Only Mumbai or Delhi comes close to offering the array of goods found here, and foreign buyers for wholesale and retail outlets descend in droves to stock up on textiles, rugs, pottery, jewelry, shoes, miniature paintings, and ready-made clothing and housewares. It's a cornucopia here, and the pressure to buy is immense -- not least because everyone seems to be a tout for someone. Finding your way around the Old City is relatively easy -- the divisions based on what is produced still hold true, though you'll find much more besides. Following are a few rough guidelines.
For jewelry and gems, head for Johari Bazaar in the Old City -- the gem center of Jaipur (look for Bhuramal Rajmal Surana). While you're there, pick up a cool pair of jootis (traditional camel-hide sandals) at Shivam Nagara Palace (Shop 11, Johari Bazaar; tel. 0141/257-1468). Alternatively, wander through Chameliwala Market, beyond Zarawar Singh Gate, on Amber Road, particularly if you're in search of silver, tribal, or ornamental jewelry. Silver Mountain (tel. 0141/237-7399) and Maneeka (tel. 0141/237-5913), both located at Chameliwala Market, are recommended.
Numerous factories and showrooms run the length of Amber Road, including those specializing in hand-blocked prints and antiques. And if you're looking to take home some of Jaipur's famous blue pottery, Amber Road is also where you'll find the largest concentration of outlets: Jaipur Blue Pottery Art Centre (near Jain Mandir, Amber Rd.; tel. 0141/263-5375) is a reliable place to pick up items like blue pottery vases, trays, coasters, and wall plates. If you're considering redecorating your home with a classy, upscale Indian look, definitely venture into AKFD (B-6/A-1 Prithviraj Rd., C-Scheme; tel. 0141/236-4863), a fantastic one-stop interior design store with beautiful creations by the hard-working owners and covetable items from across the country.
The cutting, polishing, and selling of gems and the making of silver jewelry take place in the predominantly Muslim area of Pahar Ganj in the Surajpol Bazaar. Jewelry designers from all over the world continue to nurture the superlative gem-cutting and -setting skills of these craftspeople, but here, as in Johari Bazaar, be aware that bargains are hard to come by -- more often than not, you really do get what you pay for. If you're knowledgeable enough, shop for gems and jewelry in the bazaars, but for most, a trip to the shops listed below is recommended.
Fabric is another must-buy, as the finest quality silk, chiffon, and cotton are transformed through traditional block printing and tie-and-dye techniques into intricately patterned fabrics with vibrant contrasts and colors. The finest tie-dye process is known as bandhani (literally "to tie"): Tiny circles are made by tying the cloth with thread in a detailed design; the cloth is often sold with the thread still tied on (to be removed before first use) and is traditionally worn unironed, showing off the crinkly circles. Bapu Bazaar (around the corner from Johari Bazaar; closed Sun) is where you can bargain for a wide range of textiles and ready-made garments, as well as traditional camel-leather shoes (jootis) and bangles of glass and lacquer; it's also by far the most pleasant shopping street because it's pedestrianized. If you're looking for great inexpensive gifts, take a look at the tiny workshops producing beautiful bangles in Maniharon Ka Rasta, an alley off Tripolia Bazaar (closed Sun).
For block-print fabrics, a trip to Sanganer, a village 16km (10 miles) south of Jaipur, is a must -- here printing takes place in the courtyard of almost every house. Famous as the birthplace of block-work (and home to the largest handmade-paper industry in India), this is where you'll find the most refined block-print work in the world. Visit Shilpi Handicrafts (tel. 0141/273-1106) or Sakshi (tel. 0141/273-1862) for fabrics, and Salim Paper (tel. 0141/273-0222) for a range of handmade paper you'll be loathe to write on! If you are really serious about picking up block-printed fabrics, make an appointment to visit the colorful workshop of Surabhi Exports (tel. 0141/237-2202), where creative powerhouse, Gitto, works with renowned interior designers to come up with looks that are unique and totally fabulous. Also visit Anokhi for lovely block-print garments.
One of the most reliable shops for knickknacks is Neelam Handicrafts at the Arya Niwas (tel. 0141/237-2456 or 0141/510-6010). This little shop stocks maps, postcards, and books on India as well as some music CDs. It also has a small collection of silver jewelry, Indian teas, handmade paper, and souvenirs -- all good quality and sold at a fixed marked price (a rarity in Jaipur); incidentally, they are half the price quoted at most other city shops.
Finally, if you'd like to find all the finest jewelry, designer wear, Pashminas, books, and selected homewares under one roof and aren't against traveling some distance out of town, consider undertaking the 90-minute drive to Amanbagh, in the Ajabgarh valley. This remote, beautifully situated resort has one of the finest boutiques we've encountered. Christina Patnaik (a Mexican who married locally) sources exceptional items from all over India, and some of the clothing and jewelry displayed here costs marginally less than what you'd find in Jaipur (only here you won't have to contend with heavy traffic, the commission system, or trying to figure out high quality from average items; everything at Amangagh is top-notch). There's some extraordinary jewelry (including chunky tribal ankle bracelets), and funky Indian twists on Western garments by sought-after Delhi-based designer Malini Ramani; check out her colorful miniskirts with mirror-work and detailed sitara (sequin) designs -- gorgeous, if pricey, at around Rs 9,000. Pashmina shawls of the highest quality start at Rs 1,500.
Bargaining Is Part of the Deal -- If you'd like to take home a couple of pairs of inexpensive leather sandals or sequined slippers, head for the string of shops beneath the Hawa Mahal on Tripolia Bazaar; you'll find mountains of shoes, as well as the opportunity to try your hand at bargaining. The trick is to go at it with gusto, enthusiasm, and, most important, good humor and a smile. To the shopkeeper, there is almost nothing worse than failing to make a sale. He expects you to challenge his offer (usually about five times any acceptable amount), so sets off by suggesting an outrageous amount (based on what you look like you can afford) at which you must shake your head despondently. Then (and you may well remember the famous bazaar bargaining scene from Monty Python's The Life of Brian) make an equally impossible counter-offer and you'll find yourself locked in a battle of psychological warfare that's more exciting than chess. After all, even when you've shaved several hundred rupees off the price, you'll have no idea what your prize is really worth. But you'll have something to wear to remind you of your very Indian interaction.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.