You cannot visit India without indulging in a bit of retail therapy. The country is a shopper’s paradise. You have countless options in terms of authentic, high-quality, and affordable items, from clothing to jewelry.
But, just like any activity in India, shopping is a whole different adventure. If you want to maximize your shopping time and get the best deals, you need to have a plan of action even before arriving in the country.
Our shopping guide below will serve as your roadmap to navigating the country’s busy and exciting markets and malls. But first, here are our recommendations for the best souvenirs in India.
15 Must-Buy Souvenirs From India
Unless you have an unlimited budget, then knowing what to buy in India will save you money and time. While each region has its specific specialty products, deals are everywhere in the country. Be on the lookout for these must-buy souvenirs:
You have a multitude of options when it comes to Indian tea. Since most locals are tea drinkers, India offers some of the best tea leaves in the world. One of the finest tea in the world is Darjeeling Tea.
Grown in the Darjeeling district of West Bengal, its leaves are picked from a small-leaved plant called Camellia Sinensis. The plants grow at an altitude ranging from 750 meters to 2,000 meters. It is known around the globe for its distinct muscatel smell and unique aroma.
Traditionally, it is only available in black tea. However, you can now find Oolong, white, green, matcha, and other varieties in the region. Each Darjeeling estate offers 7-8 varieties, and they are classified according to their harvesting season.
The spring flush, also known as the first flush, is usually harvested from the end of February until the middle of April. These tea leaves are light in color. It has a mild aroma and astringency. It is thought to yield the freshest and purest variety of tea.
Then the summer flush, or second flush, is harvested around May to June. These tea leaves are vivid and purple-copper in color. They also have a muscatel flavor.
Next, the monsoon flush, also called breakfast tea, is usually harvested from July to September. These are usually sold as blended tea or served as milk tea.
Lastly, the autumn flush is picked between October and November. It shows a gold-copper coloring. The leaves produce a fresh, fruity flavor. These are usually exported and the most expensive of the varieties.
When shopping for tea, look for certification schemes such as UTZ Certified, Ethical Tea Partnerships, India Organic and Rainforest Alliance. These marks signify the quality and purity of the tea leaves.
Although most Indians are tea drinkers, people in certain parts of the country, most of them in the South, prefer their coffee – enjoyed strongly with sugar and milk. Traditional South Indian coffee, also known as filter coffee or kaphi, has been enjoyed here for decades.
Coffee is cultivated in the states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka, making perfect keepsakes that travel well. Look for packets that have added some chicory, which offers a mildly woody and nutty flavor to the coffee. These are known to have health benefits, such as lowering blood sugar.
Widely accessible all over South India, filter coffee is roasted in a special metal tool and delivered in tumbler and dabarah. It is poured back and forth between one canister and the other to produce more froth and foam. You can purchase both of them as Chennai souvenirs together with ground coffee bags.
One of the best ways to appreciate and experience a part of Indian culture and tradition is to wear their traditional clothing. While the colorful garments are available in other parts of the world, there’s nothing more authentic when you buy in India. And you get to support the local economy too.
The sari, also spelled saree, is a popular option for women and one of the most beautiful souvenirs to take back home. Each region and part of the country has its special kind of sari. They use a wide range of designs and fabrics. Some even include embroidery and detailed border stylings.
As such, saris come in different price points. Some of the most popular styles are Settu Mundu (from the Kerala regions), Banarasi, Nauvari (from Maharashtra), and Kanjivaram.
Aside from sari, cholis, lehengas, and dupattas are also popular Indian souvenirs. Dupattas are long scarves that are typically worn with saris, lehenga-cholis, or salwar kameez.
Lehengas are wide, full-length skirts with ornate designs that are worn during special occasions. And cholis are fitted blouses available in styles that are worn under saris. There are also designs that pair with lehengas.
Madhubani paintings are truly unique art-forms that you can take back home as a memory of your trip to India. These art pieces are specific to the Mithila region.
Each Madhubani painting is made of natural dyes and pigments that create a combination of colors. The artists’ attention to detail and the shapes, lines, and other elements are unique to the country.
The creation of Madhubani paintings involves a style that uses brushes, matchsticks, nib-pens, and fingers. Aside from the popular Tanjore paintings, these psychedelic works will remind you of the region’s colorful culture.
Himachal, a stunning Himalayan valley, is not only popular for its natural sites. They also produce the world-famous Kullu shawls, specifically Bhuttico Kullu shawls.
Bhuttico refers to the Bhutti weavers’ Cooperative Society Ltd. of Kullu. What started as a group of 12 weavers in the remote village of Bhutti became a cooperative and enterprise that helps the locals create these fashionable shawls.
There are a wide variety of Kullu shawls, from the traditional Kullvi to modern ones. The weavers use different handspun materials such as sheep wool, angora wool, and yak wool. They are even available as pashmina shawls (goat).
Traditionally designs feature geometric patterns along the borders. Some also include floral designs on a plain background. While typical bright colors are still present, such as green, red, yellow, blue, black, and more, they now produce Kullu shawls in practically every color combination.
