The artisans and craftsmen of Uttar Pradesh have kept alive a range of traditional arts and produce an exquisite variety of handicrafts, handwoven saris and delicate embroideries. Available across the state, you will be spoilt for choice.
Bidri and zarbuland
This art involves embedding silver into wares of daily use, a demand that grew around the utility of such items during ceremonies and rituals. Presently, you will find this silver work (look out for it in the Chowk area) embellishing even hookahs, trays, jewellery boxes and paandaans.
Marble inlay/Pietra dura
Agra is well known for its marble items inlaid with coloured stones, similar to the pietra dura work on the Taj. Sadar Bazaar, the old town, and the area around the Taj are full of emporiums. Taj Mahal models are made of alabaster rather than marble. Cheap ones are made of soapstone that is vulnerable to scratches.
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It would be an absolute sin to leave Lucknow without picking up a piece of the exquisite chikankari embroidered textile. Made in beautiful pastel shades, they are mainly available in Hazratganj and Aminabad. Traditionally, this embroidery was made in white on light muslin or cotton using 36 different types of stitches, but now it is combined with other types of embroidery and done on various kinds of fabric and garments. The true charm of retail therapy in the state lies in its old-style markets.
Banarasi silk saris
Varanasi is famous for its silk saris and brocades hand-woven in gold or silver thread and these have always enchanted young brides and sari fanatics. Complicated designs and different blends are woven in vibrant colours by weaving communities across the town, especially in Gowdowliya, Lalapura and Madanpura. Gold and silver brocade work and intricate designs on pure silk, organza, georgette and shatter in the finest quality are available here. Shopkeepers do the ‘ring test’ to affirm the quality of silk, where a sari is passed through a small ring.
Floral and herbal oil, though produced in Kannauj, is being refined to fashion perfumes and sundry other items in and around Lucknow. For a treat of the olfactory variety, a visit to any one of a number of traditional perfumers in Chowk is a must.
Petha & Dalmoth
A well-known sweet, petha is soft, translucent and looks like candy. It is made with ripe petha (ash gourd, also known as winter melon or white pumpkin), which is cooked in sugar syrup. There are quite a few variants of petha in different flavours like angoori, kesari, santra, using various fruit. Dalmoth is a popular savoury snack or namkeen from Agra made with unpeeled dried lentils, nuts, spices and oil. It is spicy and crunchy and goes well as a light snack with tea.