How to Fix Your Shoes in India

By Mark Wiens 26 Comments
My right side
My right side

India is not easy on shoes.

Due to my daily routine in India of walking around, jumping from sidewalk to sidewalk while avoiding rowdy vehicles and frequently stepping in piles of trash, my shoes took a serious beating.

Fix-it-men cobblers are everywhere in India, patiently waiting for work.

In Nairobi they’re called jua kali’s.

They’re the guys (or gals) that can fix anything and everything somehow (quality is often questionable – but the job will get done).

In India jua kali cobblers will fix your, whatever you need fixed.

A few more days, and my sole would have fallen off
A few more days, and my sole would have fallen off

The sole of my Solomon XT Wings was ripping from shoe; My right shoe was about to start flopping.

So while I was in Dimapur, Nagaland, I stopped at the nearest cobbler.

Walking up to him he had already noticed my problem.

“Can you fix this I asked?”

I received a response that you’ll inevitably get accustomed to when you visit India (or Sri Lanka): the smile-less side-to-side head bobble which usually means “yes-alright, no problem, sure.”

Waiting as he fixed my shoes
Waiting as he fixed my shoes

First, you’ll sit down on whatever it is the cobbler provides as a seat – could be a stool, a stump, a ledge, or a wooden crate as I was provided.

Communal waiting sandals
Communal waiting flip flops

He’ll then remove your shoes and place your feet into a communal pair of flip flops for the wait.

Cobbler in India
Cobbler in India

Depending on whatever footwear task you need accomplished, you’ll just hang out as he does his thing – and believe me, whatever problem you have with your shoes, he’ll be able to surely make them better or last a little longer.

How to fix your shoes in India
Gripping my shoe and sewing around it with string

In my case, since my sole was beginning to fall off, he grabbed a string and a sharp device and started sewing the string through the sole of my shoes and into the body of my shoes.

He sewed the string around the entire circumference of my sole and shoe, and did the same for my left shoe (which needed repairing soon too).

After the sewing was complete, the cobbler proceeded to polish my shoes until they looked nearly brand new.

Fixed and polished
Fixed and polished

He then kindly grabbed my ankles and slipped my feet back into my shoes.

About 15 minutes later, my soles were quite securely attached to my shoes and they nearly looked as clean as the time I first wore them, about 3 years ago.

For just 120 Rupees ($2.20) he sewed and polished both sides.

Long live the shoes (we’ll see how long they last)!

26 comments. I'd love to hear from you!

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  • Aparna

    7 years ago

    Hey I have had many friends from outside tell me how the ‘mochi’ (which is what we call the cobblers in India) are like a godsent when shoes break when you are nowhere close to a shoe shop. Some of us take the entire carton of old shoes that need repairing all at once and go to get them repaired.
    But just a word of advice. Rs 120 for all the work you got done was a rip-off. It should have ideally cost you about Rs 30 or Rs 50 (considering the fact that international tourists are always charged higher by street hawkers, auto drivers etc.). So the next time you are in India you have some idea of how much we Indians pay when we need some shoe-repairing done.
    You should travel down south and have some authentic sea-food. Also South Indian food tastes much better in the south. Believe me, I am a South Indian living in Delhi!!!

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      Hey Aparna, thank you very much for letting me know, good to know. I would love to visit the south, hopefully in the future will have an opportunity, can’t wait to try the food!

  • Ankush Nagpal

    8 years ago

    LOL!!! nice thread…..incredible India with even more incredible natives…..wink!

  • jim zubemo

    8 years ago

    You seems to have an awesome experience there πŸ™‚

  • Joel Bruner

    8 years ago

    dude what a post haha πŸ™‚ and yes man, those shoes have seen about 15 countries by now? Did you bring them with you to Egypt/TZ? man… lookin good lookin good!

    • Mark Wiens

      8 years ago

      Thanks Joel! Yah, those shoes have been all over the place… and they have finally just about had it.

  • Victoria- Pommie Travels

    8 years ago

    This was a great read! Love the ingenuity of the people across Asia. Interesting that he uses his foot, definitely looks like he does a lot of work with that big toe!

    • Mark Wiens

      8 years ago

      Hey Victoria, thanks a lot. Yes, that big toe looks like it’s as useful as his thumb!

  • Ankita Saxena

    8 years ago

    haha.. am an Indian myself.. liked this article very much.. we love helping πŸ™‚

    thanks for this awesome post πŸ™‚

    • Mark Wiens

      8 years ago

      Thanks a lot for reading Ankita, glad you enjoyed it!

