Emerging from the airport, onto the busy streets of Delhi or Mumbai, the first-time visitor to India is immediately swept up in a sea of colours of every hue. Elegant and traditional reds, golds and blacks abound in Rajasthan’s Thar desert communities, with an infusion of more modern neon pinks, greens, oranges and turquoises. Heather Gramp, former Intrepid leader, is mesmerised by the fashions and styles of Indian women and her tip for female travellers is to have fun with it and follow their local lead…
“I often marvel that a crowd of Indian women look like they are ready for the red carpet on Oscars night, with sequins, beads and gold thread accenting the colourful cloth. Even in the most mundane midday market, women sparkle. The most popular clothing styles are the shalwar kameez, a pant suit originating in the Punjab and Kashmir and consisting of a long and loose kameez shirt (or collarless kurta shirt) over salwar drawstring trousers (either loose or the slim ankle churidar style), with a dupatta shawl draped across the neck and hanging down the back.
It is rare to see the same suit twice, and one of your lasting images from India may be large groups of young women on tour, every one of them in a bold salwaar suit, dupattas blowing in the breeze.
Married women almost everywhere still favour the timeless and elegant saree, typically 6 yards (9 in Maharashtra!) of embroidered silk, tie-dyed cotton, or printed rayon cloth, all with the option of the addition of mirrors, beads, or whatever decoration one can imagine. An Indian woman can tell where you are from, your wealth and other details by the quality of your saree, and how you drape it. India is the land of contrasts and sarees are no different; you can spend from 400 to 40,000 rupees on a saree. Being one size fits all, almost anyone can wear one. Saree dress-up nights are popular with Intrepid travellers, and there is always someone on hand to help with the all the pleating, tucking and pinning.
Fortunately, many of the Intrepid trips venture to the most colourful part of India: Rajasthan. At a glance, it looks like the women are in sarees, but the typical outfit is actually a waist-length blouse (as opposed to the short saree choli blouse), a long gathered lehanga skirt and odhni veil-like head scarf that somehow manages to stay on.
For Rajasthani men, the turban still reigns as a popular, practical and status-conscious piece of clothing. While elsewhere in India men contrast sharply with women by wearing western style trousers and neat tailored shirts in subdued grays, blacks and beiges, in Rajasthan it is not unusual to see a shepherd coming towards you wearing a neon pink or scarlet red turban piled high on the head, with a traditional white kurta top and dhoti wrapped and tucked between the legs, serving as a cool version of pants.
As even the most bohemian and down-to-earth Intrepid traveller to India, you may find the color and panache of Indian clothes hard to resist – when leading for Intrepid, I was frequently amused to find myself in sequins. Luckily there are plenty of shopping places to indulge in trying some new styles during your travels. After living with the romance of these fashion styles, it’s hard to return to the western sweats and T-shirt!”
Have you ever travelled to India and brought home any fashion items as your souvenirs?
* photo by Ruth Wilson – Intrepid Photography Competition