Monday, January 03, 2011

What to shop for in Assam?

Shopping is always a very sensitive subject as everyone has an unique taste and style of their own and the opportunities to test this while traveling are a plenty. However, in line with the subject of this post, I would like to mention the items that I did buy from Assam or was very impressed with while travelling through the various parts of Assam.

The Assam Silk Sarees are the most popular shopping commodity…hands down. The Muga (exclusive to Assam), Eri and the Paat sarees, which are the three famous varieties of Assam Silk are available in zillion designs and are spread across a wide cost range of Rs 2,500 to Rs. 30,000. Again, within them, they have further sub categories, which are colourful thread work or Zari (fine gold thread) work. The thread work tends to be cheaper, but look equally stunning. These sarees are also available in the form of half sarees that can be worn by young girls. Assamese women wear the muga saree (white colour with golden zari) on their wedding day. Silkalay on Fancy Bazaar in Guwahati is the most sought after place for these sarees (locals prefer this shop over the others).

Next in line is the fiercely strong Assam tea. The best way to buy Assam tea is directly from retail outlets situated close to the tea estates. That way, you get fresh produce at unbelievably cheap prices. The varieties that are worth trying are Green Tea, CTC and CTC Premium. Depending on your choice, the cost could vary between 130 to 250 rupees per kilogram. You can also buy tea from other government recognized outlets.

Bamboo is quite the craze in Assam. In fact, it is said that no one designs better Bamboo furniture than a Assamese carpenter. A variety of designs are available catering to various budgets. But, the flip side is that such items tend to be bulky and hence are difficult to carry on as excess baggage. However, if you are really keen on taking something back, then do look at Jhapi (the traditional Assamese Bamboo hat worn by farmers to protect them from the Sun). This handcrafted hat comes in beautiful decorations and designs.

Hand made toys are also quite special here. They are made from clay, cork, wood, bamboo and a mixture of cloth and mud. The decorative items made in bell metal and brass are also great gift items.

A Rhinoceros is synonymous with Assam and hence I think it is apt for you to take a Rhino memento back home. It can be wooden statue of a Rhino (comes in various sizes), Rhino hanging made out of Bamboo or a Rhino T Shirt.

Clothing, clothing accessories and Shoes are also quite the craze here. This is because a lot of original gear get stolen into India from Burma/China and Dimapur in Nagaland state is the hub for such stolen goods. From Dimapur, such goods enter the markets of Assam. If you are at Jorhat, then do try to drop by Mariani, which is known as Chota (small) Dimapur and is situated about 20 kilometres from Jorhat in Assam state. But, while shopping for stolen goods, do exercise caution as close to 50% of these goods are excellent copies.

Assam and Guwahati in particular is also the hub for goods that come from the other North Eastern states and hence offer great shopping options for the tourist, especially for those who are unable to travel to those states. The tribal crafts from Nagaland, the table mats, beer mugs, jugs, all made out of bamboo from Tripura and the carpets of Arunachal Pradesh are some of my personal favourites.

Shopping in Assam can be done at any of the Government Emporia and handicraft shops. But, if one is looking at a true Assam experience, then the local markets of that town are the best bet. If you are at Guwahati, the shopping district falls within Fancy Bazaar, Paltan Bazaar and Paan Bazaar, though Fancy Bazaar will offer you the most colour, life and variety.

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