If you are in Delhi and want to do some street shopping, one area that is usually recommended is Sarojini Nagar. But most forget that, away from the sweeping arches and long corridors of Connaught Circle, past the dubious maze of Palika Bazaar, is a stretch of road that is undoubtedly the most colourful in Delhi. Beginning with a pavement bookshop, Janpath stretches into the distance, finally dwindling into a Tibetan market that stops before the hallowed gates of The Imperial hotel. More like Mardi Gras on a small scale, Janpath lacks the pretty orderliness of Dilli Haat, or the immense range of Central Market, Lajpat Nagar, or the row on row of shops in Sarojini Nagar. What it does offer is a shopping experience, more a fantastical adventure than financial transaction.
It would be difficult to enumerate what exactly is available there. Similar to the stuff of noir films, it depends on what you’re looking for. For most people, the market offers a place to avail great bargains on clothes—an amazing array that comes from goodness knows where, straight from the genie’s lamp onto hundreds of hangers that line the ramshackle shops. A good guess would be export rejects, considering the exotic labels stamped on the clothes, but branded or not, this is a shopping haven for those who like one-off pieces. What I like about Janpath despite the heat and dust is that, unlike the many swanky showrooms, it still offers individuality.
And also an ideal place, outside your yoga centre, to practise patience. Here, there are no mannequins or neat shelves to showcase the newly arrived Spring/Summer collection; clothes are hung everywhere, to the sides and over your head, or placed higgledy-piggledy in a pile. It takes time to rummage through the textile jungle until something catches your eye. This, rather than being the end of the odyssey, is just the beginning. Now comes the time to bargain, here where most of the shopkeepers are practised in the art of fleecing. Instead of this being an annoyance, however, it can, after a few visits, be fun if you keep in mind that it is a game, a street version of Whose Line is it Anyway, where the dialectics of durries and dresses divine do damage to your purse.
Remember three things: Avoid speaking in English, do not look “touristy” (whip away the sunglasses, stuff the mineral water bottle into your bag, lose the iPod) and look as if you know what you’re doing. When a price is named, appear dismayed, offer a lower one which the shopkeeper will refuse, pretend to walk away; you will then be called back and a compromise sought. Also, it doesn’t help to get annoyed; keep it light-hearted, have a laugh, if it doesn’t work out (and I’m not giving relationship advice here), walk away.
The line of clothes shops is also interspersed with accessory stalls stocking pretty beads, silver earrings and anklets; slip-ons; itars or Indian perfumes; second-hand books; and lovely glass lampshades.
Apart from the shopping, Janpath is also a pretty place to stroll through; the street food spicy and inviting, sidewalks lined with leafy trees, the gas lamps hazy in the evenings. It’s a good place to appreciate the Capital city. For free.
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