Shopping in India: 10 Gift Ideas and Bargaining Tips

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So you’re going to India. All your friends and family are excited and pressuring you to bring a piece of India back to them. You could buy a keychain from the airport, but that’s just lazy. You’re going to the land of infinite variety and every shopaholic’s personal paradise! So you really have no excuse to come back empty-handed. Whether shopping for yourself or others, here is a souvenir guide with bargaining tips and gift ideas to help you pick out unique items that reflect the local culture of India.

CURRENCY

The currency in India is the Indian rupee, which is coded INR (Indian National Rupee). Download a currency converter app to your phone so you can quickly convert prices while shopping. I prefer the Easy Currency Converter app for Android (download here) and for iPhone, you can use the Currency Converter app (download here).

Easy Currency Converter app
Easy Currency Converter app on my Android phone

BARGAINING TIPS

Shops are shady in India! Laws that control how business is conducted are not enforced very well. So you have to be smart when browsing through bazaars. Haggling is expected and meant to be fun, so don’t be afraid to break out those negotiating skills of yours.

  1. When you walk in, acting indifferent is key. It’s easy to get excited when you find something you know you want, but just play it cool!
  2. Don’t pay the seller’s price. Even if you see a “Fixed Price Shop” sign, bargaining is still allowed.
  3. Ask for a discount, and if the new offer is still too high, counter with a low amount that’s well below the actual price you hope to get.
  4. After going back and forth, if your “spidey” senses start to go off, listen to them. Don’t be afraid to walk away if you think the final offer is too high.
  5. If you have time, visit more than one store to get a better feel for what the retail price might actually be for the item you are interested in. This will help you negotiate better.
Bargaining with an Indian salesman
Bargaining with an Indian salesman

SOUVENIR IDEAS

Sure, you could just pick up a shot glass, key chain, or magnet at the airport, but where’s the fun in that? Utilize the above haggling tips and score some of these amazing Indian goods to bring home with you:

1. Sari Fabric to Wear or Decorate Your Home

TO WEAR: Saris look great on every woman no matter what her body type. Big bold prints in a variety of colors work well for tall, slim women. Small to medium-sized prints work best for short, slim women and also larger figures.

TO DECORATE: You can find a million uses for sari fabric; turn them into drapes, pillowcases, cushion covers, bed canopies, bed sheets, throws, tablecloths, drawer liners, floor mats, and so much more!

An array of sari fabric
An array of sari fabric (Bharat Singh)

2. Bangles and Other Jewelry

India is a haven for women wanting shiny things to wear. As one of the world’s largest markets for gold jewelry, India will not disappoint those looking for some high quality gold pieces. Bangles were my favorite type of jewelry to shop for. I found some to match the sari I bought for my best friend. Pay attention to the sizes since they vary. I bought some bangles for another friend that wound up being too large for her tiny hands (sorry Karishma…I tried).

Bangles in India
Tons of bangles I saw in an Indian shop

3. Salwar Kameez

This is a traditional Indian dress worn by women and young girls. Find a fashionable one made of good quality silk or cotton. You can even wear it during your trip like I did. The fabric wasn’t heavy and kept me cool during the hot days.

Indian dress
Indian dress I wore during my trip

4. Henna

Now this is a fun one. Henna is a natural dye that women use to make colorful tattoo designs on their hands or even change their hair color. In India, packets of henna powder are very cheap, so stock up.

Henna
Henna tattoo (Meghdut Gorai)

5. Shoes

Indian sandals are so cheap and you can find them anywhere! I bought a pair for one of my friends and she loved them. If you want to get fancy, look for a stylish pair of juttis, which are footwear traditionally made with leather and extensive embroidery. They make these for both men and women.

shoe store
A shop filled with juttis (Kishore Bhargava)

6. DVDs, Music, Books, and Games

DVDs: You know that one friend of yours who never shuts up about Glee? Get him or her a Bollywood movie. You’ll be loved for it. And for that other friend who brags about being a human pretzel, pick him or her up an Indian yoga DVD. Namaste.

