A Shopping Trip to the Markets of New Delhi, India

Flight attendants love to shop for bargains, and the markets of New Delhi are the best places to find them.

It’s 110 degrees in the shade, if you can find any, and I’m haggling with an immovable merchant.  As my jet lag temporarily lifts, I realize I’m arguing over 60 cents.  I hand over 150 rupees (about $4.50), grab the brightly embroidered bag and slink away.

Welcome to New Delhi, the jumping-off point to the legendary Taj Mahal. But I’ve already done my compulsory tour of Agra.  Today, I’m enjoying another of India’s exotic treasures – extreme shopping at some of the city’s fabulous markets with my flight attendant friends.

Our first stop is Janpath.  Along the alleys, stalls are bursting with cheap and fashionable clothes. We grab long cotton skirts with ruffles down the front or along the hem, for about $9.00 each.  Paired with a sleeveless embroidered top, it’s a great summer look.  Another shop catches our attention with tie-dyed mirror-work tops, an updated hippie look in vibrant hues.  There’s one in each of our favourite colours – orange, fuchsia and turquoise, and we strike a better deal for buying in bulk – $4.50 each.

It’s hot and dusty so no one wants to try anything on.  Friends gauge fit and suitability as we hold tops and skirts up for approval or occasionally squeeze items on over clothing.  This mostly open market requires #60 sunscreen and closed-toed shoes are essential, as pathways are uneven and often piled with unidentifiable debris.  My head spins as I scan the stalls, the ground and the touts pushing postcards, chess sets and palm readings.  I look like I’m auditioning for a role in the Exorcist.

Turning the corner out of Janpath, we reach the Tibetan Market and meet with a friend in Tribal Arts.  A puff of incense and cool air curls out of the tiny dim shop.  Did someone say “Open Sesame?”  It seems we’ve entered a virtual Ali Baba’s cave of beads, bangles and glitter. There is hardly enough room for four of us in front of the brimming counter. Walls are draped with faux silver necklaces strung with mock coral, turquoise and lapis. We jostle for position in front of the sole mirror clasping aqua and amber glass drop earrings.  Many items are priced from two to three dollars. A few doors down, at Satish Fine Arts, we make a refreshing purchase of bracelets that resemble slender ice cubes.

I’ve spent all my money and we’ve only visited one market.  Bank machines are scarce and credit cards aren’t widely accepted. Even a large bill sends a runner scurrying for change.  Fortunately, my friends are still flush, and their cry of “I still have some cash,” rallies us on.

We’re on a mission, and head to another popular market, Sarojini.  It has mainly household goods but it holds other treasures.  We discover a shop with earrings for only 30 cents a pair.  And they are gorgeous – mostly drop style “silver” with glass beads and imitation stones.   As if the $1.20 earrings at the Tibetan Market weren’t cheap enough, we descend like locusts and scoop up ten to twenty pairs each, including all the cobalt blue and aqua ones in sight.  I snag a chic pair with a black pea-sized bead wrapped in wire, dangling from a slim silver matchstick.

We bypass stalls packed with napkins, tablecloths and cushion covers in favour of an air-conditioned shoe store. By the time we leave, we have each bought at least one pair of shoes, ranging from elegant black sandals to beaded ballet slippers. At $20 – $30 apiece, compared to $90 -$120 at home, this could be the deal of the day.

In the evening, we reward ourselves with a cocktail at the stately Imperial Hotel. Glasses and bracelets clink in the cool serenity of the Atrium lounge as we toast our shopping savvy.   When the bill arrives, we finally get a chance to use our credit cards.  One large gin and tonic is a jaw-dropping $32.00.  Welcome to the other side of New Delhi.

For more information on how to enjoy any trip, download my eBook Travel Like a Flight Attendant. It’s filled with money-saving travel tips and advice I learned from my thirty years (and twenty million air miles) as a crew member.

Happy travels!