The markets of Old Mumbai offers you some amazing sights and even better photos. Walk on the streets that have seen Mumbai evolve into this incredibly stunning metropolis that it is now. Talk to people who have seen this metamorphosis and of course, check out the place before the ugly beast of development razes these beautiful lanes and buildings and replaced them with glass, steel, and concrete.
Let me ask you a question…‘So what is Mumbai to you?’
It might take a while before you answer that. I suspect that most answers will point towards how awesome the city is, the friendly people, the great food, a great place to work, great pub culture, Bollywood and so on. And then of course, some dug up roads, caved foot paths, crowded trains, crowded buses, crowded highways!
To a great extent, this is the Mumbai that has ‘happened’ over the past few decades. This city has a glorious past and unfortunately, not many of us have the time (and sometimes the energy!) to explore it. Don’t believe me? Ok… how many of you have seen Chor Bazaar? Or for that matter explored the ‘gallis’ and ‘nukkads’ of the old markets around VT? Of course many of us have gone to most of these places to shop or find something cheap but it is rare that we are ‘tourists’ in the city that we live in!
That is exactly what I decided to do. Be a tourist in Mumbai. So armed with my Yashica Electro 35 GSN and Lomography LCA, a few friends and I decided to ‘explore’ Chor Bazaar. Without any agenda and not wanting to find anything. Just exploring for the joy of it.
So Chor Bazaar, or the Thieves Market, is now a pale shadow of what it was famed to be in its glorious hey days. Mumbai, being a port city, would bring in awesome goodies from around the world and a few of those crates would go ‘missing in transit’ and mysteriously find their way to Chor Bazaar in the early hours of the morning. And people like you and me, back then, would come from all over the city to strike a good bargain for some nice Italian Shoes, German Cameras, and Chinese crockery.
Alas! The good old days are over and now you will find some shoes and ‘chappals’ stolen from outside of temples making their way to Chor Bazaar. But hey! Don’t get all disheartened! There is still mighty lot to see, buy and of course, click, at Chor Bazaar.
Situated on Mutton Street, between S V Patel and Maulana Shaukat Ali Road, Chor Bazaar is now a few shops across a couple of lanes. While you won’t find stolen imports, this is still a place to get a taste of what Mumbai was a few decades ago. You will find a number of shops selling antiques like old grandfather clocks, pianos, vinyl, watches, pens… well the list can really go on! The best thing is, you will get some good deals on old cameras if you know how to test them and gauge their condition. One of the shops there has trumpets, which the shopkeeper claims are British era remnants.
My favorite shop at Chor Bazaar is this one bursting at the seams with Old Bollywood Posters. The place is just plain awesome. You can go there and meet Sabir (I think!) and leaf through posters of Bollywood classics. You will get mounted slides, glass plates and the like which were used for projections in theatres. If you are lucky, he may have a part of some film reel, which, of course will demand a huge premium!
Remember, it is a market that should sound off a ‘Buyer Beware!’ alarm in your head. Don’t start bargaining if you don’t want to buy.. shopkeepers get pissed off and you may get abused out. Also, whatever you buy, make sure you inspect it thoroughly as a ‘No Returns’ policy is strictly enforced. And watch out for a 21st century make, roughed up a bit and passed off as antique (Tip: Look out for ‘Made in China’ under watches, clocks etc.) And please ask for permission before clicking inside shops!
It is highly recommended that you go there without an agenda and see the place rather than searching frantically for a good bargain. Walk around, talk to people… you will be amazed at how much of the city’s history has passed before the eyes of an old shopkeeper who has served thousands of customers over his lifetime! Go there before the place gets pulled down for reconstruction/ redevelopment (yeah.. they are already talking about it) and is replaced by cold heartless steel, glass and pre-mixed concrete. And lastly, don’t forget to carry loads of film!