MUSIC: Anytime I go to a country, I always seem to fall in love with the local music. While you’re visiting, learn about India’s music artists and bring back some Indian tunes to remind you of your trip.

BOOKS: For the food connoisseur in your life, get an Indian cookbook. Maybe he or she will return the favor and whip you up a flavorful dish.

GAMES: If your friends are game lovers, they’ll appreciate a colorful deck of Ganjifa Indian playing cards. Also be on the lookout for chessboards. The game of chess was invented in India and you’ll be able to find good quality chess boards there.

Handcrafted ganjifa cards
Handcrafted ganjifa cards (Frederick Noronha)

7. Ayurvedic Medicine

Ayurveda is one of the world’s oldest holistic healing systems, which was developed in—yep, you guess it—India. You can buy skin care products and herbal remedies, but be sure to research any medicine before ingesting it. Test all skincare products on a small patch of skin before applying to the rest of your body.

Ayurvedic Massage
Ayurvedic Massage (Kerala Tourism)

8. Scented Products

Look for handcrafted incense sticks that will fill your room with the smoky fragrance of your choice. You can also find traditional Indian attars, which are natural perfume oils made from the extracts of flowers, herbs, and spices.

Colorful array of Indian incense sticks
Colorful array of Indian incense sticks (Meena Kadri)

9. Tea and Spices

TEA: When I took a road trip through Kerala, I saw tea plantations for miles and miles. India is not only one of the largest producers of tea; it grows some of the very finest in the world. Ask around for the best Darjeeling loose tea leaves, which come from the hills of Northeast India. Assam and Nilgiri teas are also good choices.

SPICES: Even though I just about died from all the spicy food in India, I recommend going on a grocery store shopping spree to pick up an array of Indian spices. The prices are so low and guaranteed to be unique to the country.

Tea Plantation
Tea Plantation I saw while driving through Kerala

10. Handicrafts

When all else fails, there will always be an array of Indian handicrafts to choose from. The entire country is filled with talented artisans who don’t make much money and you can support them by buying their beautiful crafts. Plus, what’s more special than getting a unique, handmade gift to bring back from the country you had the time of your life in? It’s simply priceless.

Indian Artisan
Indian Artisan (Frederick Noronha)

Oh, and you may want to purchase an extra bag to help you haul all this stuff back. Happy shopping!

What would you buy in India? Post your comments below. 

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Shopping in India: 10 Gift Ideas and Bargaining Tips

15 Replies to “Shopping in India: 10 Gift Ideas and Bargaining Tips”

  1. India has so much to offer! I love the colors, the alternative medicine, the jewelry, the clothing,… I think we’ll be there in about 6 months. My partner will have to keep me in line with our budget haha! Great tips on bargaining! I find it always difficult in the beginning, it’s like a game isn’t it? But once I get the hang of it, I enjoy it. Still, sometimes I know that a price is cheap for us but still high for them. My heart wants to give in,knowing that it helps them but my mind comes in to tell me to act like a local, haha. Don’t you sometimes have that feeling? Great post!

  2. So glad to see you enjoyed your India trip and explored all these local options!!Every year when I go back home to India, I either bring some ear-rings/bangles for my friends in Europe, or sometimes some handicrafts, some Kurtas ,etc. Genuinely very happy to read your post:)

  3. When I was in India, I bought fabrics and spices. It’s so lovely to bring back home a piece of the country you just visited. Now I discovered a few other great things to buy…that will be for my next visit.

  4. I’ve always had a fascination with India, and this has fuelled my interest even more. The colours, the sights, the chaos – I imagine it to be a complete sensory overload! Great article! I am useful at haggling, so Im sure these tips will come in useful!

  5. Great tips and very beautiful pictures! It makes me wanna go back, I loved travelling through India and I think you listed exactly the must-souvenirs from there!

  6. Great blog. India is a beautiful country and crowded. India’s population is high, but people are such helpful in India. You shared the shopping details in India is very helpful for tourist. I am happy with this blog. Thanks for sharing a great article.

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