Looking for an authentic Indian experience? Want to buy some traditional items at affordable prices? A wander through the labyrinth traditional markets is the way to go. Traditional markets have been a vital part of Indian culture, trade and social life since Mughal and British era. Here’s the rundown of the best ones in this South Asian country.
Ima Keithel, Imphal
Situated in the heart of Imphal, the Ima Keithel, popularly known as the ‘Mother’s Market’ is Asia’s and perhaps the world’s only market managed and run entirely by women. Every day, as many as 5,000 women traders sit in a row and sell a variety of goods, ranging from groceries, local produce and authentic food items to clothes, handicrafts, bamboo products, utensils and everything in between. Only married women are allowed to run the stalls in this Market of Matriachs, and this tradition is passed on from one generation to another. The origins of the market date back to the 16th-century, and it has been going strong since then. Even if you do not want to buy anything, just experiencing the beautiful sights and sounds of this market can be equally remarkable.
Jaipur’s historic marketplace, the Johari Bazaar is a must-visit in any Jaipur travel guide. This market is famed for its vast collection of jewellery of all types – precious and semi-precious jewels, gemstones and traditional jewellery, like Thewa, Kundan, Polki and Meenakari. Alongside exquisite jewellery, there is an array of textile shops that sell ethnic Rajasthani wears. Located near Hawa Mahal, the area surrounding this bazaar is one of the most stunning and historic in the Jaipur. There are a few food stalls and restaurants near the bazaar that make for useful pit-stops when you need to restore your energy before getting back to shopping. And don’t go without tasting the famous LMB’s (Laxmi Misthan Bhandar) delicious lassi (yogurt-based drink) at the market.
Literally translating to the ‘Market of Thieves’, the Chor Bazaar is one of the largest and popular flea markets in the country. The market got its name due to mispronunciation of ‘Shor Bazaar’ (this was the original name of the market) as ‘Chor Bazaar’ by British colonists. This market is crammed with stalls that sell second-hand goods, handicrafts, antique and vintage items. Spend a day here rifling through some quality wares to grab some real bargains. Old handicrafts, bronze statues of god and goddesses, vintage gramophones, bronze bells, Bollywood posters, colonial-era lamps, antique Smiths clocks, vintage cameras, power tools, authentic Victorian furniture, and trinkets of all types, are just a few of the treasures to be discovered here.
Pro tip: Never agree to the first two price points the seller offers; bargaining is part and parcel of this market!
Monday to Sunday (except Friday): 11:00 am- 7:30 pm
Perched on the picturesque Dal Lake, the Floating Vegetable Market in Srinagar is one-of-its-kind and certainly one of the most tourist-centric markets in India. From 5am to 7am, every day, the vegetable vendors on their traditional Kashmiri boats, known as Shikara, gather on the lake to sell fresh produce, fruits, vegetables, wood carvings, high-quality saffron and other local items that appeal to tourists. Hordes of tourists come here to enjoy the scenic setting, experience the hustle and bustle of the market and click some Instagram-worthy shots. To reach the market, you need to ride on the shikara, which is indeed a blissful experience and brimming with photography opportunities.
Known as the ‘Perfume Capital of India’, Kannauj is an ancient city set on the banks of River Ganges. The Kannauj market is located in the Kannauj district, and is said to be one of the oldest markets that deals in everything scented, from essential oils to traditional Indian attars (perfumes). This spot has wonderfully-fragrant options for all. There are over 650 scents on offer, prepared using ancient techniques, i.e. fragrance of wet earth is distilled into small glass vials.
Right below the Dadar station flower, the Dadar Flower Market is one of the city’s oldest and biggest flower markets. Fondly called the ‘Phool Gully’, it is a wholesale market with row after row of stalls and wooden planks set up to sell flowers, both common and rare species. You’ll find lotuses, roses, marigolds, gerbera, chrysanthemums, lilies and many more. Locals come here to purchase fresh flowers and tourists wander through the stalls, taking photographs of the brightly coloured displays. Every day from 3:30am to 5pm, the flower market takes place under the Dadar station flyover. It can get really crowded and also, most of the fresh stock gets sold out by 10 am, so it is best to get there early.
One of the popular traditional markets in Hyderabad is the Laad Bazaar, located near the historic Charminar, so while they’re actually separate spots in and of themselves, you have to visit both. This market has been in operation since the Qutb Shahi and the Nizams period, and is known for its variety of bangles on offer, especially hyderabadi stone-studded and glass bangles. You’ll also find pearl jewellery, semi-precious stones, silverware, saris, hand-woven materials, naturally scented perfumes, and wedding-related stuff. The bazaar is set in a narrow alley, where no rickshaws or cars are allowed, and also it gets crowded, so don’t expect to have a relaxing walk with a lot of space, but it is a must-visit market when you’re in the City of Pearls. Pro tip: Bargaining is the name of the game here, so drop price up to 30-50% of what has been asked! Monday to Sunday: 11:00 am- 10:00 pm
Mahidharpura Diamond Market is one of the oldest and most famous diamond markets in the city, where both locals and travelers come to haggle over precious stones. Known as the ‘Antwerp of the East’, this market is a concentration of a plethora of shops selling, polishing and examining the diamonds. And, as you enter the market, the first sight you’ll encounter is of a group of people standing on the road with diamonds in their hands as if they are holding common stones. The sellers are all experts in the diamonds, so negotiations can sometimes be a bit tricky. Timings vary from shop to shop, usually opens at 10:00 am.
