Living in Delhi has its pros and cons, as I have found out in the last year or so. But I must concede that it stubbornly preserves its old-world charm and its traditional “Indian” way of doing things. The sprawling malls and supermarkets are all there as you can expect in a metropolis but they still play the second fiddle. The traditional, crowded, colourful, maddening and magnificent bazaars of Delhi are the ones where you would like to splurge your shopping budget. Especially, if you are a foreigner and have a list of things to buy in India, these may be the best places to start.
Old Delhi Markets:
Every time someone advises you to visit Chandni Chowk, take it with a pinch of salt. They generally use it to refer to Old Delhi. But as a matter of fact it is a vast area divided into several markets, each specializing in different items. So, look beyond Chandni Chowk and go to Dariba Kalan for jewellery, Katra Neel for Indian clothes, Bhagirath Palace for electronics, Khari Baoli for Indian spices and dry fruits and Matia Mahal for food.
Daryaganj Book Market:
In the Sunday book market at Daryaganj, you will find almost everything. Popular fiction, serious literature and foreign magazines, whatever you need are available here and that too at dirt cheap rates. I once found all GRR Martin books at 1/5th of normal price here. However, you have to come early in the morning as there is high demand and the stock gets over by noon. (If you need something less hectic, you may consider some new age joints that are coming up nowadays. For instance I can personally suggest Mayday Cafe at Shadipur for an unhurried experience and for both new and used books).
Well, they are not exactly traditional. These are market places built by the authority to promote local artisans. But the good thing is that you get traditional handicrafts, artifacts, antiques and apparels all over the country at one place. You can also taste different regional cuisines at respective stalls. There are three of them as of now. The original one near INA metro station and two new ones at Pitampura and Janakpuri.
Rustic Weekly Markets:
Weekly markets are a regular feature in the villages and provincial towns in India but Delhi too has maintained this culture. Such flea markets sell everything you can imagine. Watch out for the Sunday bazaar near Jama Masjid, Monday market at Karol Bagh, Wednesday market at Govindpuri etc. My favourite is the Thursday Market at Masjid Moth, behind South Ex & AIIMS because it takes place under a medieval monument.
If you want to look beyond the Indian milieu, try the Tibetan markets near Kashmiri Gate as well as at Majnu Ka Tila near Vidhan Sabha Metro Station. They are the best options for jackets, woollens, backpacks, shoes, gloves and even trekking gear. These are also good places to find Tibetan and Nepali cuisines.
You do not have to be a shopaholic to explore Delhi Bazaars. I am not one myself but I mostly visit them to take photographs. This is how you can see the way 90% of the country has shopped for centuries and still do, caught in a maddening but endearing time warp.
PS: For other offbeat ideas, check 10 things nobody told you to do in Delhi.