A Shopaholic’s Guide To Varanasi
If you are planning to visit Varanasi, make sure you have enough money in your wallet! Yes, that is the first thing that has to be said about this place and people often wonder why, considering the city still has such a vintage air about it, and as some would say, it is downright old school. Varanasi or Benaras, however you may choose to say it, is truly not an expensive city at all. From budget accommodations to roadside vendors selling food items which are as delicious and as filling, almost everything comes at quite a modest price and the marketplaces sell items at wholesale rates as well. And there lies the trick- everything here is so beautiful and so inexpensive, that you automatically end up splurging a lot more than what you had planned for. A little of this and a little of that, and before you know it, your bags are full. Shopping in Varanasi is an experience in itself and once you have somewhat figured your way in and out of the overwhelming mazes of lane and by-lanes, this ancient city will gradually start revealing its treasures to you. Finding the shop that you are looking for is almost like an adventure as you find your way around the city, and also have a look at the amazing old havelis and mansions that line the streets.
One of the things to keep in mind here is that you should always carry enough cash in your pocket when you are out shopping in Varanasi. While most of the shopkeepers have upgraded to online payment systems or use online wallets- especially after the demonetization of 2016- there are still many shopkeepers who prefer cash transactions only. So be sure to use your debit card in an ATM and have some reserve of cash when you are out shopping here. There are a number of places to visit in Varanasi for shopping and if you are someone who especially loves ethnic clothes and décor items, then you will be in for quite a treat. Apart from shopping for garments, accessories and jewelry, you can, and you must, indulge in some food shopping as well and there can be nothing better than munching on delicacies as you hop from one shop to another.
1. Benarasi Saree
So, to start with, you should definitely buy the famous Benarasi saree once you are here. The Varanasi saree market is world famous. If you are a man, you must definitely get one for your spouse or for the other female members in your family and you will be their favorite person henceforth for a long time to come! If you are a woman, you will surely understand the regal place of honor a Benarasi saree has in a woman’s wardrobe. In fact, even if you do not wear sarees on a regular basis, there are surely going to be some occasions in life that will deserve special clothing and nothing can beat a Benarasi saree. One of the things about the sarees today is that they are very lightweight and the modern weavers are aware of the fact that most women do not want to wear the heavy sarees that were in vogue even a couple of decades back. That does not mean that the quality or the craftsmanship has been compromised in any way. It is just that the use of heavy brocades and zari are kept low and the sarees have more threadwork. If you are getting married, then it is the best place to buy your wedding Benarasi saree. On the other hand, even if you do not want to buy a fully ornamented Benarasi saree, you will find a number of other options when it comes to silk sarees. Some of the Benarasi sarees are work of art and a weaver might take months to complete the weaving and the embroidery of the saree.
Go to: Mehrotra Silk Factory is one of the best places to get silk saree and it is also a government approved store.
2. Bedsheets and Pashmina
It is very difficult to come across pure pashminas these days and most of the items that you get in the markets of other cities turn out to be fake. However, the stores in Varanasi have some of the best pashminas that you have ever come across. They are soft and feel like butter on the skin. You should definitely get some stoles, scarves and shawls in pashmina and they come in very pretty colors. On the other hand, you should also indulge in some bed sheets and you will come across the most beautifully embroidered ones that you have seen. They mostly have ethnic motifs and come in a wide variety of designs.
Go to: One of the best places to buy bed sheets, quilts and pashmina is the Bed Silk and Pashmina which is highly recommended.
3. Souvenirs and Handicrafts
If you are looking for gift items to take back for your friends back home, then you will find no dearth of options in Varanasi. The streets here sell a lot of knickknacks and home décor items that are great for gifting. Colorful vases, bowls, figurines, picture frames and showpieces are the top picks here. Most of the items are made from wood and clay and if you want to go for stone carved items, they are slightly more expensive. The souvenirs of the city mostly depict the famous temples and the ghats. One of the most remarkable things to not is that the handicrafts are a part of a legacy of the city and those who make them are attached to the profession for generations. If you want to go for cheap shopping in Varanasi, there are a number of roadside stalls as well.
Go to: You can go to Varanasi Remembrances for fixed prices and there are other well known stores like the Balaji Handicraft and Ruchika Art Gallery.
If you love ethnic jewelry, then you will love the shops lining the streets of Varanasi that sell handmade jewelry. You can find wooden jewelry and sets made from various metals like copper, bronze, German silver and oxidized silver. The glass bangles are especially famous and you will find rows and rows of them in multiple colors and design. The jewelry shops are packed to the full during occasions like Navaratri and Diwali. If you are lucky, you might also lay your hands on a beautiful set of meenakari jewelry. Unfortunately, such splendid craftsmanship is slowly being lost but some old shops still sell them. They are a little expensive, depending on the amount of craftsmanship involved, but are worth every penny.
Go to: You can head to N.M Emporium and Zindagi Jewelry Shop to get your hands on some interesting pieces of jewelry.
5. Musical Instruments
Not many people are aware of it, but some of the best stores for musical instruments and equipments are to be found in Varanasi, especially Indian instruments. The city has always been a lover of music and the temple music thrives here, with bhajans being sung in almost every temple at dawn and evening. The local population is deeply entrenched in music and there is a musical instrument to be found in every home, most commonly the flute, the table, the dhol, the khanjani and the sitar among others. New musical instruments are made and old ones repaired here and the shop owners themselves have a deep understanding of rhythm. If you are a music lover yourself and know how to play an instrument, then this is the best place to pick up your new musical partner.
Go to: You can head to Taal Music School for the instruments and there are a number of other local shops in the old part of the city.
6. Old Books
Yes, you get quite a good collection of books in Varanasi, especially on books related to religion, philosophy, divinity and meditation. The old book shops in Varanasi have shelves where some of the most profound books on such subjects are available. In case you are looking for a rare title, they book shop owners often enquire to the publishers about it even if they do not have it immediately with them. You will find books in a number of languages including Sanskrit and even Maithili. Those who love books will know what joy it is to wander around such vintage titles and take in the smell of old books.
Go to: One of the stores is the Harmony Book Shop which is located right by the Assi Ghat.
7. Food Items
The reason why food is included in this list is because no shopping in Varanasi is complete without some tasty food and food shopping in Varanasi is indeed a one of a kind experience. If you are new to the city and feel too overwhelmed with all the various stalls and recommendations, then head straight to Vishwanath Gali or Kachori Gali. This street is lined with food stalls and no matter which one you visit, you will end up tasting amazing local food. The Kachori Sabzi here is a must try and the potato curry is fingerlicking good indeed. Then there is thandai for the hot afternoons and kesar jalebi and gulab jamun for dessert. There are a number of chaats to be found here and they are each one better than the other. Extremely affordably priced, you will have a full meal around Rs 50 only.
There are a number of market places in Varanasi and some of the most popular ones are Godowlia and Thatheri Bazaar. If you thought Varanasi was all about temples, then one look at the markets of this city will change your perception. Get hold of some shopping bags and you will have a field day for sure.
Hey! I'm Gauri. Sagittarius by birth, clumsy by choice. An engineer turned writer. Loves animals tolerate humans. Has a thing for pizza and old books. Expertize in awkward conversations and creepy smiles.
Follow On: Instagram