Just popping down to Delhi to get some curtains, dear

More shopping: many items are so cheap in India that it is worth making a special trip, says Carol Wright
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The Independent Travel
IF YOU are looking to give your home an oriental flavour, but gaze despairingly at the prices of the must-have items on offer at The Conran Shop and Habitat, then a short break to Delhi may be the answer. A holiday that saves you money may sound too good to be true, but if you know where to go you can find furniture, fabrics, carpets and decorative pieces for a fraction of the prices back home. By shopping in India, you could save up to pounds 4,000 on furnishings for a two-bedroom flat.

The best times to go for out-of-season return flights of about pounds 400 are April, when it is hot but not absolutely unbearable, and September and October, when the heat is calming down again. Flights in the November- March cool season are about pounds 500.

Some of the best bargains are at the Hauz Khas Village in south Delhi, which has everything from antique gramophones to the wedding jewellery of a maharani. One of the best stores is Aavaram, (tel: 00 91 11 651 2260), where there are beautiful pieces from Gujurat, Rajasthan and the south. It specialises in traditional items which have been converted into furniture, such as camel-cart coffee tables. These are made by removing the top of the cart from its chassis and setting it on short legs to make a funky curved table. Prices start from pounds 80 compared to pounds 500 to pounds 900 in London.

More cleverness goes into converting the iron jalli (fret work) food cupboards into stereo stands. The jalli work hides the electronic equipment, but leaves plenty of gaps for wires. They cost pounds 130 compared to pounds 750 at India Jane in the King's Road.

The wonderful old chests from spice shops with rows of tiny drawers make perfect bathroom cupboards for around pounds 40. Antiques in mahogany, teak or rosewood can be snapped up for under pounds 500. For the bedroom, try the old chests in plain, pale woods, sometimes bound with iron at the corners and around the middle. These can be placed at the end of a bed as a blanket store or topped with cushions and used as a window seat. In The Conran Shop they cost pounds 250, but in Delhi they start at pounds 35.

Most unusual are the carved-bone, hand-painted window and small-door frames, from around pounds 120, which swoop up into a Mughal arch and open like a double door in the middle. These delicate doors and can be hung as decorative art or used on a cupboard set in the wall. A piece of this quality in London, even if you could find one, would sell for over pounds 1,000.

While at Hauz Khas Village you can also stock up on a lifetime supply of silver wedding and christening presents at Frammage, where a ten-by- eight-inch frame of Indian beaten silver will cost you pounds 9.

No shopping trip to India would be complete without fabrics. There are cotton needle cords in strong earth colours that make good sofa covers. In Delhi these sell for pounds 2 a metre, while the equivalent at Conran's is pounds 32 a metre. In the same price range are cotton ticking and thick cottons with pale stripes in earth colours, which are good for upholstery and curtains. If you hate net curtains, go for the billowing muslin, which is so cheap (60p a metre) you can afford to drape it lavishly around bedrooms and bathrooms. Old sari hems are a clever thing to buy for cushions or bedcover edges. There are some really delicate old pieces that have quite a price tag and run the risk of being taxed as antiques unless you can prove they are under 100 years old, but newer hems start at pounds 5.

The biggest selections are at The Central Cottage Emporium at the junction of Janpath and Tolstoy Marg and at Fabindia, N Block Market, Greater Kailash. In both cases you need to buy more than 50m before they will ship them for a worthwhile price. For smaller amounts, Pandit Brothers, 9-10 F Block, Connaught Place (recently renamed Rajiv Chowk) will ship any amount at about pounds 1 a kilo, depending on the volume.

However, do not let the abundance of bargains stop you from discriminating between real value and cheapness. This is particularly important when shopping for carpets. Nearly all the hotels are surrounded by taxis that work on commission with the carpet sellers, which adds as much as 50 per cent to the carpet prices.

There is no such thing as a 100 per cent silk carpet as it would be too delicate, in spite of what the touts claim. The best quality ones are 80 per cent silk and 20 per cent cotton. The quality comes from the number of knots per square inch, the more knots the richer the lustre of the carpet. A 6ft-by-9ft carpet with 324 knots per square inch is pounds 675 including air freight to the UK airport of your choice. The same size in the top quality of 576 knots per square inch is pounds 1,850 including air freight.

A simple burning test allows you to check the quality of what is on offer. Real silk smoulders and smells like hair, while fake silk melts and has a chemical odour. Ask for a razor test across the whole colour range of the carpet you fancy. Tricksters are so sharp they mix silk and wool in the high price range and just razor the colour made with silk when you ask for a test.

For a top-of-the-range silk carpet you cannot beat National Cottage Emporium at Hyatt Hotel, Bhikaji Cama Place, New Delhi 110 066, (tel: 00 91 11 618 1234 extension 1871). It is run by five Kashmiri brothers with the curious Chinese surname of Wangoo. They are honest and earnest and have won a host of export awards. Their shop wall boasts enthusiastic messages from US President Bill Clinton's family and lesser mortals delighted by the service they got.

Another safe bet is June 1st, D-962 New Friends Colony, where there is a range from bright dhurries to silk-on-silk Kashmiri carpets. They will even send a car to pick you up. Away from the luxury end of the market, The Carpet Seller 1, Anand Lok, Khel Gaon Marg, Near Siri Fort Auditorium, New Delhi 110 049 (tel: 00 91 11 462 4882) has one of the most extensive selections in Delhi including some merry tribal carpets that do well in children's bedrooms. Habitat's pounds 400 kilims in very soft muted vegetable dyed colours are here for pounds 90.

A word of warning on jewellery, which is not a bargain in Delhi. Gold is mostly imported and very over-priced because it is bought by the locals for dowries.

Shopping anywhere is tiring, but in Delhi you can afford to do it in style. Hire an Ambassador taxi for the day to avoid haggling with rickshaw wallahs and stay in a comfortable hotel. Your savings should pay for a few massages to restore your energy.

FACT FILE

To delhi and back with the goods

Getting there

British Airways offers direct flights in December for pounds 556 plus pounds 28 tax return. Lufthansa offers the cheapest fare at pounds 296 plus pounds 28, but this is subject to availability. In April, KLM offers a flight via Amsterdam for pounds 452 plus pounds 35 tax.

Where to stay

Delhi's small private hotels and serviced apartments can be booked through Hindoostan with Paddy (tel: 00 91 651 0703, fax: 00 91 685 6243, email: paddy@microvac.com)

Shipping

All the places mentioned will ship or air freight for you. It is vital to get a certificate of origin so that you only have to pay VAT on the goods.

Shipping takes about three months door to door and is comparatively cheaper the more you send. Air freight takes a week to 10 days and is charged at a fixed rate per kilo (a 6ft-by-9ft silk carpet would cost pounds 50 excluding VAT).

There is a standard double packaging fee of 5 per cent of the goods for delicate items packed in special containers. You can negotiate depending on how much you are sending.

Further Information

For general information call the Indian Tourist Board (tel: 0171-437 3677).

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