Jaipur: India’s Craft Capital
From blue pottery to leather slippers, pick up the finest Rajasthani crafts with our guide to shopping in the “Pink City.”
India’s “Pink City,” Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan, and one of the best places to discover and buy Indian crafts. Rajasthan, meaning land of the kings, was once a collection of princely states whose kings were keen artistic patrons, and the region has a long history of flamboyant, virtuoso creativity. Today, artisanal production centers on the state capital, where crafts ranging from block printing and ceramics to gem cutting and papermaking have been passed down through generations.
Iconic local crafts: gemstones
Jaipur is famous for its gemstones and jewelry industry, with an entire neighborhood devoted to buying and selling precious stones—the traditionally Islamic Paharganj quarter. Here, artisans cut and polish gems in hole-in-the-wall workshops, and jewelers sit on cushions weighing out their wares. Semi-precious stones glow with brilliant color: Tibetan turquoise, African garnets, tourmaline, and citrine quartz. There are tribal designs, elaborate Kundan and Meenakari jewelry associated with weddings and royalty, and glittering piles of gemstones to buy by the gram.
Block printing and paper
Just south of Jaipur, Sanganer village is a craft center, where fine cotton is printed by hand using wooden block prints in pale, fresh, and vibrant colors. There are also factories here devoted to artisanal papermaking, with paper made of cotton remnants, decorated with rose petals, and turned into thick-leaved notebooks and writing paper.
Jaipur is famous for its blue pottery, a distinctive Indian ceramic that dates to the Islamic Mughal Empire, which imported the Persian blue-glaze and decorative techniques to beautify its imperial palaces and mosques. The pottery’s luminescent hues come from the materials used, powdered quartz and glass, and from firing at a low temperature. The palette is limited to colors derived from cobalt oxide, mostly blue and turquoise, and designs are based on stylized flowers, birds, and animals.
By the 1950s, the craft had largely disappeared from Jaipur, but was revived through the efforts of artist Kripal Singh Shekhawat, who took his inspiration from the blue-and-white tilework of Amber Fort, the magnificent fortress near Jaipur. Today, blue pottery stalls add another tint to the “Pink City,” and you can find workshops in Sanganer.
Puppets and shrines
In Jaipur’s central markets, such as Chandpole Bazaar, you can buy beautifully decorative Rajasthani puppets, as well as small, intricately painted Hindu shrines made from light-as-air mango-tree wood. Both were traditionally used to tell stories of kings, myths, and Hindu epics in a way that bypassed the need for literacy, and they make for gorgeous and distinctive souvenirs.
Top markets and shopping areas
Jaipur has preserved its historic colonnaded bazaars which remain loosely devoted to specialties, as they have been for generations. Follow the local crowds to Johari Bazaar for a concentration of jewelry boutiques and gemstone sellers, Tripolia Bazaar for bangles, Chandpole Bazaar for handicrafts, Kishanpole Bazaar for textiles, and Nehru Bazaar for traditional leather juttis (slippers).
As well as traditional bazaars, Jaipur has some chic boutiques that sell a range of crafts, often with a contemporary slant, including homeware and clothing. Look out for Anokhi on MI Road, which also has a museum of hand printing (at Anokhi Haveli Kheri Gate, close to Amber Fort), where you can see block-printing artisans at work as well as its textile collection. There are also huge emporiums on the road out to Amber Fort, in addition to the workshops selling handmade paper, blue pottery, and block-printed fabrics in Sanganer.
Practical tips: haggling and savvy shopping
To get an idea of the range of products and their prices, browse around some fixed-price boutiques before trying to haggle in the bazaars. Boutiques have standard prices, but in tourist shops or markets, you’re welcome to strike a deal. Often, you’ll need to start out at around half the initially quoted price, gradually offering incremental increases until you reach a sum you’re happy to pay.
There have been instances of shoppers being conned in gemstone scams. If you’re buying gems, check that you’re receiving the goods you’ve paid for, and don’t get sucked into any schemes, no matter how convincing they may seem.
Getting around Jaipur
The easiest way to navigate the historic center and its bazaars is to either walk or take a rickshaw. Hiring a rickshaw for a day of shopping is a convenient way to reach lots of shops with minimal effort, but make it clear that you want to set the agenda for the trip rather than being persuaded to visit places where the driver earns a commission. To head out to Sanganer, the block-printing village, hire a taxi for a half or whole day.