Surviving Shopping in Delhi


Absolutely no doubt that India produces beautiful products from jewelries & apparels in New Delhi, tech gadgets in Bangalore, to movie productions in…basically entire the state. In fact, India is one of the most competitive country Asia, in terms of productivity (cost and amount of production), so no wonder if you find zillions of products you can see at the local market. Today, I will share my stories shopping at Dilli Haat, a shopping district (specialized for foreigners) at New Delhi, the capital of India. I was on city tour with other 59 participants of Asian Youth Summit Global Changemakers with British Council and the committees chose Dilli Haat as relatively safer and manageable place to shop for many Indian aliens like us. I definitely wanted to try some real markets, but had no time, so it should be ok enuf as an entree.

Entering the Dilli Haat, we were welcomed with security check procedures: metal detector, bags investigation, and officers with weapons for safety. Don’t panic! In many developing Asian countries, exaggerated security check like this is totally normal. Just for Information, three days before I headed to India, there was a second bombing (actually 3 times in a row) in Mumbai, one of the densely populated cities in India.

I was shopping with Tssogerel from Mongolia, Ben from Singapore, and guided with our beloved Srilankan friend, Sikander as he technically was a language translator and a gate-keeper who decide whether one good was worth enough to be bought or not a.k.a a bargainer; his favorite quote during assisting the shop was “Don’t worry about the price. Just choose and pick what you like. I will ask and bargain for the price.” This story about bargaining was funny. So yeahh, first thing if you are a foreigner, it will be tremendously helpful if you know someone local who can help you at the market because:

1. Seller at the Indian market are always (extremely rare who are not) set prices at least 100% higher than the supposed to be prices.

By the time the sellers know you are foreigner and don’t speak Hindi (or local language), it is an opportunity for them to raise the price as high as possible, some could reach 200% higher. I know that these price seems even still cheaper for those coming from developed countries, but I am from Indonesia and our market prices aren’t that much different with India, so i could sense the time when I was about to be ripped-off. I was about to buy a pair of shoes for my sister at Dilli Hat; one stall offered for 400 rupee and another next stall sounded promising as they knew my psychological starting price was 400, so he gave the price to me about 350 rupee (whispering to me that I was the only one given a special price). Those were pretty shoes and I saw my friend, Tssogerel, was busy trying on them. We were so convinced to buy one before Sikander started to speak in Hindi (the language has so much …-“he” [read: hae] in the end of words…interesting really) and said to us those weren’t right. The seller looked to me as I was earlier nodded agree with 350, but then I felt cheated by him when Sikandhar telling me that it was supposed to be 3 pairs for 350 rupee. On the other side, Tssogerel decided not to buy any of those as she said it wasn’t comfy one.

ps. $1 = around 42-45 rupee

2. No change strategy: “Sorry Mam, we have no 25 rupee change, would you like this key chain as a change?”   —rrrrr

Then we headed to the bag sections. They looked familiar pieces as some of my friends back home are also wearing alike one: shoulder strap rugs bags like. Sikander recommended the one made of rugs with long straps and he said, if we brought those home, the bags can be a fashion trends (it already was in Indonesia :D). Some of us decided to go for his recommendation, but I bought one with extremely excess beads rug bags with zipper horizontally aligned from one end to another end, making the bag looked like one fabric that is flipped…unique but after wearing it, it was so hard to flip on and flip off that quiet wide fabric. Additionally, I bought another beautiful black purse for my mom with an elephant ornament on it and two bangles for my sister and my friend. All made 1.075 rupee and when I was paying with 1.100 rupees, the seller told me that he had no change of 25 rupee and whether i like to change it with one elephant key chain. I said no and recalled back that I had 25 rupee, hoping he could give me 50 in back ( i mean, it was non sense if he didn’t have 50, which is quiet normal denomination). Suddenly, the 25 rupee change available. Ehhh? I wasn’t surprised finding this phenomena, as by the time I moved to another stall, they relatively told the same, no change in order for buyer to buy more that buyer couldn’t refuse. So my tips: always ready with small changes in your pocket to anticipate this situation.

3. Plastic Bags Everywhere

I generally always bring my cotton bag or eco bag everywhere just in case I happened to shop. Although few stores do not provide plastic bags and charge more if customers ask for them, many modern shops in Jakarta have provided eco bag which customers can buy for relatively cheap price, around $1. However, Indonesia still has long way to go before successfully applying this environmentally friendly action 😦 😦 (super sad).

I was amazed seeing how plastics were easily thrown away in Dili Hat, and these were not simply plastics, but more like the non recyclable ones, dark black made of petrols. I was busy refusing the sellers to not give me plastic bags FOR FREE! as I tried to manage everything fit in my Global Changemakers’ bag which given from British Council. So my tips for this is always bring your own extra bag and extra bags, like two or three, if you decided to shop a lot. It is hurt, just a cotton ones which you can flip in your hand bags.

At the end I purchased two male kurtas, traditional Indian dress for men, for two of my fathers (my biological one and my host father from USA). We also had some nice desserts with Sikander, Ben, and Jia Jun (from Malaysia). Unique food was “mani puri” : a bubble cracker which cracked in the middle and stuffed with sauced of meats and a weird green liquid which i thought green tea (what’s on earth you dropped green tea to meats), but turned as tamarind :P. Another dessert was “matka kulfi” (kulfi is ice cream), ice cream which I guessed made of safron, a native Indian herbs, served in clay pot. Cute. My friend, Jia Jun wanted to keep the pot, besides, we were kind of wondering where the pots went. “Don’t worry about the pot. The pot goes to Yamuna river“, said Sikandhar. Hahhahahha…it’s so bad but ironically true. When we entered exit gate, I saw some shoes seller making eyes to us, maybe they put so much annoyance because we didn’t buy their shoes after long going debates. Sikandhar said if we insisted to bargain with Indian bargain styles in all the stores in this district, it may take a day or two to finish. True, so much verbal skills we need to survive here 🙂

Sikander and Jia Jun enjoing matka kulfi (indian ice cream) and mani puri

After all, my shopping experience at Dilli Haat was fun! I big big big thanked Sikander as the hero in this adventure. I spent about 1.400 rupee and felt even more cheated when I saw Jia Hui, from Malaysia got two long kurtas for much cheaper of 350ish at local market located just in front of Dilli Haat! (I bought 2 for 500!!).

Do not feel too pissed off when you know you got cheated by street sellers for your first time shopping experience in India.

And always bring water bottle filled with water from hotel or if you need to buy, only buy mineral bottled water….anticipating Indian aliens from Delhi Belly (stomach problem for water contamination) 🙂

Enjoy your shopping in India!

p.s. This post was originally written on August 10, 2011

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