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To market, to market

The bazaar is often the best place in any city to get some true local flavour. This year, head out to some of the less-frequented markets in Mumbai for a day of unique experiences. Riddhi Doshi reports.

mumbai Updated: May 30, 2013 02:04 IST
Riddhi Doshi

The bazaar is often the best place in any city to get some true local flavour. This year, head out to some of the less-frequented markets in Mumbai for a day of unique experiences.

Marble Shrines Market
The marble shrines market of 15 shops near the Milan subway is like an open-air arts centre. Dating back to the mid-1980s, the market emerged as an offshoot of the marble slabs market established by Muslims from Makrana, Rajasthan, famed for its marble.

The marble traders began opening shops in the growing suburbs, where there was a massive demand for marble slabs to be used as flooring in the large number of upcoming residential buildings.

As competition grew and business shares shrank, some of the traders began to diversify and found that there was growing demand from the new residents for another marble item — shrines for their new homes.

Most of the shrines sold in these special markets are made of Makrana marble, the same kind used to build the Taj Mahal.

With the shrines usually designed by shop owners and Muslim craftsmen, each little structure marries elements of Islamic and indigenous Indian architecture, with swastikas and Om symbols embedded in inlay work and delicate petal-and-leaf patterns adorning the arches.

“Most people in Mumbai do not distinguish between castes. It does not matter to them that the creator of their shrines does not follow the same religion they do,” says Imtiyaz Sisodia, a marble trader from Makrana and owner of the Mahek Marble Kraft workshop. “In fact, many have been so happy with our hard work and craftsmanship that they have given us bonuses in thanks.”

Nakhuda Mohalla
Not far from Mohammed Ali Road is a shopping centre dating back to the early 20th century, called Nakhuda Mohalla, Arabic for ‘Market dedicated to the One who helps you navigate the sea’.

This market offers a unique display of the camaraderie between Indians and Pakistanis.

The 2-sq-km women’s garments section is perhaps the only place in the city where you can buy clothes made from Pakistani cotton, a finely processed material known for its soft texture.

These clothes make their way to the market on the Samjhauta Express or Peace Train, a twice-weekly service started by the governments of India and Pakistan as a diplomatic move.

“Women swear by the fall and texture of our cloth,” says Hanif Patni, 45, a Pakistani national and fourth-generation shopkeeper at Nakhuda Mohalla.

You can buy great saris and material here for as little as R450, says Aasiya Mansouri, a Thane resident and frequent buyer at the market. “All my relatives from Hyderabad and Bangalore also shop here whenever they come to Mumbai.”

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Also up for grabs here are shoes, costume jewellery, jewellery boxes and embroidered and embellished burkhas.

Until about a decade ago, the market was also known for selling replicas of dresses worn by Bollywood stars in the latest blockbusters. “Now, regular people can no longer wear the clothes worn by heroines,” says Mansouri.

A few costume replicas are still available. Currently, there is on display an outfit nearly identical to the one worn by Katrina Kaif in Ek Tha Tiger, with a photo of the actor in the same outfit on the package, just so you don’t miss the parallel.

Handy tip: Always, always bargain.

Apmc Market
As soon as you enter this wholesale market, you will be engulfed in fragrances of fruits, vegetables and grain. Across vast expanses, labourers in bright red head-dress lift crates of fresh produce from hundreds of parked trucks.

At first glance, it seems like total chaos. But then you spot the order, the weaving patterns and coordinated movements.

Until August, this market — one of the largest of its kind in Asia — will be busier than usual, with business and traffic tripling as the king of fruits, the mango, boosts trade.

Between 5,000 and 7,000 crates are brought here from across the country every day during this season — and you could take home one of these crates at a rate that is 30% to 50% lower than your local retailer’s. The only rider: You must buy a minimum of four dozen.

Also look out for early batches of seasonal fruits such as litchi, grapes and chikoos. Order 4 kg or more and you could go home with sizeable savings.

Dos and Don’ts: Do carry drinking water. Consider taking a camera. Always, always bargain if you plan to buy.

Don’t be offended or discouraged if the workers are a bit brusque. They’re used to having people around, but they’re also really busy and tired and some haven’t slept in days. Don’t try to drive in. Private vehicles are not allowed inside the market.

Sasoon Dock
This fish market has the best view of Mumbai’s coastline, but if you want some peace and quiet, you had better get there before dawn. As the first rays of the sun emerge, the market comes alive as 300 tonnes of fish are steered towards the coast in a total of about 150 trawlers.

“Many people, including chefs and caterers, come here regularly to get the freshest catch,” says Kri-shna Varun, 45, a fisherman since childhood.

Weathered fisherwomen draped in Koli saris and covered in chunky gold jewellery, and muscular fishermen in conical bamboo hats, make for pretty pictures as they sell their gleaming — sometimes still-twitching — wares. Whatever you buy, and whatever the quantity, the prices here will be 30% to 40% less than in the rest of the city.

Amid the chaos of the fisherfolks’ calls, the cawing of the crows and the cats slinking about, looking for their next snack, the market makes for a timeless image of Mumbai.

By 1 pm, the last of the fish have been loaded onto trucks and carted off to different parts of the city, and the hardy men and women take a break for lunch. Some head home with their nets and empty baskets, some prepare for the next day, when the cycle will begin all over again.