Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Charminar & the art of bargaining

During our time in Hyderabad, we did a fun day trip to Charminar with the girls. We visited there because one of the cousin-sisters wanted to get bangles for her engagement. Since we had a big car and a driver, we made it into a full girls' trip and I also got the youngest cousin-sister to bunk school for the day and come with us. 

I visited Charminar when I first landed in Hyderabad (8 years ago) but have not been there since, despite numerous trips back to the city. Husband-ji always claims it is unsafe. This time he felt more comfortable to go because we were traveling in a pack and he was chaperoning all the girls for shopping, as the responsible male. I was so excited to return back there after such a long time.

Charminar is arguably the most famous monument in Hyderabad. It used to be the center of the city during the Nizam's rule, when it was built over 500 years ago. Charminar is like the Hyderabadi equivalent of the Eiffel Tower. It is a beautiful example of classic Islamic architecture in India. It is surrounded by a huge marketplace where there are bangles and jewelry sets galore (all costume jewelry). Many brides flock here to shop before their weddings.

We all packed into one car and drove there - it took nearly 2 hours to reach there in normal Hyderabad traffic. By the time we arrived, Maya was completely knocked out so husband-ji decided to stay in the car with her as she slept. I was secretly glad to have some time away from him since he is like my constant hovering helicopter bodyguard and wondered how I'd fair bargaining, especially without his male presence - which in typical Indian fashion - has more weight. 

Once we got out in the marketplace, everyone was staring because I wasn't the typical Firangi. I was traveling with my sisters, wearing full Indian clothes, and without a camera. I wish I had brought my camera though because the eccentricities of the marketplace was a photographer's dream. However, if I did bring my camera, I wouldn't have been able to bargain as well (the camera being a display of wealth).

We picked a shop and I immediately found a few necklaces that I loved. The shopkeeper's first price he gave me was 16,000 Rs ($260 USD). It was an absolute joke, considering that I could have bought REAL gold for that price. We all burst out laughing.

Being in the fashion business, I knew that retail merchandise is usually priced up by 2.5 - so whatever is sold in a store, it usually takes less than half of that to make it. I also have a fine eye for quality and proper price. I eyed the necklace closely and decided that it was probably worth about 1000 Rs - tops. 

The shopkeeper was sneering and I was a little bit miffed that he was expecting me to take the bait of such an unfair price. The problem with being a foreigner in India, is that no matter what you're wearing, you can never shed your skin. And other foreigners make it worse because they will just whip out their credit cards and accept the first price because they feel bad for the shopkeepers living in a third world country. Annoying. They will literally allow themselves to be walked all over, left and right, all for the sake of charity!

Bargaining in India is much like playing a game of poker. They give a price, and you give a price, and it's a big stand off. It's very much a mental game. You have to convince the other person that you absolutely cannot budge on the price and sometimes you need to walk off. It's pretty dramatic. It takes major Bollywood acting skills. So, I decided to play the game. Instead of getting pissed off and taking it personally, I decided to mind-f*ck back. I thought, two can play this game!!! 

I waved my hands in the air and said that's absolutely preposterous and said that I would pay 4,000 Rs because I was in a good mood. The catch - he'd have to throw in 4 more things as well. I not only wanted the necklace, but a pair of matching earrings, two bangles, and something for my sisters. He said it was not at all possible and that I'd never find this necklace anywhere else (which was a lie, since all these shops have the exact same merchandise). When he turned around, I clicked a quick picture of the necklace and then I said, "I have seen this exact same necklace in another shop for 3,000 Rs" and showed him the picture. Then I pretended to discuss with my sisters that we should go to the other shop because it had a better price. The shopkeeper was losing. I once again demanded the whole set for 5,000 Rs and said that I was doing him a favor for being so generous with that price. He remained silent. Then I said, "Well aren't you going to offer us some chai, then? FOUR CUPS please..." While I was sipping my hot chai, I said to the shopkeeper, "You know, you really shouldn't be giving me the foreigner price, especially since I've lived in Malkajgiri for 9 years now..." He caved. He praised me for my bargaining and told my MIL that she taught me well. I said, "you're just lucky my husband isn't here..." The shopkeeper laughed. He looked oddly impressed and proud of me. He gave it to us for 4,500 Rs - still a huge profit for him.

This process may sound harsh by Western standards, but it's all a silent game of power and respect. Working in a shop myself, I know that shopkeepers immediately size up their client when they walk through the door, and that under the right circumstances, a discount can always be given. ESPECIALLY on things that don't have a price tag.

After that, we went to a few other bangle shops and oddly enough, the shopkeepers gave us a proper price. Some shopkeepers will try to rip you off; others won't - but at the end of the day, the goal is to make money. They are not going to close their store for the day having made zero dollars. They want to do business - and that's what business is all about.

By the time we got back to husband-ji, Maya was up and we decided to go to a restaurant for lunch. I showed him the jewelry set and told him we paid 4,500 Rs for it and he said, "AIYO RAMA! How much they overcharge!!! I would have got it down to 500 Rs!!!!" Husband-ji looked at me pitifully, like a small broken bird who he thought could never function without him - but I smiled, knowing that I did a pretty good job bargaining all by myself!



  1. I wouldn't worry about the camera being a sign of wealth :-) in the case of foreigners this is the last thing they take into account to size you up. Sadly just being a foreigner = wealth in India, and this is irritating because it sets the bargain prices even higher by default.

    1. Ugh, yes! And that day my hubby brought this super long lens....

  2. Yes, I can imagine. These shopkeepers are anyway notorious to quote very high prices but if you are a foreigner, God help. It is shameful. Did you also visit the newly opened CCD. I liked it a lot with its clean loo and ac when I visited Charminar last with hubby.

    1. No I didn't! Have to do it on my next visit...I am obsessed with Cafe Coffee Day :)

  3. Awesome post.
    Really like your blog

  4. Ah well, come on, Alexandra, one never tells the real price of jewels to her hubby, even costume jewellery lol ;) (Padparadscha)

  5. Alex,

    Love the jewelry! What a negotiator you are, this is great. Like the pictures of the car ride with you and Maya, Husband-ji, Sandhya, and your cousins. What a great day that was on the trip, get to buy some beautiful jewelry, spend time with the, "girls" and have some lunch.


    1. It was sooo much fun! Next time we should go with even more girls! We all had Poori & Chole and dosas after :)

  6. Oh god I had so much fun bargaining at jewelry shops in that bazaar. One cheerful shopkeeper was so good natured about bargaining with me that I ended up buying two sets, 4 nose rings and two finger rings when I only wanted one set. Too bad the fabric guys weren't as happy to bargain. Bargaining in India is so much fun when you find someone who will bargain with a foreign gal.

    1. It really is! And if it doesn't work out, you can just go to the next stall!


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