Kerala might not be quite the shopper's delight that Goa is , but there are still plenty of tempting bargains with which to fill your suitcase on your return journey.
What to Buy
Chief thing to buy in Kerala are the beautiful-and easily transportable-fabrics. Whether it is hippie clothes, a sari, a silk, a throw or a bag, a dazzling array of bright colours and style are on offer, and such items have a big fashion back in the west.
Many of the items on sale can be found elsewhere in India, so if you want to stay strictly Keralite about it, the best choice is the kasavu, an off-white sari with a gold border.
The state's omnipresent coconut trees serve as a source for lot of the local merchandise. Coir, made from coconut fibre, is fashioned into mats, bags, wall hangings and even coasters. The hub of the industry, Alappzuha, is a good place to start.
Other quirky handicrafts include masks, woodcarvings, weavings and musical instruments. Elephants tend to pop up quite a lot, as ornaments and on bags and fabrics, as do multi-armed Hindu deities, who make bright and cheerful paintings.
Intricate jewllery and gold are on sale, often by weight, but don't expect the bargain-basement prices you might find worth other products.
Edibles are another good gift choice. Cashews are big in Kerala, while banana chips are also popular snack. The staples of spices and tea are essential Indian buys and also convenient for transporting home.
Where to Buy
The state's main shopping hubs are its big cities. In Trivandrum the retail action centres on MG Road and to lesser extent Powerhouse Road and Chalai Bazaar.
In Kochi, MG Road is again the place to shop, and there is also a concentration of tourist-oriented outlets in Jew Town, although the hassle factor can be high. The same is true of the seafront at Kovalam, where persistent traders stalk the restaurants.
Wherever you end up, a sensible place to head for to avoid hustled is the government emporium. Failing that, the less touristy areas generally offer the greatest chances of paying a fair price and avoiding the hard sell.
Near Head Post Office
C.S.I. Baker Complex
Tourist Amenity Centre
Ramu Kariat Complex
Vellariyil Gardens Shopping Complex
Municipal Shopping Complex
How to Buy
In most places, though, you will have to haggle. Some visitors don't mind paying a bit over the odds because of the big income disparity between the buyer and seller-but bear in mind that the first price you are quoted may be several times what the vendor would be prepared to accept.
Another fascinating shopping experience-though one where you might not want to buy anything-is the local market, where oddities ranging from weird spices to served animal parts are on show. Probably not the image the government is aiming to promote through its Grand Kerala Shopping Festival, a 45-day retail-fest at the end of the year.
Shopping in Today's Kerala
With Kerala enjoying a period of unparalleled economic prosperity, shopping has a major profile across the state. Gigantic hoardings tower over intersections, advertising the latest line in elaborately designed silk saris, sexily sequined tops, heavy gold jewellery and other expensive accessories for Malayali weddings.
In the cities, brightly lit air-conditioned malls host international chain stores and brands.
The old bazaars are packed with more traditional treasures, from the elegant bell metal lamps you see at the entrance to most Kerala homes to the resplendently gilded, cotton-fringed nettipattom used to decorate festival elephants.
As with most things in Kerala, prices are low by Western standards and affording this shopping bonanza will probably be less of a problem than getting all the stuff you buy home at the end of your trip.
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