  • Chloe

    8 years ago

    the smile-less side-to-side head bobble which usually means β€œyes-alright, no problem, sure.”

    haha i love this! one of those things no one would know what you’re talking about unless they see it for themselves πŸ˜€

    • Mark Wiens

      8 years ago

      Yes, that’s a expression you get used to in India!

  • Clark

    8 years ago

    Why did you paid $2.20 for 15 minutes of menial street labor in India? That’s the equivalent of $8.80 an hour in the US. With more than half of the US state’s minimum wage below $8.00 and hour, you are aware that you paid way too much. Notice I didn’t say you were overcharged. You were the one that decided to pay such an exorbitant fee. The average monthly income for skilled labor in India is approximately $60 a month. So essentially you just paid this person a day’s wage for 15 minutes worth of work. This is why Indians think Americans are walking ATM machines!!! That repair should have cost you less than 50 cents, and I think you are aware of this fact because you seem to be a well-traveled person. Most of us Americans that travel overseas are tired of being shaken down every time we open our wallets to pay for something. For the love of God, please, please, please stop encouraging Indians to charge astronomical prices for goods and services to foreigners.

    • Mark Wiens

      8 years ago

      Hey Clark,
      I did actually question him, thinking it was very high – because I paid for another pair of shoes to be fixed by the glue method and it cost just 20 Rupees. So in the end I thought that perhaps the materials he used were more costly. Yes, I overpaid, but that happens sometimes, and we can dwell on it, or we can continue. I know it’s not a matter of money, but of ethics, and ethics has to come from the person.

    • Rahul Bose

      8 years ago

      Exactly! Reminds me of an incident when I was charged nearly $400 for changing a muffler on a 10 year old car in the US. The cost breakup on the receipt was roughly $300 for the part plus labour and tax. Later on I found out that the muffler would have cost maximum $120 retail at the auto parts store (on ebay from $70) and takes hardly 30 minutes of work to install :)) I am sure the mechanics working at the shop weren’t being paid $100/hr!

    • Soutik

      8 years ago

      Rahul,

      You just put it in a better way buddy. I had the same experience and was just about to share that πŸ™‚

      Clark, the labor you are suggesting is excluding the raw material costings. I feel the amount was on the higher side, probably INR 60-75 would have been the price had this been any Indian.

      Also, the average you said might not hold true for this cobbler guy. He might sit at the posh location of the city, might pay a portion of his income to some middlemen who allow them to sit there.

      I accept that there is a tendency among Indians to rip off the Westerners (Not only Americans). That is shameful and there has been efforts from GOI to reduce this. I can feel your frustration. However as Rahul mentioned earlier, there is no fixed trend for the wages of ‘unskilled’ labor.

    • Mark Wiens

      8 years ago

      Thanks for sharing your experience Soutik!

  • Maria

    8 years ago

    Wow! That was a serious split. I didn’t think he’d be able to fix it. Doubt you could find that kind of skill elsewhere… or if you did, it’d cost you far more.

    • Mark Wiens

      8 years ago

      Hey Maria, yah, and my shoes actually lasted all the way through a 5 day trek!

  • Mark

    8 years ago

    Great post as usual!

    I have a pair of Salomon XA Pro 3D Ultra – much like the ones that you wear. They are fantastic footwear. But they have a unique lace system. If these break then you will a have a major problem.

    Do you have a workaround for this issue?

    • Mark Wiens

      8 years ago

      Hey Mark, they are great shoes! Yah, I’ve had the laces break a few times, and so far I’ve ended up just tying the laces back together and leaving them at a certain tightness so I just slip them on and off. They should make the laces from cable wire or something to make them last longer.

  • Bonnie

    8 years ago

    Fun post. My Dad got his shoes fixed by a cobbler on the street in Indonesia. The cobbler asked him: “Who fixes the shoes in New Zealand?” My Dad told him we usually just buy new ones. The cobbler said “then what happens to the old shoes?” My dad had to say that they usually get thrown out. The cobbler was not impressed!

    • Mark Wiens

      8 years ago

      Hey Bonnie, yup that’s the common thing to do in many first world countries – but elsewhere they make things last and last!

  • Mike

    8 years ago

    Something that was likely a common site in many parts of the world that has now all but vanished – especially in places like Europe and North America. I also find it interesting how he grips the shoe with his foot! I’m sure he’s been doing this for quite some time. Are these your favorite pair of travel shoes, Mark?

    • Mark Wiens

      8 years ago

      Hey Mike, yah, that toe looks well used! Yah, I do really like these shoes. I might get a new pair in the coming months.