Crafts of India
Handicrafts are among India’s greatest visitor attractions and with thousands of bazaars, boutiques and markets, India has long been the destination of choice for shopping. Travelers departing for India should pack light, leaving plenty of suitcase room to acquire some fine silk, cotton and wool textiles—from Varanasi brocades to Rajasthan cotton; to shop for stunning carpets and rich Indian walnut carvings in Kashmir; to find just the right piece of beautifully carved sandalwood in Karnataka, rosewood in Kerala and Madras, and for inlaid marble and alabaster in Agra; a bronze statue of dancing Siva or an inlaid sandalwood box from Mysore.
The finest-quality goods usually find their way to the bazaars and emporia of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai. But the main centers of large-scale production are in Rajasthan, producing fabrics, jewelry, glass, pottery, miniature paintings, rugs, brass and wood inlay, camel-hide products and embroidered slippers, and Kashmir, the main source for fine carpets, shawls, embroidery and decorative papier-mache objects. Some of India’s most intriguing crafts are produced by its many tribal communities. These include the fine wire-animal tarakashi of Orissa and Nagaland’s larger bronze sculptures. Assam is known for its tribal weavings, Mizoram its bamboo hats and the Khachchhi for its mirror embroideries and copper bells. In the Himalayas, the best buys are Tibetan and Ladakhi silver, turquoise and coral jewelry.
No crafts emporium beats those at one of the countrywide melas, or fairs held annually. One of the best-known and most accessible (five miles from South Delhi in Faridabad) is the Surajkund Crafts Mela, which celebrates the finest handlooms and handicrafts traditions of the country. Beneath thatched roof platforms, master crafts persons from many regions are on hand to personally display their work during the fair, generally held during the first two weeks in February.
Meet the People
India’s guests can experience local traditions, meet with villagers, learn to make local crafts and prepare local foods, and enjoy the country’s warmth and hospitality. There’s the opportunity to visit important rural tourism sites like Hodka (Gujarat), Samode (Rajasthan), and Raghurajpur (Orissa), where the local people have shaped a new kind of tourism that welcomes visitors into their homes and their lives. In lesser-traveled areas there is a richness of life that, in terms of memorable experiences, is guaranteed to rival the opulence of the Taj Mahal.
Cultural Highs: Cities on the Rise
Chennai, formerly known as Madras and capital of Tamil Nadu, is famous for classical music (Carnatic) and dance (Bharata Natyam), as well as the textile arts and a booming movie industry. Here’s the place to take in a performance at the Music Academy or Kalakshetra dance academy; shop for fabrics in the market or new malls, and eat South Indian snacks like vada (lentil fritters).
Hyderabad, capital of Andhra Pradesh, is known for its pearl markets, and is the place to taste signature local dishes like biryani and qubani ka meetha (a dessert made with dried apricots).
Pune, located in Maharashtra (north of Mumbai), enjoys a thriving arts and culture scene, including classical music and theater; it’s also the home of Iyengar yoga, attracting students worldwide, the Aga Khan Palace, now a memorial to Gandhi, and the unique artifacts in the Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum.
Chandigarh, capital of both Haryana and Punjab, was designed in part by famed architect Le Corbusier. The town is recognized for its vibrant culture of festivals, its arts and handicrafts on display in the Cultural Complex in sector 10.
Ahmedabad, capital of the western state of Gujarat, is famous for its impressive architecture, ancient step wells and shaking minarets, and Sabarmati Ashram where Gandhi lived. October is the time to see Garba dance performances during the 9-night Navaratri Festival, dedicated to the Goddess Durga.