Thursday, April 5, 2012
Shopping and remembering Kashmir
Two years ago, my husband and I visited Kashmir for a few days. I could write an entire chapter surrounding those days, but for now I will keep it to a specific recollection that I was just reminded about while reading another blog: shopping and bargaining in India. Not for the shy introvert. They are serious over there and you should come prepared, or only go to towns that have some fixed price stores.
Let me preface this with a little notation that I tend to stand out in India. Besides the normal thing of being a westerner, I usually wear sindoor in my hair (signifies I'm married), bindi on forehead (I love any excuse to wear these), and bangles on my arms (besides the role of jewelry, signifies love and good wishes of health for my husband). With my blonde hair and blue eyes, you can usually spot me a mile away. In Kashmir, even the ever popular Indian tourist town of Srinagar, there are people notified of my presence before I even arrive.
The areas of Kashmir are quite breathtaking. The shopping is exquisite, as long as you have a good driver. A good driver will drive you to incredible places, knows the owners of all the good stores, and will constantly keep you entertained. You can have a daily driver at an extremely good rate, and he will make sure to look out for you every step of the way.
That last part is actually pretty important given that the US government tends not to advise travel for westerners there too often. Levels go up and down, but we naively managed to plunk ourselves there only to find out there was an elevated alert. Again, our driver was excellent, and both my husband and I have good instincts for caution. One day we stayed in the hotel room and another day we moved from our houseboat. (For those of you wondering, the culture there is quite different from where my husband was born in India.)
Back to the point (as I have wandered quite far): the shopping is great. As I type this, I am looking at one of the beautiful rugs we purchased on our trip that adorns our living room floor. We bought 4 of various sizes and they wrapped them so tight for us, the $50 charge the airline gave us was negligible. I've never even seen rugs of this quality in the US, quite possibly because the shops that would carry/import them here, are way too expensive for me to even enter.
On one shopping trip, our driver took us to a wonderful marble store. We were able to watch the workers outside meticulously inlaying the color designs into the opal like stones. Upon entering the store, the main salesmen was already prepared for us, much to my husband's irritation (he's not a fan of big sale pitches). When they tried to turn the lights off to show us the glow of a lit marble, my husband cut to the chase - he was not in the mood for a show - "how can we tell the price of items we may like?"
With a completely serious expression, looking from me to my husband, the slick salesmen replies, "On the back of each item there will be a number. Multiply that by 10 and that is your price."
Needless to say, we did not buy any marble that day.