Crawford Market, also referred to as Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Mandai dates back to the 19th-century and is known for its wholesale supply of fresh fruits and vegetables. It is the destination of choice for many of the city dwellers who get there early to have their pick of the fresh produce. Also, there is a huge pet market within the premises, where parrots, fish, dogs, songbirds and cats are on offer. So if you’re a pet lover, you’re in for a treat at this market! There are perfumes and make-up shops, as well as stalls selling dry goods, household items, and snack food items, such as biscuits and chocolates of both Indian and international brands. After shopping inside, there are lots of street vendors outside the market who will surely have something to entice you – from children’s and women’s clothing to soft toys, props for parties, figurines of dolls and more. Monday to Saturday: 10:00 am-8:00 pm
Just north of Crawford Market lies the historic Zaveri Bazaar that sells all things bling. It is one of the oldest gold markets in the country with more than 7,000 shops, some dating back 200 years. Some well-known jewellery giants are housed here, including UTZ, Dwarkadas Chandumal, Tribhovandas Bhimji Zaveri and Dhirajlal Bhimji Zaveri. Jewels and gems of all kinds are on offer. The uniqueness of this bazaar is that it has maintained its old-world charm with most of the stores having antique furniture and a rustic vibe.
Monday to Saturday (Sunday closed): 10:00 am-7:30 pm
Jew Town in Mattancherry is one of Kochi’s most fascinating spots, with its colonial-era buildings, Portuguese-style houses, narrow streets and neatly lined-up shops that sell everything from spices to antiques, handicrafts, perfumes, jewelry and clothes. The area dates back to the 16th-century, and exudes an eclectic, cultural and historic feel. Everything on offer in the market is sold by the last surviving Jewish families. Take your time wandering through to grab the best antiquity and some bits and bobs. The sellers are knowledgeable, who will happily regale the history behind your antique buys. Do not leave without buying the exotic spices for which the market is famous, though. Monday to Sunday: 5:00 am-9:00 pm
Located on the Lindsay Street, the New Market is a sprawling market that has been in existence since the British Raj. It was founded in 1874 and since then it has retained its charm. Over 2,000 stalls and stores line the streets, selling everything from clothing and accessories to electronics, food items, spices, exotic flowers, utensils, brassware, leather bags, poultry, and much more. It’s actually a treasure chest of items; rifle through to get some real gems. Do not settle for a price for anything, haggling is vital while shopping in New Market. If you need a pit-stop, you’ll find confectioners and food stores to replenish your energy. Monday to Friday: 10:00 am to 8:00 pm; Saturday: 10:00 am to 7:00 pm; Sundays closed
The Chandni Chowk is one of the busiest and oldest markets in India that dates back to the 17th-century. The cacophony of bargaining awaits you inside, along with the endless shops and stalls of food, jewellery, electronics, spices, art and antiques, souvenirs and knick-knacks– there is no end of browsing in this traditional Indian market. Whether you’re looking for a bargain or not, come here to soak up its fun and lively atmosphere and sounds of cheerful banter from amiable traders.
A not-to-be-missed spot here is the Khari Baoli, which is the largest wholesale spice market in Asia. Built in 1650, this market beams with vibrant colours and aromas of local spices, herbs and dry fruits.
With the vast array of books of all genres – fiction, non-fiction, second-hand books, academic books, graphic novels and old classics, the Book Bazaar at Daryaganj in Old Delhi is a book lover’s paradise. It is one of the oldest book markets in the city that started around the 1960s and since then has been a go-to spot of the bibliophiles. There are over 200 vendors set along the pavement, touting books, stationary and trinkets. You need to rummage through a huge pile of books to find yourself some real gems. The bazaar picks up pace after 10 am, and it does get busy with locals and tourists who stumble across the bazaar while exploring the Old Delhi riches. Sunday: 6:00 am-9:00 pm
Goa is famous for its beaches, nightlife and flea markets. This Party Capital of India is home to numerous flea markets that date back to the 1980s. You’ll find both locals and foreigners selling clothes, accessories, handicrafts, souvenirs, spices, books and pottery at dirt cheap prices. Anjuna Flea Market held on Wednesday, Mapusa Friday Bazaar and Saturday Night Bazaar in Arpora are some of the oldest and most popular markets worth visiting.