Colourful fabrics. Ethnic furniture. Intricate jewellery. Eye-catching handicrafts. Ahmedabad markets have something to suit every taste and every pocket.
Itís about 5 p.m. in Ahmedabad and the sun is just setting in the city known for beautiful Jain temples, intricately carved mosques and one of the best textile museums in the world.
Teen Darwaja, in the old walled city of Ahmedabad, is a picture of chaos. Crowds jostle for space, cows butt in or sit languidly on chowk corners and women in their colourful printed saris hunt for bargains.
For most, Teen Darwaja is some old, run down place in the heart of the city, surrounded by ruins of forts and temples. Yet, anyone familiar with the city will tell you that it is a goldmine for antiques, furniture and things like cowbell windchimes, mirror studded wall hangings and Kutchi embroidered tablecloths.
A shopper, a furniture collector or even an art connoisseur could spend hours in these narrow crowded, dusty gullies. A cowbell windchime - made from brass and wood - is available for as little as Rs 25, while lacquered furniture of the kind made in Saurashtra or Vadodara can cost anywhere from Rs 500 for a beautifully painted table to Rs 5,000 for a sofa.
Jodhabhai, an intrepid shop owner at Teen Darwaja, informs us: "The lacquered furniture is made in Sankheda near Vadodara and is very light and easily portable. Wood is rounded with tools and painted with floral and abstract designs in bright shades of gold, silver, maroon, green, vermillion, and brown by using sticks dipped in a coloured mixture of dyes, powdered zinc, lac and resin."
Not just Sankheda, even furniture and woodcraft of Surat, Kutch and Saurashtra is quite popular and easily available at Teen Darwaza. The artisans of Kutch make wood take on beautiful designs and the intricate filigreed appearance of lace.
Also available here is meenakari furniture made by artisans from Rajkot that include low slung chairs, sofa sets and centre tables, priced between Rs 700 and Rs 50,000. Shopkeepers normally arrange for the transport of the furniture outside Ahmedabad.
The bustling crowded marketplace of Teen Darwaza is also famous for antique jewellery, the kind the Harappans wore in the third millennium BC, made out of shells and brass. Radha Mistry, who makes this kind of jewellery, says that the designs and patterns havenít changed much since the time the Harappan women sported them. "Over the years, they have become lighter. After all, which modern woman will wear jewellery as heavy as the Harappans? she says.
Also in old Ahmedabad is the crowded market of Dhal Garwad. Here the smell is different, and so is the atmosphere. The congested lanes and bylanes are crammed with shops selling ready-made garments, saris, dupattas, bedcovers and dress materials. As you make your way through the hustle and bustle, you hear voices from the shops trying to entice prospective buyers.
Dhal Garwad is for someone looking for traditional fabrics and saris at dirt-cheap prices. Abdul Gafar, who has been running a sari shop here for the past 12 years says: ďMostly, families come together for shopping. This market is quite affordable, so people do bulk shopping." You can pick up a beautiful bandhni cotton top for Rs 50 and a bandhej salwar kameez for Rs 600.
Shopping in Ahmedabad is, however, not only about the old city. Whether you are a hardcore shopper or just a window shopper, whether you are buying or just browsing, the city is a paradise for anyone in search of beautiful traditional fabrics like bandhej, tie-and-dye, bandhni or just printed cotton, for antique silver jewellery, or even quaint pieces of furniture and artifacts.
Within Ahmedabadís very modern exteriors nestles a very traditional city intensely proud of its cultural roots, which extend to textiles, jewellery and furniture. Itís easier to find the traditional things in the streets and bazaars of Ahmedabad, rather than in fancy boutiques.
Just meander through the more than dozen boutiques and gift shops on C.G. Road that stock a fascinating range of patola silks, ethnic bandhani, bandhej and Kutch fabrics, silver jewellery that includes some intricately carved armbands, kamarpattas, anklets and beautifully carved jewellery boxes, furniture and handicrafts. Prices range from anywhere between Rs 1,000 for a small silver anklet to Rs 15,000 for a gorgeous Patola silk sari, a bandhni, or a sequin studded bandhej sari.
Pottery and Patola
C.G. Market is very popular for beautiful pottery and silk patola saris. Gujaratís oldest handicraft is pottery, which achieved high standards of excellence in ancient times. With a few turns of the wheel and expert flicks of the hand, village potters mould an ordinary lump of mud into well proportioned and useful clay utensils, embellished by their wives with paintings and colourful lines.
Terracotta toys are another craft of the potters of Bhuj, but it is in the Aravallis and Chhota Udepur tribal lands that potters make the famous long necked terracotta figurines of the Gora Dev (tribal horse God) that protects crops, villages and families from evil spirits, evil intentions and natural calamities. Costing about Rs 200 to Rs 1,400, terracotta figurines and clay pots are beautiful gifts to take back home. Also available are mud wall hangings and plaques inset with mirrors.
