When it comes to shopping in Delhi, there is something for every budget and interest. From street markets offering bargain-worthy clothes and accessories to bazaars and shops specialising in Indian handicrafts to swanky malls and fashion boutiques, the city has it all. Head to Paharganj, Palika Bazaar, Janpath, Sarojini Nagar and Chandni Chowk for the best bargains; and check out Fabindia, Forest Essentials, Dilli Haat and Cottage Emporium for ethnic clothes, cosmetics, decorations and accessories.
A contemplative statue of Mahatma Gandhi greets you at the entrance even as his observations on Khadi’s exceptionality as metaphor and means have been mounted on walls.
This version of Khadi Bhandar, as we colloquially call the flagship store of Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC), one of New Delhi’s enduring landmarks, is architecturally welcoming, well-lit with modern lifts, white walls, wide staircases, multiple cash counters and four spacious floors. Khadi Mark labels, the symbol of authentication and brand identity launched by the government last year, hang on every product. Interestingly, the shopping bags list the store’s address as Connaught Circus, not Indira Chowk.
The good stuff
There is a big section of “designer wear” for men and women, including Western dresses, but what works in entirety is the strong embrace of nostalgia. A reminder of the lapsing Indian way of life that white muslin Khadi, a packet of Multani mitti, “100% pure honey”, a chequered cotton dhoti or a coarse towel can give you doesn’t compare with the red and green enamelled dress forms styled with stoles and cropped jackets for the sake of modernity. Khadi Gramudyog works because it has reimagined its old self in a new shopping environment.
The inventory is vast: from bath items to cosmetics, spices, papads and pickles to home furnishings, jewellery and printed and plain Khadi saris, handspun, handwoven Khadi fabric, including organic varieties and dozens of ready-to-wear options in cotton, silk and woollen for men, women and children. There are old-style dhurries, handmade paper products, Madhubani paintings, even the Indian tricolour. Everything is geared for middle-class likeability and affordability, and those fascinated by the Khadi story.
The designer-wear section is hardly “designer” in silhouette, form, cut, finish, styling or impact. Despite designer labels (we couldn’t find any recognizable names), everything looks like what you would find in any ordinary garment store. And despite the space, this store doesn’t compare in any way with the Central Cottage Industries Emporium—not in the distinction of its products, nor in mounting the idea of India.
Cotton Khadi shirts for men start from ₹ 465 or ₹ 610 (if it is pure white muslin), with ensembles in raw silk starting from ₹1,500-2,500. Designer kurtas for women are priced from ₹1,000-3,000 and kurta sets from ₹ 1,500-5,500. We found an ankle-length Khadi dress for ₹ 3,020 and an embroidered handloom sari for ₹ 8,460. Fabrics range from ₹ 400 a metre or so for cotton Khadi to ₹ 800-1,400 for silk. All home-friendly items, especially kitchen goods, are rather well priced and start from as little as around ₹ 100.
Dilli Haat is an open-air food and crafts arcade where you can find arts, crafts and cuisine from across India. Stalls in Dilli Haat are permanent though the vendors who hold stalls keep changing every two weeks.
Products that can be found in Dilli Haat include wood carvings, mirrowork fabric, brassware, leather goods, beaded jewellery, silk and cotton fabric among other items. Also available in Dilli Haat are organic food products such as organic jams and pickles.
Apart from shopping, Dilli Haat is a great place to sample delicious cuisine from all across India, such as momo’s from Nagaland, dosas from Tamil Nadu , gaate ki sabzi from Rajasthan and vada pao from Maharashtra among other delicacies.
Where Delhi’s middle class head for retail therapy Word to the wise: Try to squeeze in a trip to nearby N-Block market, home to Fabindia’s first ever shop opened back in 1976. Popular plate: Look out for the makeshift momo vendors, and if you haven’t yet tried paan, stop by the Prince paan shop after your meal to testdrive the gooey treat. Since the 1970s, the Greater Kailash M-Block Market, known locally just as ‘M-block market’, has attracted Delhi’s upwardly mobile. Positioned side-by-side along a covered walking path, stall vendors flog all sort of knickknacks, making for a colourful afternoon wander. You’ll find everything from groceries to fast fashion, as well as international street/sport brands such as Puma and Lacoste. But the tip for shopping here is to look beyond the immediately obvious stores to more unusual outlets, such as Tantra Boutique, a great place to snap up a new sari.
Noteworthy for: As the name suggests, this market sells all kinds of glass, metallic, wooden and plastic bangles.
Word to the wise: Avoid Tuesdays and Saturdays when the adjoining temple attracts thousands of devotees.
This 300-year-old market, close to the temple of Lord Hanuman, attracts shoppers from all over Delhi. It’s hardly surprising the market is especially popular with both brides-to-be and and tourists, for bangles are ideal, light-weight affordable gifts. The shop owners and bangle-sellers (known as ‘chudiwalas’) are masters of their trade – some will engrave names onto the bangles, whilst others sell highly decorated versions replete with dazzling crystals.
Arm candy aside, you’ll find mehndi (henna) artists, and stalls selling marigold garlands and heady incense sticks to patrons of the nearby temple.
Pavement shopping at its best Noteworthy for: The market is known for its ‘mehndiwalas’, who congregate here to paint beautiful henna designs. One of the oldest markets in India, Lajpat Nagar Central Market is a sprawling street fair where you can find all kinds of traditional Indian outfits, from simple kurtas (tunics) to intricate saris and Punjabi suits. This is also a great place to buy fabric if you intend on having a tailor custom-make some clothes. Located between the two of the most sought-after real estate areas of South Delhi, Greater Kailash and South Extension, the market is popular with all strands of Delhi society and gets very busy on weekends. As ever, don’t forget to bargain hard.
