I really love a good craft market. Something about the buzzing energy in the air, the excitement of the possibility of unearthing some sort of buried treasure (maybe even at a bargain), and the happy hustle and bustle of it all, just puts a smile on my face. I also think it has something to do with the fact that I tend to associate markets with festive seasons, like Christmas, which just happens to be one of my favourite times of the year.
So naturally when I went to Delhi several years ago, I wanted to seek out a market. I had visions of rifling through swathes of silk and rows of gemstones, brightly coloured fabrics and shiny baubles, painted wood and hand-carved figurines. I was in India for a friend's wedding - if you've ever been to an Indian wedding, you'll know that they are traditionally a 3-5 day extravaganza, often with an extra "free day" woven into the itinerary if the couple are considerate about the fact that their international guests will probably want to do some sightseeing after having flown in from far away lands. Luckily, my friend the bride was that kind, and had suggested we check out the Dilli Haat market, also known as Delhi Haat, so we decided to pop over to get a couple of souvenirs.
Unfortunately, it turned out to be a two-day effort. On our first try, almost every single rickshaw driver, taxi driver and/or guide we hired claimed that they'd never heard of it (an unlikely possibility, considering it's one of the most established in the city), but that if we wanted to buy souvenirs they'd take us to the best market in town. Their so-called market inevitably turned out to be a shop, not a market, and the guides, drivers and so on were all clearly working on some kind of commission to bring people to the store. No surprise there - we'd heard this kind of thing happens a lot there. By the time we'd finished arguing with them, the market would have shut, and so it was on to day two for our next attempt.
We gave up on trying to be savvy travellers (partially due to frustration, and partially due to the fact that we were leaving that afternoon so were short on time) and hopped into a taxi called for by our hotel, but despite the hotel staff having explained exactly where we wanted to go - and a (false) nod of agreement from the driver - we were taken to a run-down looking line of... shops. "Here, here is the Delhi Haat market!" our driver said eagerly, continuing: "Ok thank you, bye bye!" Swindled, again. Except this time, I'd come prepared. I'd looked the market up online and had a picture of it on my phone, and this was just a shop named "Delhi Haat", not the actual market. Nice try, buddy, but we weren't falling for that this time. "No, this isn't it. Take us to the actual market, not another one of your buddies' shops, and turn off the meter right now because we're not paying a rupee more after you took us to the wrong location and we both know it," we said, annoyed. "This is, yes yes, this is the Delhi Haat market!" our driver insisted, until I whipped out my phone and showed him the picture of the real market, saying "No it's not, this is it, and THAT's the one I'm going to." His insistent assurances that the shop (which clearly belonged to a friend of his) was indeed the market soon trailed off feebly, and he got back in the car, defeated... and finally, we were taken to the market. The actual one.
Photograph by Yi-Hwa Hanna
This permanent open-air market sells everything from hot foods prepared fresh at the various stalls, to pashminas, jewellery, clothing and handbags, as well as paintings, handricrafts (including swords and decorative storage boxes) and more. It's a handicraft-lover's dream. But as with any market (or souk, or bazaar, etc), various stalls were offering similar items (if not the exact same) so before we even thought about purchasing anything, we first decided to walk around the entire place before revisiting the stalls that had interested us. This also helped with the bargaining power of course - it always gives me a bit of mettle to be able to say, with certainty, that I know the guy down the block is selling the same item, to ensure one of the two lowers their prices to beat the competition. It's also easy enough to drive a hard bargain and not get ripped off when you explain to them that you live in Dubai not somewhere much further away, and that considering how many Indian items are sold in Dubai (and how many Indians live there), we know exactly what some things are worth so there's a fat chance of them charging more than what we'd pay in Dubai anyway.
Despite the chaos found in so many other places during our trip to Delhi, the market was surprisingly well-organised, clean with wide walking areas and even with similar stores grouped together. I guess that's the benefit of a permanent market - the sellers are regulars so you avoid the mess of an occasional or pop-up spot set-up and it's more like a well-oiled machine.Still, we did have to haggle, and by the end of the day came out pretty chuffed with the gifts we'd bought and for the prices we'd bought them for. The items were mostly all well-made and of good quality, I suspect because the market is regulated and sellers do have to meet certain standards in order to participate, even if they apparently do rotate on a regular basis.
With live music playing, the sun shining, and happy people - both Indians and non-Indians - browsing the stalls, stopping for a snack or just wandering the brightly coloured walkways, it was a lovely way to spend an afternoon. I'd highly recommend a trip here on a trip to Delhi, whether you're looking for souvenirs and gifts, or just wanting to browse around and peruse various local handicrafts from across the different parts of India - just don't forget to take a picture of it with you and insist on the right place, first!
Photograph by Yi-Hwa Hanna