Photo: Nathan G/Mint
Photo: Nathan G/Mint

12 stops, 50 markets

A cross-country bazaar trail, from Imphal and Mumbai to Srinagar and Chennaithe best buys, the quirkiest shops, and the most delicious food

Old markets are often built around landmarks—think Chandni Chowk near Red Fort in Delhi—or come up around centres of religious significance, like the Arulmigu Kapaleeswarar Temple in Mylapore, Chennai. They narrate stories—Mumbai’s Chor Bazaar brings up visions of all the gorgeous furniture that was sold and bought there in the flux of Partition. They gain reputations—for offering great street food, or the best pavement shopping experience, or for being the coolest night bazaar. The best ones sit simultaneously on the must-visit lists of tourists and service the local householder.

By default, markets are also forward-looking. They are the earliest adopters of new trends: People go to an Irla Market in Mumbai or a Karol Bagh in New Delhi to discover new things and seek out the best bargains.

We scoured the streets of Srinagar, Ahmedabad, Lucknow, Imphal, Kohima, Darjeeling, Kolkata, Chennai, Bengaluru, Mumbai and New Delhi, as well as Goa, for the most complete shopping experience—the markets with the greatest vibe, the best buys, the yummiest food and the quirkiest stores.

1. Wednesday Flea Market, Goa

2. Arpora Saturday Night Market, Goa

More a tourist destination than a market for locals, this is a hub for food, drink, dance and music. Built around a central stage, the night market comes alive on Saturdays during the season from December-May. It’s a great place to grab a drink, sample an assortment of food, catch live music performances—all in the bustling atmosphere of a flea market that throbs with life way into the early hours of Sunday.

3. Panjim Market, Goa

One of the best organized and maintained markets in Goa, it presents a cheerful interior; its walls are painted with iconic Mario Miranda-style caricatures. With distinct sections for meat and fish, household items, fruits, vegetables and spices, it is a great place to shop for things when you know exactly what you want. Frequented by locals, it is also a site for tourists to buy cashew nuts, port wine (outside the main market area) and other souvenirs.

4. Chowk Market, Lucknow

Shop: This is primarily a wholesale market. Small shops sell Chikankari on fabrics like muslin, silk, chiffon and organza, as well as handbags, curtains and bedsheets. The Lucknow Chikan Emporium at Akbari Gate and Pragati Chikan Kendra are old favourites.

Eat/drink: Tunday Kababi, of course. The century-old shop makes its galauti kebabs with 160 spices. A meal of these kebabs with sheermal—saffron-flavoured, slightly sweet, traditional flat bread—costs 135. Other not-to-be-missed places are Idriss ki Biryani aka Idrish Hotel, for biryani, and Mubeen’s, for nihari kulcha.

Curiosity shop: Chowk Market is famous for its thandai, with or without a hint of the “green leaves of happiness" (bhang). Pandit Raja Thandai can put you over the moon for 35-50. You can still find old-style kites (made with two tukkals or paper kites; 4-60), and intricate silverwork paan-daans and hand-fans here.

Originals: “Addas" in Chowk are the original hub of “Lucknavi Chikankari". The fabric is laid out on a cot and a group of workers sits around it doing the hand-embroidery. Products which are sold at haute couture stores globally can be bought at these “addas" for less than one-fourth the price.

5. Law Garden market, Ahmedabad

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