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Their goal: Get a great rug and not get walked all over

April 16, 2006|Deborah L. Jacobs | Special to The Times

Although bargaining is part of the Indian culture, Chaudhary had the home-court advantage. We had spent two hours making our selections, and he knew we weren't prepared to walk away from the purchase. He wouldn't budge on price.

Still, he agreed to terms that were more important to us: payment by credit card, no charge until the rugs arrived in the Atlanta wholesale store his daughter runs, free shipping and the right to return the rugs from New York to Atlanta for any reason (at our expense) and get a full refund.

When we later shopped for rugs in Delhi, we compared the prices at Jaipur Carpets with those at Obeetee, a store recommended by the Oberoi Hotel, where we were staying. The price for similar custom-made runners was three times more than we paid.

Another lead from Mathur's book was Gulam Mohidin & Son, in a residential neighborhood of Delhi. There, Mohomad Amin, a third-generation rug dealer who runs the enterprise with his daughter Sarvat, rolled out some choice items from his collection of beautiful but threadbare old carpets. They were not for sale -- Amin uses them as prototypes for the carpets he has manufactured in Kashmir.

Each old rug had a story: One was acquired from a widow who left it in the attic of her Mumbai (Bombay) house, where it suffered water damage during a monsoon. Another was saved from fire at the company's Srinagar headquarters when Amin's father heaved it out a window into the Jhelum River. For our bedroom at home, we paid $1,200 for a 4-by-6-foot, finely woven (342 knots per square inch) garden design in shades of green and blue with a center field of four birds perched among branches of a tree. We also bought a similarly sized Kashan, a floral medallion design named for a city in what was once Persia, in rich shades of gold and red that matched our living room (360 knots per square inch, $1,100). Here, too, the dealer refused to negotiate prices.

Still hoping to buy at least one old rug, we went to Galleria June 1st, whose ad we spotted in the monthly Delhi Complete City Guide and Magazine. Harash Talwar, a partner in the business, enlightened us about the widespread practice of washing new rugs with acid, scrubbing them with sandstone and dyeing their fringes with tea to make them look old. After Talwar was quite open about his sideline business, performing this service for tourist shops, we looked extra closely at the two "old" carpets -- he would not estimate their age -- we ended up buying from him.

When we returned home, we asked Sam Noori, a carpet consultant and dealer with Zara Rugs Gallery in East Hanover, N.J., to evaluate our haul. Without telling him what we had paid for the rugs, we asked him to appraise their quality, attach a U.S. retail value to each and not to spare our feelings.

Noori praised the weaving in the rugs from Galleria June 1st but questioned their age. A 5-by-8-foot, geometric tribal design purchased for our son's room for $700 was "a good copy of an old rug," Noori said. The weave was too tight for it to be more than 5 years old, and without any signs of repair, it looked "too perfect."

When he estimated the price at $1,000, we breathed a quiet sigh of relief.

But Noori hesitated over another purchase from Galleria June 1st -- a 4-by-6-foot Kashan with a teardrop center medallion. It seemed to have been re-bound in spots where the edges of an old rug might have frayed.

On the other hand, what we took to be abrash (shading in old or tribal carpets that results from the way different wools absorb the dye) might have been the result of acid wash applied vigorously to the red center field, Noori said. Although he wouldn't state any conclusions about whether the rug was really old, he priced it at $500 -- exactly what we had paid.

Noori admired the tight weave, softness, caliber of the wool and durability of the rugs from Gulam Mohidin & Son, but it seems we paid dearly -- about double what Noori estimated the reproductions were worth -- for the privilege of seeing Amin's collection and listening to his stories.

How did we make out? Buying carpets in India was no bargain, but we brought home some beautiful souvenirs, didn't make a huge investment and thoroughly enjoyed the hunt.

Ultimately, the best gauge of a fair price in the rug bazaar is what a particular carpet is worth to you.



Shopping tips

Some advice on buying a good Oriental rug:

Stay away from merchants recommended by hotels, taxi drivers and tour guides. Their commission, which will be added to the price, can be as high as 50%.

Look for merchants whom local people patronize. Get recommendations from well-heeled Indians you meet in your travels, and shop in residential parts of major cities, where the rents and the prices are lower. (Check ads in magazines and tourist guides against a map of the city you are visiting.)

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