When shopping for Kullu shawls, in shops or online, check for the “Handloom” mark and GI patent tag. If you are specifically looking for Pashmina shawls from Kullu, they usually have pale shades. They are also more expensive than other varieties of Kullu shawls.
Aside from clothing, India is also known to produce some of the most exquisite fabrics. These are perfect souvenirs to buy for your family and friends. And, you can never go wrong with Jaipur quilts.
Also known as Jaipuri razai, these versatile works of art are usually available in cotton or velvet. They come in colorful and intricate designs that look great in any room, from your living area to your bedroom.
Cotton Jaipur quilts feature modern and traditional Indian styles that combine different striking colors. Most of them are hand-made using woodblock stamps that print the designs into the fabric.
On the other hand, velvet types are woven in looms. The patterns are directly woven into the velvet. Sometimes ornate embroidered edges and borders are sewn on.
Anyone who has visited India will tell you that spices are can’t-miss gift items. And Kerala is one of the best places to buy them. The area is popular for spices that you cannot find anywhere else on the planet.
Spices are rooted in the history of Kerala. If you want to know more about the significance, cultivation, production, and usage of these products, visit Spice Plantations around the area. They also sell fresh produce aside from spices.
Buying species is overwhelming, especially with the countless options in the region. Look for a good aroma, which is always present when the spices are fully dry. When unsure, it is safe to ask strangers while shopping.
The locals in Kerala are warm and friendly. They take pride in showcasing their area’s best products.
Spices are also great giveaways for friends. Put them in cute pouches, which are also available in different shops around Kerala.
Saffron is a flower-derived spice from a flower widely known as the “saffron crocus.” They are harvested and dried for use primarily as a seasoning and coloring agents in dishes. It has long been considered the world’s most expensive spice by weight.
Authenticated outlets sell premium varieties, which are popular among foodies and chefs. The cost of saffron varies by quality but is approximately 200 rupees a gram. The saffron strands are either orange or deep-red and a few centimeters long.
True saffron can be checked with a strand that should turn dark-yellow instead of red as with fake saffron. Real saffron preserves its color when you extract it from a yellowed bath.
Premium quality saffron is often mixed with milk and sugar. The fragrance and taste of Kashmiri saffron are widely popular in other parts of the world. Its quality is superior to the varieties present in other parts of the region.
Bandhani (Indian Tie-Dye)
Tie and dye (bandhani) are just one of many traditional arts in India. It is particularly popular in Rajasthan in the northwest of India for many years.
The technique involves binding small pieces of the fabric to a string. And it is then soaking the cloth in a colorful dye. The piece of cloth that is tied doesn’t get dyed, making tiny circular designs. This can be replicated in several colors, producing intricate patterns of tiny circles on the cotton.
It is not surprising to see rows of fabric spread over the roofs of buildings to dry. And, it is possible to purchase them in almost every fabric store (there are many in Rajasthan).
Popular colors are red, golden, and gray. It is possible to tie-dye whole saris and turbans, but they are also available in smaller pieces of fabric. These are perfect as small table cloths, runners, or seat cushions. A piece of cloth a few yards long and a few feet wide will cost as little as 200 rupees, depending on your ability to negotiate a deal.
Hand-carved woodblock stamps are the ultimate traditional Indian souvenir for those interested in prints and crafts. They were historically used in Asia to print patterns on cloth and parchment. The process is thought to date back several millennia – with the oldest surviving stamps, discovered in China, dating all the way back to 220 AD.
Smaller blocks are often ink-painted and pressed on the fabric by hand. On the other hand, larger blocks are placed on a table or on a printing press side-by-side. They, they inked over the board, and a cloth or paper is placed over the top.
The fabric is either pressed or softly rubbed with a tough pad to ensure a seamless transition to the cotton pattern.
West Bengal Terracotta Handicrafts
If you’re touring East India, particularly West Bengal, then terracotta handicrafts are great keepsakes to buy from India. Terracotta is amongst the most iconic West Bengal art items, and the world-famous Bankura horses are very popular. These horses are made only in a specific village called Panchmura, just outside Bishnupur, the terracotta town of Bengal.
While these horses are now accessible in almost any handicraft shop and even some online stores, you’ll get the best and most genuine ones from Bishnupur Region. If you visit the village of Panchmura, you can actually see the craftsmen at work. If not, then any Biswa Bangla shop offers authentic terracotta handicrafts.
Bankura horses are now viewed as a symbol of the artistic expression of Indian rural crafts. They are typically used as the official emblem of the All India Handicrafts Board. They usually have long necks and upright ears. Made of burnt clay, they are often mud-brown and black in color.
Besides horses, you will find terracotta elephants and statues of deities. Recently, terracotta jewelry is also very common. The prices of terracotta horses start from as little as 50 ropes for a miniature horse, up to 3000 rupees for a three-foot horse.
