India’s large malls have the same international brands found around the world, but the markets and small shops are more likely to yield something a little more unique. Haggling in official stores is not common, but you can get your bartering fill at the markets.
Clothing, textiles and accessories are produced across India and are often decorative and high quality without being overly expensive. Slippers and cheap costume jewelry make authentic and affordable gifts. The most famous handicrafts are the terracotta Bankura horses from West Bengal’s Bishnupur terracotta temple region. Stone and wood carvings are also popular, particularly wooden salad bowls, stone elephants or representations of Hindu deities.
Pashmina scarves are made from Himalayan goat wool and are prized for being beautiful, light and warm. The popularity of pashmina (Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II is reputed to have over 100) has given rise to many unauthentic products. Look for a lack of static or reflected light through the stitching, a label saying 100 percent cashmere (NOT 100 percent pashmina) and softness when rubbing the wool to the chin. Real pashmina is not cheap and scarves that cost US $10 or less are probably fakes.
The 5,000-year-old Ayurvedic spa treatments originated in Kerala, India, which are alternative healing methods based around the five elements — earth, water, fire, air, and space. This heritage, coupled with the natural coastal areas has given rise to some of the world’s best spas. Award-winning retreats like the lakeside Maya Spa (Zuri Resort and Spa, Kumarakom, Kerala) have specialist wings dedicated to Ayurvedic treatments. The air and beauty of the Himalayan mountains have long been thought to improve health and Ananda Spa (The Palace Estate, Narendra Nagar Dist. Tehri-Garhwal, Uttarakhand) and Wildflower Hall Spa (Oberoi Wildflower Hall Resort, Shimla in the Himalayas, Charabra, Shimla) are some of the most famous that compliment the environmental benefits with supplementary therapies like meditation, yoga, plant-based aromatherapy and traditional Ayurvedic massage.