I’m not much of a shopper on my home territory, but love shopping in India, especially Delhi, which is well supplied with everything from roadside stalls to glitzy shopping malls, plus a good selection of handicrafts from all over India. The oldest and largest place to buy handicrafts (probably in all of India) is the Central Cottage Industries Emporium on Jan Path. It was there when I was in high school in the 1970s and 80s – already seeming to have been in existence for decades – and hasn’t changed much since.
It’s an unusual building (wish I could find out who designed it), a labyrinthine series of mezzanines build around an open interior. Though better lit now that it used to be, it still feels cavernous, musty, and strangely underpopulated. (This last is reason enough to spend some time there on a hot day in Delhi – away from the crowds of people on the streets, many of whom, in this part of town, are trying to sell you something.)
Many of the goods here are items that have been sold to tourists in India for decades, if not centuries. There are innovative twists on handicraft tradition available in India nowadays, but you won’t find them here. However, for the usual stuff, you’ll get a large selection, decent quality, fair prices, and no shopkeeper at your elbow, constantly urging you to buy.
^ Gold-plated dishes as tourist tat was actually new to me, I can only guess that it’s aimed at the Middle Eastern market.
CCIE has a nice, though relatively limited, supply of textiles – silk, cotton, wool; printed, dyed, batik, embroidered; for clothing, curtains, and upholstery. If you love fabric (I do!), this is a good introduction to the breadth of traditional cloth available in India. Note the remnants bin – great for finding decorative pieces suitable for framing.
More in the photos below, and there was much more that we didn’t photograph – books, clothing, toys, tea, perfume, jewelry, bedding, cushion covers, furniture, even architectural pieces like carved doorways and columns. (I assume they will ship that sort of thing, no idea what it would cost.) There’s also a cool, quiet coffee shop on the top floor.
Actually buying anything is a bit of a process. In each section of the store, hand over your selections to the waiting personnel – that they merely wait, and don’t hassle you, is a huge improvement on every other tourist shop in Delhi! The staff write you a receipt, your goods are whisked away, and you continue shopping. This is dangerous – you end up carrying a handful of paper, with no clear idea of how much you’re acquiring.
When you’re finally finished, you take your receipts downstairs to the “cash desk”, and pay for everything at once via cash or credit card. Each of your receipts is firmly thwacked with a “paid” stamp, and the whole pile given back to you. You trot over to the nearby pickup counter, and are handed a dozen or more recycled-paper bags in various sizes, one for each section of the store you bought from. It is permissible to consolidate these into fewer bags for easier carrying. Then you’re done, and step back into the heat and roar of Jan Path.