Guest Blogger Elena Bowes: Top India Shopping Tips from An Exhausted Textile Traveller

Our intrepid guest blogger and traveler Elena Bowes has just come back from a glorious trip to India, so just in case you are planning a trip of a lifetime or just need some visual cheer to help you get through January, we asked her to recount her adventures and list any helpful tips. Due to middleson currently being based in Delhi, I was especially excited to here what she had to recommend, expect a bit more on India this year, as I intend to make the most of him being there to visit and travel. Elena went on a specialist textile tour, over to you E…

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 luxury 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,” Lisa said 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 Lisa, who has been to India over fifty times in the last 19 years. While Lisa may live between Dallas and Manhattan, her heart is firmly based in the exotic east, where she draws much inspiration for her covetable Lisa Fine Textiles line.

Lisa 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 Lisa’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 Lisa. “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, Lisa likes two Jaipur spots, blockprint nirvana Ridhi Sidhi and antique fabric and vintage retailer Saurashtra Textiles (top image). Below is Fine’s Dallas bedroom with a bedspread from Saurashtra Textiles.

Image via House Beautiful

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!) Lisa recommends Brigitte Singh where we saw blockprinting in action.

We spent the afternoon surrounded by the gems 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 stop 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 Lisa 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!

Lisa 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 Lisa.

And for lunch the next day we ate on the old style terrace of this two hundred year-old gem Samode Haveli. It’s charming and not over-designed, Lisa said. (I stayed here, it’s fab A)

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 Lisa 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.”

Read more from Elena on her excellent travel blog here


  • I’d love to do this – perhaps with one or two extra pit stops!! I’ve a lovely Brigitte Singh throw and have often thought it would be fascinating to visit India and actually see those textiles at source.

  • Sue Evans says:

    I am sitting surrounded by my purchases from my recent trip to Jaipur, which all arrived in boxes a few weeks ago and all bought from the places Elena highlighted in my piece above. It was indeed the shopping experience of a lifetime and I can’t wait to go back. Next time I will make sure I find Big Pink !

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