The Paharganj Main Bazaar, sometimes referred to as the “backpacker’s district”, is one of the most colorful and vibrant street markets in Central Delhi. The narrow, dusty lanes lined by old buildings and myriad shops on both sides are a huge attraction for tourists as well as the local Delhi crowd. Clothes, footwear, jewelry, handicrafts, fruits, vegetables, bakery products and so on are found aplenty at the main bazaar, not to forget the wide range of eateries offering inexpensive street-side delights. The market bustles with life day in and day out, with weekends being the most crowded. Paharganj Main Bazaar is truly a street-shopping paradise!
Palika Bazaar, is an underground market located between the inner and outer circle of Connaught Place, Delhi, India. It is named after Palika Bazaar of Mumbai. Palika Bazaar hosts 380 numbered shops selling a diverse range of items; however, the market is dominated by electronic items and clothing. Palika Bazaar was set up in the late 1970s, but since the 1980s it has seen a decline in customers, in part due to the opening of several new, modern shopping malls all over Delhi.
Palika Bazaar is estimated to have some 15,000 people within its confines at any given time and also attracts many foreign tourists. It is known as a place with a very level prices and a famous tourist attraction. It also has a reputation for a wide availability of illegal products such as pornography, stolen goods, fake designer products and unlicensed CDs, software and movies. Police conduct regular raids to recover stolen or counterfeit merchandise, but this has failed to put an end to the illegal activity in the market.
Delhi’s best cut-price fashion market Noteworthy for: The market has a wide range of fashion outlets and fair prices. Word to the wise: Head here on a weekday, rather than at the weekend, when it’s likely to be less crowded. Sarojini Nagar Market – or SN as it’s known locally – is essentially a bright and breezy flea market where you can unearth all kinds of made-in-India goods. Best known for its cut-price clothes, students and image-conscious Delhi-ites head here for cheap prices and high fashion. For visitors, it’s a good place to stock up on summer dresses, t-shirts, shoes, bags, belts and jeans. There are plenty of food stalls here too – sample some local chaat (fried dough snacks) as you browse.
Old Delhi’s principal promenade Word to the wise: This street is in the heart of Old Delhi, which has a sizeable Muslim population – take care to dress more conservatively. Chandni Chowk is an old market and residential colony built during the Mughal era. Nowadays, the thriving marketplace is the main artery of Old Delhi, and one of the city’s unmissable experiences. Every turn in the maze of narrow streets here holds a charm of its own – Chawri Bazaar street, for example, sells all kinds of decorative items from little sequins, cloth pieces and costume jewellery to whole outfits. Brace yourself for crowds, puddles and exotic street foods. Unfortunately, pickpockets are known to operate in the area, so take care to conceal valuables, or leave them at your hotel.
Sidewalk stalls aplenty, just off Connaught Place Word to the wise: Bargain hard. Offer half the amount the shopkeeper quotes, and gradually work up to the price you’re comfortable paying. Noteworthy for: The Indian Tourist Office is on the corner of Janpath and Connaught Lane, and good maps can be purchased there. One of the main roads leading off Connaught Place, Janpath (or People’s Path) is a popular shopping street for locals and visitors alike. There are a lot of touristy, low-quality items here, but with a careful eye and some shopping savvy you can unearth some good finds. A good bet is a pair of Indian Kolhapuri chappals (processed leather flip flops), which you’ll find in every colour and size. Incense, bags, trinkets and jewellery are also available – again, consider the quality and bargain politely.
Talk of the town: Nehru Place was named by the US in 2011 as one of the world’s top 30 most notorious markets for trading in pirated goods – temporary stallholders tend to be among the most unscrupulous.
India is one of the world’s most well-known IT hubs, and in Delhi computer geeks and tech enthusiasts congregate at Nehru Place, Asia’s largest IT market. Shops here sell all sorts of hardware and software at competitive rates; phones, computers, networking equipment, stereos, DVDs, docking stations – almost everything, in fact.
Bargains are aplenty, but cheap goods often mean counterfeit goods – an ethical conundrum worth weighing in on before you stock up.
Noteworthy for: The store is known for its knowledgeable and long-serving staff. Balraj Bahri himself has worked there for 50 years.
This small store in New Delhi’s Khan Market was founded in post-Partition India. Half a century later, Bahri Sons is one of the most well-respected booksellers in the country.
Staff are always happy to recommend titles and locate hard-to-find stock amongst the dusty piles. This personal service, and the store’s wide range – everything from fiction to ecological titles can be found – makes this bookshop a special find.
To save yourself the bother of bartering and the hassle of outdoor markets, head to Cottage Emporium on Janpath for fixed-priced products and a serene shopping experience. A great place to visit at the end of an Indian adventure, here’s where you’ll find the sorts of Indian handicrafts that caught your eye during your travels.
Noteworthy for: Forest Essential products are never tested on animals.
Since 2000, Forest Essentials has worked with trained Ayurvedic physicians to develop a range of natural skin and hair care products. The USP is in the name, as all the products contain plant, tree and herb-based ingredients that have been naturally sourced from Himalayan forests. Even the water used is from Himalayan springs.
The body creams, fragrances and beauty products are highly effective, good value and Ayurvedic to boot. If you’re staying somewhere grand, you might be able to try them for free – the brand is a favourite of luxury hotels.