Ruled by successive wealthy royal Hindu and Muslim families, Jaipur has a well-earned reputation for being a seat of luxury artisan fashion and craft, from woven silks and blockprint cottons to ornate jewelry fit for a princess — or a Bollywood star.
Before you run off to shopping, however, there are several places I want to send you where you can commune with the rich history of craftsmanship in Jaipur. Some of them have fantastic gift shops as well. I hope you saved room in your suitcase…
You’ll probably want to start with the City Palace. It’s famous for its serene melange of Rajasthani and Mughal architecture, which you can take in at your leisure while you wander the courtyards and gardens. Definitely do not miss the intricate building in the center, which houses a historical collection of weapons and royal textiles. You’ll learn about the variety of luxurious Indian textiles and their history. Then, seek out a wooden door in the corner of the large courtyard — it lets you into a gallery of miniature paintings that are just exquisite. Even so, not many people know the gallery is there, so you’ll get a welcome respite from the crowds. That gallery will spit you out into a fantastic gift shop featuring local artisan work. I coveted a silk blockprint skirt, but I just didn’t have room in my suitcase, sadly!
Another must-visit is the Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing. Located a mere ten minute’s walk from the Amber Fort, it’s housed inside an old mansion that was restored in the early 1990s using only indigenous materials and traditional techniques, earning it a UNESCO award for ‘Cultural Heritage Conservation’ in 2000. Weirdly enough, despite its fame inside India, Anokhi doesn’t retail or ship to the U.S., so you don’t want to pass up on this experience learning about how the Anokhi founders revived and spread the art and appreciation of blockprinting across the country… and the world. Learn about the history of blockprinting, the challenges artisans face today, including fast-fashion knock-offs and pollution, and peer at stunning examples of traditional and contemporary blockprinting, including designer blockprint “boho” gowns from the 1970s.
Inspired by what you just saw? Sign up for a blockprinting class at the family-owned studio of Awdhesh Kumar, which I profiled here. They do blockprinting for the sustainable/ethical brand MATTER. At $25 per person (at least four people requested) the class is a total steal, and Khushiram is incredibly sweet and invested in your walking away with an heirloom piece. Email [email protected] to set it up.
The Gyan Museum is another new and little-known private museum showcasing jewelry and art from the private collection of a late jewelry scion. It’s located in an industrial area somewhat far away from the other sites, but it’s well worth the 30-minute Uber ride. While I showed up as a walk-in and they were kind enough to give me a private tour despite that, it’s recommended you make an appointment before you go. Being able to ask questions to the curator about the 2,500 exquisite art and objects spanning 3,000 years, all lovingly displayed in an imposing contemporary edifice, made me feel like I had been mistaken for a VIP of some sort. At the end of your tour, you can look at the contemporary fine Indian jewelry made right downstairs in the factory. Just a warning: If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.
Look up the schedule at Jawahar Kala Kendra, a large modern art center, before you go. The recently renovated post-modernist building contains a library, rotating contemporary art exhibitions, a theater for live performances of Indian song and dance, a lovely cafe upstairs and a small gift shop with fun Indian craft. I visited twice, and the second time an Indian EcoCult reader recognized me. That’s not a huge coincidence, once you realize that this building is a hub for lovers of art and craft in Jaipur!
You’ll be told to stop by some of the famous bazaars, like Johari Bazar, a busy street running past the Palace of the Winds. I wouldn’t set aside time for this, however. These bazaars tend to contain lots of souvenir shops fill with mostly cheap stuff and aggressive shopkeepers who block your path and harangue you to come inside. It’s a lot.
Instead, check out Teatro Dhora, a creative curation of upscale and fresh Indian fashion, jewelry and clothing. I bought some of my favorite jewelry here, along with some gifts for my favorite women.
Then, you might want to get into some blockprint shopping! There’s no need to visit every single blockprint store — at some point, they tend to run into one another. There’s the Anokhi flagship, which has more to choose from than the Anokhi museum’s gift shop; and Soma, which has five floors of blockprint cotton fashion, accessories, and home goods. The style can tend toward a fictional Lily Pulitzer & Vera Bradley collab, but you’re sure to find something you (or a friend back home) will like.
Finally, for all the feels, stop by Ladli (74 Goving Puri Rakdi Sodala). This location is one project out of many that this nonprofit runs to benefit orphans and homeless children, and is supported through the sale of crafts that the children make in their art classes. Open 10 to 5 except on Sundays, you can walk in and they will welcome you with chai and a smile. Find fun tassel jewelry and indigo and blockprint caftans.