I never considered shopping an Olympic sport until I went to Rajasthan last fall with American textile designer and India lover Lisa Fine and a group of keen Texans, all organized by elite travel planner Indagare.
Dawn to dusk this group of nearly twenty women and one patient husband persevered, never letting exhaustion, hunger or fabric fatigue dampen their will to enter just one more shop.
Dig, dig, dig, that’s what you have to do in these shops, said Fine to me, the obvious weak link in the pack. Always haggle! And of course, you should NOT get things made but I Do it as I can’t resist. Sometimes it works and it is fabulous. Sometimes I cannot believe just how they screwed up!! I have a true love hate with the process. I think the key is to make pieces, have them in time before you leave so you can make alterations if necessary.
Like an archeologist on the scent of an old bone, this group of women – many working in the design world – somehow knew that under that pile of random materials, lay the perfect quilt, bedspread or tea cosy that they’d been hankering after for years.
It’s a textile frenzy, insanity but it’s worth it, said Fine, who has been to India over fifty times in the last 19 years.
While Fine may live between Dallas and Manhattan, her heart is firmly based in the exotic east, where she draws much inspiration for her covetable textile line.
Fine and the Texan athletes flaunted their purchasing prowess in Rajasthan’s shopping mecca Jaipur. We flew to Jaipur at the crack of dawn from lake-filled Udaipur and spent the day visiting several of Fine’s favorite haunts, never bothering to check in to our hotel, put our feet up, lie by the pool, sit. No, we had work to do.
I always go to Anokhi, the Zara of India with blockprint designs at dirt cheap prices, said Fine. And I love the carmelized onion, Gorgonzola pizza, orange cake and fresh pomegranate juice for lunch at the Organic Cafe next door.
For the sheer quantity of choice and range of colors, Fine likes two Jaipur spots, blockprint nirvana Ridhi Sidhi
and antique fabric and vintage retailer Saurashtra Textiles. Below is Fine’s Dallas bedroom with a bedspread from Saurashtra Textiles. Her digging paid off. The paintings in her bedroom are by Sunita Kumar , a close friend and confidante of Mother Teresa.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, for those who like small, less overwhelming places (ME!) Fine recommends Brigitte Singh where we saw blockprinting in action.
We spent the afternoon dazzled by jewels at the renown Gem Palace, Munnu and Gem Paradise – all within spitting distance of each other. I did quite well at Gem Paradise where I thought their prices beat the competition.
Time for a tea break? Hardly. Next shop til you drop was Hot Pink, where I bought some chic linen men’s shirts and a few oversized beach bags for my daughters.
In that same complex Fine pointed us to a new designer Ayush Kasliwal where I stocked up on original presents for the home- bronze shaped gheckos that double as bottle openers, wood carvings, pretty ceramics. We then went to buzzy Bar Palladio for a deserved cocktail
and what I foolishly thought would be the conclusion to our day. Hah!
Fine has the energy of a Labrador puppy. She took the diehards to her favorite outdoor dining spot – the restaurant at Oberoi-owned Rajvilas, about half an hour outside of town. Remember we rose at 5am, took a flight and had not stopped touring, spending and yakking all day. I needed a vacation from my vacation.
That’s my favorite hotel. Mr Oberoi really gets it. It’s all very simple, cottons, made in India. It’s very luxurious, but sort of humble too. It’s not trying to be European, explained Fine.
And for lunch the next day we ate on the old style terrace of this two hundred year-old haven Samode Haveli.
It’s charming and not over-designed, Fine said.
Note to gem enthusiasts: Lisa’s absolute favorite jewelry shop is in Delhi, not Jaipur.
If you want really fine things, my friends the Bharany’s are the best. The father was a great antique textile designer. They have the best jewelry, the best.
While in Delhi Fine likes to visit the restored, sprawling Bikaner House spread over eight acres in Lutyen’s Delhi and with interesting exhibitions.
You can see inside great mansions, how people actually lived. So many former maharajah places are government-owned and in disrepair, but not this one.
And for fashion she has her eye on up and coming Parisian designer Cecile Dascali. A final top tip from the chief:
I think it is important to go some place rural. The main cities have grown so much and with the rise in tourism and the growing Indian middle class you really don’t see the traditional India as much in cities today. Go some place off the radar or difficult to get to. I recently went to Gwalior and Orcha. After over 50 trips to India, that was as exciting as my first trip.