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India: Mercantile magic

Next up in the posts from my trip to India is a series of images capturing some of my experiences being a true tourist: shopping! I took a very large bag with hardly anything in it, so I could indulge in the crafts that India has been famed for over thousands of years. Needless to say, the retail experience is completely different to the West, and an adventure in itself.

Having begun our trip in Hyderabad, we went to the main shopping area at the Laad Bazaar on our first evening to see the famous 'bling' bangle stores, and it was a great immersion into city-centre bustling life at the Charminar mosque roundabout. Just up against the famous mosque a temporary Hindu temple had been erected, which had caused serious rioting in the city just before we arrived. Although we didn't experience any trouble, there were armed guards still present preventing access to the temple structure. I have to say this was the only example of religious tension we saw during the whole trip; everywhere else it was remarkable how Muslim, Hindu, Jain, Christians and others seem to rub along tolerantly, even attending each others' holy sites.

Charminar Mosque in central Hyderabad, with evening market and traffic going around it. Up against the mosque on the right is the temporary Hindu temple.
Night market at the Charminar mosque, Hyderabad
The bangle shops which Hyderabad is known for across India were literally brilliant, lit up with incredibly bright lightbulbs, looking like caves encrusted with minerals and gems, all enhanced by the reflections coming from the mirrored walls and ceilings.
Bangle shop at the Laad Bazaar, Charminar area of Hyderabad.
The next day after our first sightseeing trip to Golconda fort in the city (which will feature in another post), our next purchases were some Indian-style clothing, a choice I made given that after Hyderabad we would be in a region that sees very few Western tourists (Karnataka), and I'd read from other seasoned travellers that going local generally means the attention received as novelties would be more likely to be positive.
We had a great time shopping for 'suits', otherwise known as salwar kameez outfits. The shopping experience for clothes is totally different to what I am used to in the UK, even at a market stall. In India you step up into the shop, having taken off your shoes, onto a padded floor and are offered a stool to sit on. Next, your preferred colour is identified, and then a deluge of suits are grabbed from the shelves and theatrically billowed open in front of you, one after the other, while you have to steer the shop owner towards something you like. It's a little overwhelming at first, but a lot of fun when you realise that everyone else is getting the same treatment and ending up with a huge reject pile in front of them too!

Shop where I bought my very comfortable salwar suits. Of course, the rates were not fixed at all!

Laad Bazaar market after we'd bought our suits

I also wanted to buy some fabric rather than pre-cut clothing to bring back home and find uses for. In Bijapur our guide took us to the local market and we had another treat at a fabric and sari shop, where I ended up buying two saris and some beautiful red embroided cloth.

Sari and textile shop in Bijapur

I had also hoped to find some mirror-work textiles at some point, and in the same market at Bijapur, found many women from the Banjara community, a distinctive social group found across India but probably originating from northern areas. They are most often likened to the Roma or gypsy peoples in Europe, having a nomadic tradition, and the women are known for their highly decorated traditional dress. Our guide told us that many women from outlying communities were in town for the monthly market, and while they stood out from the general crowd, they seemed to be mingling with it. I bought some mirror-work from the woman below, who is posing modestly for her photo but who was in fact very smiley, especially when I showed her the portrait on my camera screen.

Woman from Banjara community, in Bijapur town for the monthly market with her embroidery work.

My final images of Indian shopping come from Mysore, where I really wanted to buy both incense sticks (agarbatthi), and perfume oils (attars) because the city is known as a traditional production centre for both. We went to the Devaraja market and found a tiny stall run by a young man who drew me in by proclaiming he had made the incense on display, and that he'd show me how it was done. We sat behind the counter and watched as he rolled the resin and spices out, and then bought some of the Amber incense that is most often burned in temples. The next day I went back to him again to buy some of the deliciously perfumed oils on display in gorgeous glass bottles, and we were treated to the full shopping experience again with many flavours being dabbed on our wrists, and also gently blown across our faces before we made our decision. We also had a hot glass of chai fresh from a passing seller while the prices were totted up. The stall holder told me that he was 4th in a line of perfume sellers who'd had a shop in the market. I've emailed him the photos too!

Very sparkly IRS Agarabathi Works perfume and incense shop in Devaraja Market, Mysore.

Being shown how incense sticks are made at the IRS Agarabathi Works shop, Devaraja Market, Mysore
Some of the beautiful glass perfume bottles we bought, together with small wooden plaques that the stall holder uses while showing you the perfumes.


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