A book makes for a good companion. When you are on a long journey, passing the time between meetings, enjoying a morning beverage, or curled up inside the bed, they are forever by your side. Books play different roles too. Based on your needs, they become your friend, philosopher, or guide.
With the advent of technology, many of us have taken our reading online. Kindle and other book reading devices give bibliophiles access to writings across varied subjects. For the traditional bibliophile, though, the online format does not always hold the same charm. They prefer the familiarity of a page, the dog ears, the scribbling, the quirky bookmarks, or simply the fragrance of the paper.
Thankfully, there are enough readers of physical books to keep the business of bookstores alive. At least for the time being. Therefore, here is a list of ten noteworthy bookshops in India, perfect for sourcing your next book. As for bookworms who have taken their reading habits online, a bookstore is a nostalgic trip back in time, worth visiting every now and then.
College Street, Kolkata
Colloquially known as ‘Boi-para,’ College Street in Kolkota is the world’s largest second-hand book market. It wouldn’t be incorrect to call the street the second home of students, intellectuals, academicians, and every book lover in the city. What began as a street catering mainly to academic books is today a haven of bookselling.
Existing for about 200 years, this 1.5km stretch is home to tiny street stalls, traditional bookshops, and notable publishers. They stock books on a variety of subjects that range from fiction to non-fiction and everything in between.
Higginbothams Bookstore, Chennai
Another icon in India, Higginbothams, is the oldest book store in the country. Founded in 1844 by an ex-seaman turned librarian, Abel Joshua Higginbotham, it lies in a building on Mount Road boasting a charming colonial façade. Abel may not have been very popular with his colleagues on the ship, but his love for books was evident in the eclectic collection at his bookstore.
Appealing to both the casual browser and serious readers, the bookshop was quick to gain popularity. This motivated Abel to expand his offerings to stationery and publishing. With its landmark presence at many railway stations to prominent locations in several cities, Higginbothams is a legendary name in the business of books today.
Pagdandi Bookstore Café, Pune
This snug little bookshop café has carved out a space for itself in the league of independent bookstores. Beginning as a library and café, a community reading and event space, it has successfully moved to operate as a bookstore.
Among their most popular sections at Pagdandi is a collection dedicated to indie publications that tell unique stories. Pagdandi also hosts open-mic nights, music evenings, readings, and art workshops on certain days.
Rachna Books, Gangtok
Rachna Books is a bookstore and a café that combines seamlessly with a B&B. It is a quaint place that offers a cultural experience to visitors. Unsurprisingly it is frequented by artists, authors, musicians, and book lovers alike. In 2015 Rachna Books won the Publishing Next’s The Bookstore of the Year award. Unquestionably, it is a must-visit bookshop in India.
Opened in 1979, the store received a new lease of life recently. Over these years, it has become a landmark in Gangtok. But you won’t find the regular titles here. Rachna Books prides itself in curating a wide-ranging and carefully selected collection by the owner Raman Shresta.
Faqir Chand & Sons, Delhi
Packed with books from floor to ceiling, such that you cannot see the walls, Faqir Chand & Sons has become a landmark in Delhi. Tucked away in the by-lanes of Khan Market, this place is a treasure trove selling all types of books. You’ll find bestsellers jostling for space among collectibles on a wide range of subjects.
In 1931, Fakir Chand, the owner, first opened the Oriental Bookshop in Peshawar, Pakistan. During partition, he moved it to Khan Market and named it after himself. Patronized by booklovers and renowned authors alike, the store has been in its current location since independence. Browsing through the book collection at Faqir Chand is like walking through history, an unmatched experience like no other.
Blossom Book House, Bengaluru
From selling books on the pavement on MG Road, Mayi Gowda now has over 8000 sq. ft space selling second-hand (aka pre-loved) books. Blossom Book House on Church Street has a collection of around four lakh books, mostly second-hand. Opened in 2002, it is a bibliophile’s dream.
Stocking both popular and rare titles, its owner is an engaging personality. Shelves after shelves tightly packed with books that have traveled places are a result of his ingenuity. The most popular section with the current generation is graphic novels. As a result, it has its own dedicated space in the store.
Gulshan Books, Srinagar
In 2018 Gulshan Books entered the Limca Book of Records for being one of the most unique bookshops in India. It is, after all, the only library and bookshop on an island in the country. Located on Nehru Island on Dal Lake, getting to Gulshan Books is as exciting as browsing through its collection of over 80,000 books. The bookshop is also a publishing house that promotes local authors and subjects.
Apart from a bookstore and a café, Gulshan Books also has a reading room. It provides a dedicated space to read, contemplate or write. From booklovers to authors, Gulshan Books offers much sought-after solace to every type of bibliophile. While the free shikara ride will get you here, it is the setting that will keep you glued to the pages.
Wayword & Wise, Mumbai
Wayword & Wise sits on the cusp of the cultural and business worlds of the maximum city. Located in the Fort neighborhood of South Mumbai, its neighbors are museums, café’s, art galleries, and Indo-Gothic heritage buildings. Started half a decade ago, it is now a space for Mumbai’s booklovers to immerse in the joy of browsing and reading.
A carefully curated collection of rare and new books beautifully blends in its chic interiors. It boasts a list of famous and distinguished patrons, like Justice Chandrachud, Mahesh Bhatt, Jerry Pinto, and PJ Naik. But their excellent selection of established and emerging genres remains their USP and the reason why it is among the best bookshops in India.
Maria Brothers, Shimla
Maria Brothers is an antiquarian bookshop tucked in a quiet nook of Mall Road. Known to only a few, it is somewhat of a pilgrimage for die-hard literary heads. But don’t rush here to grab the latest bestsellers. What you might chance upon instead are rare titles which are mostly out of print. To truly appreciate the wealth of the books here, one cannot merely be a booklover. It is a space for collectors!
Now a passion project of Rajiv Sud, his father initially started this must-visit bookshop in India back in 1946. Although Maria Brothers has quite a few titles on philosophy and literature, the collection leans more towards the history and travel genres. They also stock books on the Himalayas and other regions with similar geographies.
Literati Bookshop & Café, Calangute
Are you looking for a literary experience in Goa that doesn’t include lounging with a good book by the beach? If yes, Literati Bookshop & Café is your answer. In the shade of a 100-year-old Portuguese villa, sipping coffee and browsing a specially curated collection of books is how your holiday could look here. One of the best bookshops in India, it serenely blends the concept of a bookstore and café, presenting a paradise for booklovers.
The tall wooden shelves of Literati are full of interesting titles, ranging from bestsellers and fiction to non-fiction and a few rare finds. Away from the bustle of Goa’s touristy hotspots, Literati is a paradise for readers who enjoy solitude and a quiet read in an idyllic location.
About the Author: Namrata is a writer for Ticker Eats the World. Getting lost in the labyrinths of historic cities is her ideal holiday. She has a penchant for unique and offbeat experiences. Namrata also embraces slow travel. She writes about her personal travel experiences on her blog happypheet.in. You can further follow her travels on Instagram.