Wooden Toys from Kondapalli
Kondapalli toys are created by the craftsmen of a small town Kondapalli in Andhra Pradesh. These multicolored toys are made from the softwood of the ‘Tella Poniki’ tree. These toys typically depict Indian gods, country life, scenes from Indian mythological myths, etc.
The delicate wood is formed into figurines and then brought to life in colors. Traditionally, natural vegetable colors have been used. But, craftsmen today use enamel and/or acrylic colors for longevity.
Kondapalli is the best place to buy these wooden toys. But, you can also find these in many other towns of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, the two southern Indian states where such toys are very famous.
If you’re exploring Hyderabad, you can pick up these items from the shops of Lepakshi or Shilparamam, the village of the arts and crafts. Toy rates start from as low as INR 50 to thousands of rupees for more complex and larger works of art.
Copper, Brass, and Steel Ware
Metal creations are common across the country, with various regions dedicated to different styles. Metal products make excellent gifts to take home.
They are not only extremely symbolic of the region but can also be usable as well. Popular items include bowls, pots, cookware, small religious statues, and decorated walls.
Copper goods are extremely exquisite and appear to be much cheaper than buying them in so many other parts of the world. They are available from pans to jewels.
Brass pieces have the bonus of being even cheaper and significantly lighter. Tiny, painted brass plates make great and stackable souvenirs, especially when you have small bags. Even plain stainless steel plates make wonderful keepsakes – they’re inexpensive, lightweight, they can be purchased almost everywhere.
Though there are a number of luxury shops from which you can buy metal crafts, it is recommended that you visit the local market first. Not only can you find higher rates, but you’ll enjoy a more realistic shopping experience, finding authentic items instead of typical tourist-ty items.
The north-eastern region of Assam is renowned for its rare style of silk produced only in this portion of the state. Assam Silk has recently found national attention because of a few artists experimenting with new fabrics and textures.
First, Muga is a type of golden-yellow silk often used to create gorgeous sarees with breathtaking details. Interestingly, it appears better and brighter over time. Just keep in mind that you still need to put it on dry cleaning.
Then, there is Paat silk, the native silk variety of Assam. It is used to make the popular Mekhela Chador. While available in several colors, the Mekhela Chador trademark is white in color with intricate gold and silver embroidery.
Carpets and Rugs of Kashmir
Kashimiri rugs and carpets are hand-knotted oriental products from the Kashmir Valley of India, which is synonymous with Kashmir handicrafts. They often have elaborate patterns that mostly reflect Asian aesthetics, floral in a variety of colors, sizes, and consistency.
The exquisite rugs are noted to have vivid, jewel-like colors such as blue sapphire, red diamond, green emerald, amethyst, aquamarine, and ivory. Traditionally, Kashmir carpets are woven in floral and decorative designs that usually depict significant and culturally relevant themes such as paisley, chinar tree, and tree-of-life.
Many of these handwoven crafts are ingrained in the Kashmir way of life. They are a visual reflection of the deep Kashmir culture of affection, warmth, and hospitality.
These are hand-knotted and are mostly made from pure wool, pure silk, and sometimes wool and silk blends. Kashmiri carpets are available in a variety of styles, color combinations, and sizes. That means you can find the perfect rug to take home.
Shopping in India: Tips and Tricks
Anyone that has experienced visiting India will know that the country is filled with markets, emporiums, bazaars, street stalls, and malls. That means shopping in India is an adventure that you should not miss. Whether you are looking for trinkets, clothes, or food, the country will spoil you with choices.
Yet the grandeur of the souvenirs is equal and even overshadowed by the chaos of shopping areas. Prices often differ wildly, especially in well-known areas. Sometimes, it is difficult to keep track of local specialties and where the best places to buy particular items are. And, haggling is intimidating if you are not used to it.
Here are some tips and tricks to remember next time you shop in India:
- Do your research. Most products and souvenirs in India are regional, from food to clothing types. Additionally, it varies drastically from state to state. Before your trip, find out what the area specialties are. There are certain things that are obvious, like purchasing tea in Darjeeling. It’s also worth looking for local craftsmen for truly authentic products.
- Take time to explore and avoid buying on impulse. It is easy to get excited over affordable and shiny goods. However, take time to explore and compare prices from different shops and stores. You will get a sense of quality and how each item should cost as your trip progresses. There’s a reason why most experienced travelers leave the shopping towards the end.
- Know when to buy full-price and when to haggle. Typically, haggling is mostly practiced on street markets. However, there are fixed-price shops in India that do not allow haggles. If you are worried about haggling too much, you can offer to buy more items if they are able to lower the price per item.
Check Souvenirs While Exploring
The best way to manage your trip, especially when you have a limited schedule, is to be on the lookout for deals while exploring places. India offers different products such as jewelry, ayurvedic products, and other local specialties.
Among these, it is possible that you will see an item that will capture your heart. In such cases, temporarily let go of scoring deals and grab the opportunity to make a memory with you through a lovely keepsake.