While at C.G. Market, donít forget the patola silk sari, a unique handloom made out of very intricate and difficult tie-and-dye technique. The sari is handwoven and made with silk threads that are dyed in vibrant colours and arranged according to the design. The process consists of dyeing warp and weft thread in conformity with the proposed design on the fabric.
Evenings are meant for the Law Garden evening market, famous for its ethnic fabrics and textiles and white metal jewellery. For an early start, itís better to be there by 5 p.m. By 7 p.m., you wonít even have an inch of space left to move around.
The evening market is known for bandhni and bandhej fabrics and saris, as well as Surat saris made out of gold silk thread and zari. The history of the zari (gold embroidery) industry dates back to the Mughal period and even today saris are made using gold and silver threads. Also available are shoe uppers, evening bags and accessories, costing Rs 200 to Rs 20,000.
For those who like their things a little less ostentatious, there is fabric with Banni embroidery in gorgeous colours like mauve, yellow and pink. Banni embroidery is done by the Lohanas of Khavadas, near Ahmedabad. Available for between Rs 1,500 for an embroidered choli to Rs 10,000 for a completely banni embroidered silk sari.
The Handicrafts Bazaar
Ahmedabad is also known for dhurries, carpets, blankets and rugs woven on primitive pitlooms in the villages of Bhuj and Saurashtra. The Wankar tribe makes rugs out of wool, goat hair and cotton. Artists dexterously weave designs with their hands while foot pedals work the machine. The result: gorgeous patterns and remarkable colour combinations.
Colourful quilts, woven traditionally on pitlooms or shuttle looms, are also a great pick. Handloom weaving, in fact, is an important occupation in villages on the Ahmedabad-Bhavnagar highway. Another handicraft thatís a must buy are wall hangings and borders with rogan printing - a process in which thick bright paste is used to decorate cloth. The most common motifs in Rogan art are geometric and floral, red, blue and yellow are the basic colours used in this art form. Rogan printed cloth is mostly used as table cloth, curtain cloth and saris or skirts border.
Shops like Banascraft, Bandhej, Garvari, Gurjari, Hastkala and Kapasi handicrafts are the best place to pick up these handlooms as you can be sure of the authenticity, and they are reasonably priced.
Home Grown Art
If Kutch has its abla and Kutchi embroidery, and Patan is famous for patolas, Matajini Pachedi is an art form that is typical of Ahmedabad. Traditionally, this pachedi work was limited to making the background and the canopies over the idols in temples, which is where the name comes from.
A number of mythological stories were depicted in the pachedis - stories of kings and animals, Gods and Goddesses. Everything has to adapt to modern times, so artisans like Vasant Manubhai Chitara and Sanjay Manubhai Chitara make beautiful pachedi tablecloths and cushion covers. Says Vasant, ďEach pachedi has an intricate hand-made painting and only black and red vegetable dyes are used.Ē They are easily available at Gurjari and Bandhej in Ahmedabad.
For those not comfortable with browsing and bargaining on street corners or small shops, are designer stores like Anuradha Vakilís boutique and Archana Shahís Bandhej.
Vakil, a fashion designer, is a revivalist and works with artisans from Kutch, Saurashtra and Ahmedabad. She is one of the few to have revived the ancient and traditional crafts of embroidery, printing and weaving and boasts of clients like dancer Mallika Sarabhai. Based in Ambavadi in Ahmedabad, her outlet Noor, is a rather quaint boutique with an air of tranquillity and peace about it.
Says Anuradha: "My vision encompasses all the borders of India, not just Ahmedabad. So I mix and match crafts from various states and then implement the design on my fabrics. Like my focus on vegetable dyes takes me to Madhya Pradesh where the Bagh printing is superb, or to Andhra Pradesh where master craftsmen do excellent Kalamkari work.
The bandhani collection is one of her most famous, for which she has created unusual textiles using an age-old craft. She is also working with vegetable dyes in red, blues and earth colours.
For those who like their clothes ethnic but sophisticated, Archana Shahís Bandhej is the best bet. The Bandhej collection besides readymade womenís wear, includes selective menswear, home furnishings, jewellery, furniture, glass and crockery, artifacts and stationary.
Each of this is representative of the philosophy of balancing the traditional with the contemporary and are characterized by their affordability in price.
Starting from its initial operations from an old haveli in the heart of Ahmedabad city, Bandhej moved to a smaller outlet in 1985. In 1997, it shifted to its present location in a 4,000 square feet store. Itís one of the most beautiful stores in Ahmedabad, and buying there is not only about picking up beautiful ethnic clothes and handicrafts, but doing so in an atmosphere thatís reminiscent of a picturesque Gujarat village.
Clearly, from ethnic embroidered fabrics, to belled wall hangings and the ubiquitous jhula, shopping in Ahmedabad is all about going back in time. The city boasts of shops that sell textiles and handicrafts from a state considered the worldís richest source of folk embroidery.
Handicrafts aside, the array of furniture and furnishings from Ahmedabad is pretty mind-boggling. The styles are a combination of Muslim, Jain and Hindu folk art. The stitching patterns and styles are characteristic of tribes.