Buying carpets in New Delhi
It is hard to visit India and not leave with a fabulous carpet - a Persian silk or earth-coloured Afghan kilim (right) - but it is fraught with risk. Tourists are easily duped over the quality, age and provenance of carpets and fleeced on the price. Here are six carpet sellers with a reputation for quality, fair prices - and irresistible collections.
The Carpet Cellar (pictured)
One of the best oriental carpet collections lies inside a cellar the size of an aircraft hangar. The carpets, from Iran, Central Asia, Afghanistan, Mongolia, Tibet and Kashmir, were lovingly chosen by Dhruv Chandra's family. Antique and new, the rugs, tent decorations, salt bags and saddlebags are a feast for the eyes. But the cream of the crop is the collection of Mughal Jail carpets. The great Mughal emperor Akbar first took weavers from Persia in the 16th century to teach inmates to make rugs. The jail carpets are coveted items but Chandra also has more affordable reproductions. Prices range from US$200 to $100,000. 1, Anand Lok, Khel Gaon Marg, tel: (9111) 2626 1777.
Visitors to Mohammed Ashraf's shop must first negotiate a congested, noisy neighbourhood, but once inside, his warmth and enthusiasm engulf you. Customers are treated to amber-coloured tea infused with saffron and cardamom from Ashraf's home state of Kashmir, while choosing between kilims from Afghanistan and fine silk rugs from Persia with more than 1,000 knots a square inch. His collection suits a wide range of tastes and budgets.
328-1 Summan Bazaar, Bogle, Jangpura Extension, tel: (9111) 2431 5676.
Shiva Oriental Rugs
Naveen Chopra entered the business by buying the California carpet store where he once worked as a sales assistant. Now based in India, his shop is located in a traditional village that has been overtaken by fashionable boutiques and art galleries. Chopra specialises in earth-toned kilims made by tribesmen in Afghanistan and Iran, where the technique has been passed down from generation to generation. Naveen supplies retail giants such as Ikea and French department store Galeries Lafayette. 86-A, Shahpur Jat, near Asian Games Village, tel: (9111) 2649 5824.
With its cool, plush interiors and peaceful atmosphere, Saga offers a respite from chaotic and noisy New Delhi. There is no haggling, and carpets come with a Central Silk Board guarantee. Owner Feroze Ahmed rolls out carpets with hunting scenes and animal motifs, as well as geometrical, lattice and the traditional Tree of Life designs, all the while relating stories from the carpet world. 'A carpet with 900 knots an inch is considered very fine quality,' he says. 'But I came across an artisan in Kashmir who had woven a carpet with 2,000 knots just for the hell of it, just to show his talent. I'm surprised he didn't go blind.' Private Collections has carpets that range from 91cm x 15cm to 549cm x 366cm; prices range from US$100 to US$50,000. C2-49 Safjardung Development Area, tel: (9111) 26964 0994.
Owner Sunita Aggarwal's family has been in the carpet trade for 60 years, and is among India's biggest carpet exporters. Her speciality is vegetable-dyed, New Zealand-wool carpets, which are given an 'antique wash' with henna and herbs during the finishing process. Aggarwal also has a range of new silk rugs with traditional Persian designs from the 15th or 16th centuries. F213/D Lado Sarai, M.B. Road, tel: (9111) 2686 4151.
Carpet Galleria June First
Harash Talwar faced an angry mob of taxi drivers and tour guides outside his home recently after placing a bold advert stating he would not pay commission to those who brought customers to his huge store. His shop has piles of silk and woollen carpets and kilims from Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, but pride of place goes to a spectacular 70-year-old carpet from Afghanistan whose owner was going to cut it into pieces before Talwar rescued it and spent a year repairing it. Prices range from US$100 to several thousand. D962 New Friends Colony,
tel: (9111) 2691 9661.