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India Survival Guide

How to Avoid Counterfeit Souvenirs in India

Souvenirs are a great reminder of all the diverse and beautiful places you have been to in India. India also produces some incredible products that they’re known worldwide for.

You might want a warm and light cashmere shawl, saffron, a Taj Mahal replica made of marble, a banarasi silk saree, Indian spices, or maybe to just buy some non-counterfeit sunscreen for your skin while enjoying in Goa. I’ll show you how to do all this while in India.

Here’s how to buy spices at a spice bazaar in India (Khari Baoli, Delhi).

The problem is that it is difficult to find handicraft stores that sell authentic products at a fair price. Most of the time you’re paying real prices for fake goods.

The safest place to buy real items is from Government of India and State run emporiums. You will find them in the major tourist areas of India. A quick online search will give you the authorised state-run handicraft stores.

For example, you’ll find a real 100% cashmere shawl at the Govt. of Jammu & Kashmir’s “Kashmir Government Arts Emporium” located on Baba Kharak Singh Rd, Delhi, next to many other Government stores.

If you visit Delhi, you can visit Banjara Market and buy direct from the artists who live and work there! Know how to bargain first though.

If you’re just after Indian clothes, shop at FabIndia or Khadi. They also sell cashmere and authentic handicrafts too – albeit at a markup.

How to Buy Real Cashmere

Cashmere comes from the neck region of a Cashmere goat. It is rare and expensive because it is only harvested once a year when the goats shed. There’s no such thing as cheap cashmere.

Here’s exactly how to buy real cashmere and get a refund if you’re sold fake stuff.

Prices for a pashmina begin at ₹5000. Fake cashmere (synthetic viscose) is sold for around ₹3000 and worth only ₹300. Here is how you can identify real cashmere:

  • 100% cashmere has a matte finish; it’s not at all shiny.
  • The weave isn’t perfect because it’s hand spun. The weave is also a diamond shape which you’ll be able to see.
  • Cashmere looks precisely like what it’s made of, fine hairs woven together; Not long perfect strands of silky machine produced fabric.
  • Cashmere feels very light, soft, and warm. Try to compare it to a similar item made of cheap synthetic viscose in the store. The difference will be noticeable.

Sometimes the store owners will burn a piece of cashmere for you. It should smell like burnt hair and not plastic if it’s real.

One fake test is when they run the fabric through a ring – it doesn’t prove anything.

There are different qualities of Cashmere too. 100% pure and then different blends with lesser amounts. You really must shop at a trust worthy store to be assured of the quality you’re buying.

My wife Manisha shows you how to buy authentic Varanasi silk saris in this video.

How to Buy Real Saffron

Saffron is an exotic spice that’s worth nearly as much as gold. It’s the most expensive agricultural product in the world. It’s produced, like cashmere wool, in Kashmir.

It’s used mainly as a seasoning and colouring agent in food. You can try it if you order a Kesari (Saffron) Lassi while in India. It’s delicious and a very royal flavour.

You will find Indian marigold stems and petals often sold as saffron. Fake saffron is sold for low prices like ₹100. for a gram or more. Real saffron costs ₹400 – ₹500 per gram.

Avoid these scammers selling fake saffron and learn how to identify it.

Here’s how to identify real saffron:

  • Saffron has a very distinct and strong smell. It smells very sweet like a mixture of vanilla, honey, tobacco, & earth. Fake saffron has almost no aroma.
  • The stems are red with a little yellow at the base sometimes.
  • Genuine saffron will not lose its colour when diluted in water. The water will turn honey yellow, but the saffron thread will keep its colour. Fake saffron will colour the water very quickly, real will take an hour or so to really colour the water.
  • You can also squeeze a strand of saffron in your fingers. If some fat remains on your fingers, it’s pure.
  • Don’t buy ground saffron, it’s nearly always diluted with other spices.

How to Buy Real Marble

This video will help you identify the rip-off tourist stores.

Most of the little souvenir shops sell alabaster marble as real marble. Alabaster is much softer, weaker, lighter, and cheaper than real marble.

Carving with alabaster is much faster than marble, especially for complex pieces like a model of the Taj Mahal.

Marble sellers in India have an elaborate show they put on for travellers by turning off all the lights and showing that light does not shine through real marble.

Which is true. But, the piece they are going to give you may not be the piece they used in the demo. They’re probably giving you alabaster.

A small alabaster box with some gemstones is worth between ₹50 – ₹200 but is sold to unsuspecting travellers for ₹1500.

Prices for real marble and gem work varies. Only buy it from Government emporiums or a marble manufacture’s store – not just a resale store. Or, if you’re happy with alabaster, bargain hard and tell them you know it’s alabaster.

Finding Authorised Tour Guides in India

Helpful advice about touts and avoiding friendship from the Rajasthan Police outside Jantar Mantar in Jaipur.

Many fake tour guides are prowling around tourist attractions with their fake identification cards. Especially at the Taj Mahal or Amber Fort.

It’s difficult to know who is fake, so the best thing you can do is make sure you bargain the price upfront or you may be in for a shock after the tour.

Usually, they’ll show you a printed “official” rate on their ID card. This price is usually 2 or 3 times what the authorised guides charge.

More advice from the helpful Rajasthan Police outside Amber Fort in Jaipur.

How to Identify Real Sunscreen

Goa is famous for the sale of fake sunscreen. Old bottles are picked up off the beaches, refilled with body lotion, and resold.

A telltale sign is when the sunscreen is imported but somehow half the price of what you’d pay at home. Real sunscreen is always pricey.

To avoid fake sunscreen, buy it from chemist stores and not general stores and stick to imported brands that you know. Or better yet, bring it from home.

How to Buy Authentic Books

Counterfeit and real books are available in India, here’s how to tell the difference.

Nearly all the books sold by street vendors are counterfeits. They’re usually missing pages or contain blank pages where the book hasn’t been photocopied correctly. What’s more, they’re generally selling them for the same price as the legitimate copies in India.

Before buying a book check its print job and flick through all the pages to make sure none are missing.

Meet the lovely Women of Ema Market (Mother’s Market) in Imphal, Manipur.

What do you want to buy in India? Let me know in the comments.

India Survival Guide Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Travel Essentials: Before You Travel to India
  3. Arriving in India: Getting to Your Hotel & Airport Amenities
  4. Tourist Scams to Avoid in India
  5. Avoiding Fake Money & Ripped Notes in India
  6. Avoiding Bad Accommodation
  7. How to Bargain, Get Refunds, and How Much Rickshaws Cost
  8. Avoiding Counterfeit Souvenirs in India
  9. How to Be Street Smart in India
  10. Buses and Trains in India Explained
  11. Food and Drink Safety for Travellers
  12. What to Do If You Get Sick in India
  13. How to Deal with Air Pollution in India

By Karl Rock

Karl Rock is a Hindi speaking expat who left his career and life behind in New Zealand to take viewers behind the scenes of incredible India.

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