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June 3, 2011 10:07 pm

The turquoise, cyan and magenta riches of India

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If you get an offer to join a business conference in a city said to be the Manchester of the east, don’t think twice. Go.

Didn’t think I’d say that, did you? Yet I recently spent four days in Ahmedabad, India, absorbing lessons from regional business leaders and doing my part to support the local economy (ie: work all day, shop all night), and after such first-hand experience, I attest: the stereotype is misguided.

The Marriott Courtyard on Satellite Road was the ideal base for my evening excursions since it is well placed for most of the retail outlets in town. Although tempted by the gigantic Iscon mall round the corner from the hotel, I preferred to focus on smaller establishments representing regional designers.

It took me 10 minutes to zigzag across the busy street to my first stop: Bandhej. I decided to start there since it closes relatively early (8.30pm). Once inside, I felt like I had stepped into a different reality. Frosted glass walls separate the store into sections in which sparkling silks hang in rainbows of graduated colours.

This made it very easy for me to bypass the turquoise, cyan and magenta kurtis (classic Indian tunics starting at Rs2,000, £27) and get right down to business with – yes, you’re right – classic black items. In this case, a black silk kurti with a tiny navy and aqua paisley pattern for Rs2,800 and a cotton waffle knit tunic and legging-like churidar (Rs4,500) speckled with tiny silver dots. (When I got it home I discovered they were made of silver metal foil woven into the fabric and were scratchy).

The ladies at Bandhej recommended I move on to the nearby Gulmohar Park mall. Given my success with the kurti, I decided I should take their advice, though getting there through three intersections proved challenging and made me so jumpy I could hardly focus on stores.

Thankfully, an enormous fuchsia sign guided me to Ethnicity. This labyrinthine emporium, which covered almost the entire third floor of the mall, was definitely worth the journey. For about Rs700 each I bought two black knee-length dresses by Rang Manch (one long-sleeved with a colourful beaded V-neck, the other three quarter-sleeved with gold and silver paillettes along the hemline); a black cotton jersey tunic with a (non-scratchy) copper foil bib (Rs800 by Global Desi); a basket full of gifts, including delicately embroidered children’s clothing (starting at Rs400); and cosy bed linens with dreamy designs (Rs500 and up). At 11pm, I was the last customer out.

The next evening I decided to go across town to Bodakdev, off Judges Bungalow Road, to the Commerce House. Unfortunately I arrived about half an hour before closing, which meant my shopping required Zen-like focus.

Khazana is a modern department store with everything from leather goods to furniture but my attention was squarely on women’s clothing. Past the immense sari selection was a display for Rangoli, which featured an assortment of billowy black viscose items such as a tied-one-shoulder black mini tube dress with silver embroidery along the neckline and ruched waist (Rs2,500) and an asymmetrical black blouse with a navy and red design tied neatly into a silky bow (Rs2,000). I was in and out in 10 minutes.

So, with 20 minutes to spare, I cruised next door to the chain store FabIndia, which features handmade products from all over the country, and made a beeline for the women’s department. I found dupattas (long scarves) for about Rs600 each and also took home two black cotton thigh-length kurtis (Rs400 each), a long grey silk faille kurti with army green floral embroidery (Rs1,000) and a handful of experimental kurti-esque items (ranging from Rs400 to Rs1,000) with wraps, drapes, and in colours I might otherwise not be caught wearing.

Due to a late start the next day, my last shopping night was likewise hurried, so much so that my taxi arrived at Anokhi just as the ladies were closing up shop. They graciously allowed me a 10-minute reprieve, which resulted in three sets of impossibly soft hand-block-printed cotton voile pyjamas (Rs450) and a handful of boxer shorts (Rs400) that work pretty well as pyjamas too.

The fact that aside from the sleepwear and gifts, everything I bought on this trip can be worn with black leggings or straight leg pants was just extra-dreamy.

The Mystery Shopper is a globe-trotting executive who shops as she travels for work

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