I think I might have a love-hate relationship with shopping in India. Either I am in and out so fast that the trailing staff only gets a quick glimpse of my fluttering dupatta as I head for the exit OR I start to chat with the staff and I kind of just stay on, at least until I have had a chai, heard their life story, and I can wander happily off knowing that I am now part of their extended family:-)
Yes, December is here and some Christmas shopping is inevitable. I have decorations, remember?- now we are talking purely presents! I find it a bit tricky to recommend the best places for Christmas gift shopping in Mumbai- because we all have our taste, right - and I humbly admit that my knowledge of shopping here will always be limited, as I discover new places all the time! I think you can live here a life time - and still be exploring new shopping options! But, let me share some of my favorite spots and tips for good buys - as they are right now! And remember- it is personal, and my view may have been influenced by a good chat over a spicy chai:-)
Where to shop?You may probably either love or hate shopping at the open door markets in Mumbai. Perfect - if you love hoards of people, lots of noise and endless rounds of bargaining (look here for some basic tips) - and an opportunity to get unique presents and get a feeling of the bustling crazy Mumbai life. Here are markets I like, and also some gift-tips:
- Bhuleswhar market - for clothes and fabrics, garlands, decorations and last but not least: my favorite spice shop: Motilal Masalawala. (Turmeric (haldi), Garam masala and chicken masala are my favorites, and I got some for presents too.)
- Crawford market - for lamps, ornaments, decor and trees head to Lohar Chawl. Really cheap (also brand) all kinds of beauty stuff at Beauty Centre. Delicious sweets, dried fruits and nuts at Ramanlal's. Something special for the passionate baker - at Arife's.
- Chor's bazaar - for old Bollywood posters (I love those), artifacts, coins, souvenirs and antiques
- Gol Deval markets - My favorite! bangles, copper cups & mugs (to keep the cold drinks cold, and the warm warm:-), - just a that-something-special-place! Lots of handicraft-items.
- In other parts of the city you will also find some good markets, like the IIT market in Powai and the Santacruz market. In Bandra, I always end up at the bazaar-like ELCO market as my most beloved tailor is there - and I found some amazing embroidered kids' blouses in one of the shops:-)
If you start to sweat just by the idea of open markets, there are lots of other options. Of course: the Holiday melas- often where the NGO's sell their products, and this year I was lucky enough to find a lot of presents there (and to chat - great combo:-)
You can check out the Oberoi arcade at Nariman point - chatting with Kavita at Le Printemps (a pure paradise for leather-lovers: you can get or have made just about anything there) or with Navin at Rishi Gems (artifacts, small statues, boxes etc) is always fun.
Many Mumbai expats know Harry at Bhaghem Bombay, Fort (souvenirs, art craft, and last but not least: jewelry). Now, that is a shop where you can easily spend some hours. I did quite good, until I discovered that Harry spoke Greek and he started to tell about back then when he helped Greek seamen in Mumbai to phone home. I was lost, and so was my time schedule. I could just picture the mustached Kostas (in tears of homesickness) talking to his mama in Athens on the phone from India - with a compassionate Harry next to him, patting his shoulder, handing him napkins..
Oh, well. If you are down at Fort, you may as well also drop by Chimanlals - remember? The place for gift-wrapping stuff. My tip is that you will easily spend quite some time in that paper-heaven. At least I did.
For a not-so-personalized-but-more-efficient-shopping round, you may want to hit one of the many huge Mumbai malls - Phoenix High Street in Parel, Phoenix Market Centre in Kurla, R-city in Ghatkopar or Infiniti or Inorbit in Malad, which are the ones I know the best.
What to shop?
- Books. Since I love receiving books, I also believe it is a perfect present:-) If you are an expat, make your folks a favor and introduce them to some of the many excellent Indian authors - whether it is fiction, non-fiction, novella, poetry, travel-books or cooking books! Or a 2014 calender- with decor and quotes and an overview of all the Indian festivals (so they can plan when to visit you next year!). You find bookstores like Crossroads and Oxfords in most malls.
- DVD / CD. Why not spread some exotic feel-good Bollywood stories and music? Most films come with English subtitles. I like English Vinglish and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani. Dvd's and Cd's are also sold in most bookstores.
- Clothes. You can bling someone up with new Indian outfits. But don't go completely crazy - a silver glitter sari is maybe not what your aunt in a snowy village in the Alps has on top of her list. Or who knows? Maybe it is! Anyway- lots of choices, or you can settle for some shawls or dupattas - thin or thick - they are usually a hit:-)
- Jewelry. Good expat gifts (take up no space in the suitcase, right?). I like the colored stones, and the watches are beautiful. And if you can not find anything, you can have jewelry made for you (read: for your gift-receivers) - just as you want them. One piece only, how about that?
- For kids. From my own experience these items has caused standing ovations among the recipients: A) Indian Barbie dressed in sari, preferable wedding sari. B) Plastic rickshaws. C) Art craft sets to make bangles, magnets, cards etc. All with fantastic Indian colors and motives. D) Soft toys- elephants and camels:-) I like the toy shop at the Infiniti mall.
- For teenagers. Phone and PC covers and bags are popular gifts. You can find them ready made or have one made in the pattern and color you like. Also bags, jewelry and sports stuff may be a hit, but again: know your recipient - teenagers are... well teenagers:-)
- General gifts. At Good Earth, Bombay Store and FabIndia you can find souvenirs, gifts, tablecloths, clothes etc. Also knock yourself out in the malls. No lack of shopping opportunities!
My hottest tip (!): get a gorgeous gift bag or box, and fill it up with Indian tea, Indian spices, some sweets, nuts or dried fruit and maybe a product or 2 from the Biotique Botanicals Ayurvedic series- facial cream or bodylotion - or a Jasmine perfume. The magic scent of India - perfect for Christmas:-)
Well, I hope you enjoyed my little tour-the-shops-of-Mumbai-tale? As you see, the greatest shopping experience for me is the one which comes with a friendly smile and a really good story! The best presents can be just that, remember? A smile, a chat, a tea or a meal shared with friends...
So, the shopping is done! Yey! Now, I sit at my balcony - in 30' degrees and sunshine, with my cup of tea and Driving home for Christmas. I light a candle (!), send some warm thoughts to people I love, sharpen my pen, and I start to write my Christmas greetings.
Warm thoughts to you, dear reader! Have a wonderful week!