paper in a rainbow of colors. We especially loved the papers containing pressed flowers and flecks of gold and silver. The prices here are cheap—about 10 cents for paper to $50 for a photo album. If you have the time and interest, ask to watch the fascinating manufacturing process.

SURABHI EXPORTS After an afternoon in Sanganer, make an appointment with Gitto, who owns this Jaipur studio and does really exceptional wood-block printing (typical prints include animal and nature scenes and Indian mythological characters). Her work is comparatively expensive—a vibrantly printed tablecloth is $250—but it's the best printing in Jaipur. Our favorites pieces are her sarongs, kimonos, and home accessories in vibrant pinks and purples (there are also more subtle color combinations). Gitto doesn't usually have much to show or sell, since this is her office. Most everything is made to export. But she will take special orders. $ At C-57 Mahavir Marg, C-Scheme; 91-141-236-0404. SURABHI EXPORTS After an afternoon in Sanganer, make an appointment with Gitto, who owns this Jaipur studio and does really exceptional wood-block printing (typical prints include animal and nature scenes and Indian mythological characters). Her work is comparatively expensive—a vibrantly printed tablecloth is $250—but it's the best printing in Jaipur. Our favorites pieces are her sarongs, kimonos, and home accessories in vibrant pinks and purples (there are also more subtle color combinations). Gitto doesn't usually have much to show or sell, since this is her office. Most everything is made to export. But she will take special orders. $ At C-57 Mahavir Marg, C-Scheme; 91-141-236-0404.

$ Establishment accepts no charge/credit cards or accepts cards other than the American Express Card.