If you head into a bustling bazaar in Jaipur and glance upwards, you might think you’re peering through the world’s biggest kaleidoscope. What you’re actually looking at is a sea of umbrellas, fabricated in the most incredible array of colours.
Traditionally made to protect locals from the punishing sun, these umbrellas are now one of the most popular purchases among travellers wishing to take a bit of street life home with them. “In 2014, I went on holiday to Jaipur, knowing before I went that I wanted to buy one of these umbrellas,” says Scott Dunn India expert Jessica Campbell. “I’d seen pictures of them and thought they were beautiful. I found mine on a street stall opposite the Palace of the Winds, in the heart of the city. As usual, there was the compulsory haggling, which is all part of the fun. The starting price was around 2,000 rupees [about £24], and I ended up paying 400 [£5]. Mine is mainly made up of triangles of pink and purple with tiny mirrors stitched in. And it has an embroidered handle. There were so many colours to choose from. It took me ages to decide.”
While you might spot the umbrellas in other regions of India, they’re chiefly specific to Rajasthan, the country’s driest state. You’ll see them on just about every street stall, but their ubiquity doesn’t detract from their uniqueness. The umbrellas are an impressive recycling initiative, made from remnants of fabric from factories or fashion emporiums, so no two are ever the same. They’re crafted by local artisans, often stitched together on market stalls. Chances are you’ll see one being made as you zig-zag your way through the mayhem. They’re smaller than the average European umbrella – almost child-size – but huge versions cover the stalls.
Naturally, you can buy designer versions online, but nothing beats the real thing. “Mine now hangs permanently open from a shelf in my bedroom,” says Jessica. “Always an exotic start to the day.”