For lack of imagination, unequaled craftsmanship often sinks to picnic basket levels in India. Still, there is much for the intrepid acquirer to see and buy.
New Delhi's two most reliable shopping centers are Santushti Shopping Complex (New Willingdon Camp), and Qutab Colonnade (5-6 Mehrauli Rd.; 91-11/696-7537, fax 91-11/686-2931). The former is a bungalow complex in disused air force barracks, with shops run by both familiar export names—Shyam Ahuja (Santushti Complex; 91-11/467-0112) for silks, Anokhi (Santushti Complex) for block-print Rajasthani fabric and quilts—and locals too little known in the west. The best of the latter is designer Neeru Kumar, whose subtly shaded woven scarves and woolens are sold at Tulsi (19 Santushti Complex; 91-11/687-0339); and Ishpinder Kochhar's jewelry shop, I-K (31 Santushti Complex; 91-11/688-7914).
Although it's a hike by taxi, Bina Ramani's Qutab Colonnade is worth the trip. Ramani's complex has shops selling goods as diverse as increasingly rare vintage saris, contemporary housewares (the Neemrana Shop), jewelry, and design.
For high-quality tribal jewelry there is no better place than the Jewel Mine (12A Palika Bazaar; 91-11/332-0977, fax 91-11/332-0578).
When shopping fatigue sets in, Jay Chandra's Western-style restaurant, Basil & Thyme (Santushti Complex; 91-11/467-4933), seems very appealing. (Quiche in India?Why not?) Where the indolent rich of New Delhi come for power lunching.
Jaipur's Gem Palace (Mirza Ismail Rd.; 91-141/4137-4175) is no secret. And some seasoned India hands find the place skewed to deep Western pockets. But for service and reliability of both goods and design, it's hard to improve upon in a city of pesky touts and dubious gemstones. Ask to be shown the back room.
Universal Art Emporium (Umaid Bhawan Palace; 91-291/510-101), in the lower concourse of one of the city's best hotels, offers curiosities as varied as 18th-century Jain traveling shrines and carved bone objects.
The seasoned and intrepid hire a motor rickshaw and run the gauntlet of shops on Umaid Bhawan Palace Road, stopping at Kohinoor Glass Art (Umaid Bhawan Palace Rd.; 91-291/613-188) for temple lamps and mercury-glass objects; Paradise Handicrafts (9A Umaid Bhawan Palace Rd.) for instant antiques; Shekhawati Arts (Umaid Bhawan Palace Rd.; 91-291/636-843) for objects covered in the dust of the ages, among them sepia photos of bejeweled maharajahs disporting themselves at the hunt. For local crafts and reproductions, check out Lalji Handicrafts (Umaid Bhawan Palace Rd.; 91-291/638-889, fax 91-291/639-754), Art of Past (4/C Umaid Bhawan Palace Rd.; 91-291/615-769), and Prince Art Exporter (Basni Saboo Cement St.; 91-291/741-528, fax 91-291/742-408).
If you can beat back the touts in Udaipur— most hustling you to the Traditional Schools of Indian Miniature Art — you might make your way to the silver shop of Vinod Kothari (55 Bhatiyani Chohatta, near Laksmhi Mandir). Kothari sells good old silver at fair prices and discounts for cash. Actually, there's no good reason to resist the hustlers as they steer you to a "cousin's" Indian miniature emporium. They make 40 percent or more on your purchase, and you come away with reasonably priced tourist goods that certainly put to shame the sad plastic Empire State Buildings that pass for souvenirs of New York.
Where to Stay
Umaid Bhawan Palace Jodhpur; 91-291/510-101; doubles from $145.
Lake Palace Hotel Lake Pichola, Udaipur; 91-294/527-961; doubles from $145.
Qutab Minar Complex, a 12th-century monument in Delhi, whose intricately carved minaret (inscribed with verses from the Koran) alone justifies an outing.