The Bazaars and Markets of Mumbai

Mumbai is not a city for sightseeing in the traditional sense—it's more a destination that you need to experience through your five senses, and there's no better way to do this than by going shopping in one of the city's teeming bazaars.

No one comes to Mumbai to shop at luxury boutiques—indeed, the locals don't, either, because high import taxes make it cheaper to buy name brands like Gucci abroad—they come to experience the racing pulse and frenzied pace of the markets. From handcarts tottering down crowded lanes, overloaded with antiques in Chor Bazaar, to succulent street food on the by-lanes of Bhendi Bazaar, to the overwhelming madness of the wholesale trade at Crawford Market, to the glittering gold of Zaveri Bazaar, Mumbai knows how to shop. If you consider yourself a bargainer, this is the place to test your skills—Mumbai merchants are some of the trickiest in the world, so be prepared to cut whatever price you're quoted in half, and then in half again.

The Art of the Bargain

Unlike other parts of the world, where bargaining can sometimes take on a mean-spirited tone, in India the back-and-forth is part of the joy of shopping. Here bargaining is a game both you and the merchant are in on, so have fun with it: he's going to go extremely high, so you should go extremely low, then walk away when he won't come down. He'll likely call you back, with a smile on his face.

Antiques, Chor Bazaar

Tourists—and locals—spend hours in crowded Chor Bazaar for the chance to dig out a hidden gem, lost for ages beneath mountains of ancient antiques. Although the market's best finds are probably long gone, there is still the chance you might get lucky with vintage furniture or prints from decades gone by, but only if you bargain, and bargain hard. Chor is the Hindi word for thief, and if you're not firm—or don't have a local to help you with your purchasing—you're likely to get taken for a ride.Do a round of the bazaar, taking notes on the items you like and which stall they're in; then, if you have a local friend, send him or her around the next day to buy the items for you, at a fraction of the quoted price.

Anything and Everything (in Bulk), Crawford Market

For an all-encompassing Mumbai market experience, look no farther than Crawford Market, where you can find everything from household goods to wholesale vegetables to live poultry to knickknacks—it's definitely worth checking out, even if you're not planning to buy any of the above. To see Crawford in all its glory, go on a weekday, when the market, housed in a 140-year-old British Raj–era building, is packed with housewives (or, more likely, their maids) bargaining over the price of Alfonso mangoes, tableware sets, and plastic bags. Steer clear of the area that sells pets if you’re sensitive; the dogs, cats, and birds in this section of the market are not treated very well, and the scene can be depressing.

Cloth, Mangaldas Market

More than 1,000 shops cram the far side of Crawford Market, in an area called Mangaldas, where the best fabrics in town are available at rock-bottom prices (sold by the bolt). If you're looking to get Indian clothing made, this is the place to pick up the fabric you need. If you sew a little yourself, Mangaldas is a must-visit.

Street Food and Jewelry, Zaveri and Bhendi Bazaars

This pair of bazaars blend into one another, north of Crawford Market, and if you're looking for gold or, better yet, the best street food in Mumbai, this is the place to go. Shady is the name of the game here—from the money-laundering operations that most of the jeweler's in Zaveri engage in to the questionable hygiene of most of the street-food stalls on Khao Galli and Muhammad Ali Road; but if you want a great deal on jewelry, or have the stomach and the desire to taste the best of what Mumbai's carnivorous side has to offer, this is it.

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