Delhi's Unique Treasure Trail

Delhi's Unique Treasure Trail
An unusual find at Dariba Kalan market, Photo Credit: Simrran Gill

From lights and pottery to superstitious relics and daggers, these markets in Delhi will cater to all your needs, no matter how bizarre

Anshika Nagar, Simrran Gill, Sahana Iyer
September 19 , 2019
11 Min Read

The lanes of Delhi are like a pandora’s box: full of surprises, dreams and precious objects. This old city is known for its chaotic markets. There is an endless score of shops, and to the untrained eye, it can be an overwhelming affair. The maze of shopkeepers and shoppers running back and forth, a treasure trove of goods and on top of that, the bustling crowds of the city. But there is order in this chaos too; in the old parts of the city, the markets are not only highly specialised but neatly divided into lanes. Clothes, Shoes, Utensils, Electronics, Machines, Jewellery and so on. In the newer parts of the city, the markets have sprouted in pockets, but they too hold their own in expertise. 

With a dearth of options, things can get confusing quickly. Here is OT’s mini shopping guide (and we are moving away from clothes and shoes, too) for tourists and locals looking for something offbeat.  

COLOURFUL CERAMICS AT HAUZ RANI (Malviya Nagar, South Delhi)

Ceramics at Hauz Rani market

The ceramics at Hauz Rani come with a burst of colour. And, we have seen it plenty of times too. For anyone exiting Malviya Nagar metro station or en route to Saket Mall, this market is an often-seen sight and many are tempted to stop midway and take a look. We suggest that they do. This ceramics market is not only a cheap alternative to the overpriced, swanky stores, and if lucky enough, visitors might find these shopkeepers (mostly women) shaping these wonders to life. 

A display of ceramic plates at Hauz Rani market

The market in itself is not vast; it is only a lane long. However, the variety of ceramics is staggering. Plates, bowls, trays, cups, hooks, glasses, kettles, vases...the list is truly endless. Painted in bright colours and decorated with meticulous detailing, they make for attractive additions at home and as gift items too. Look out for oddities: egg holders, doorknobs and beer mugs are some examples. Shops are also known to keep house plants and flowering pots--ranging from simple, single-coloured pots to some fashioned into snails, elephants and giraffes. 

As the festival season draws close, there is a buzz among the shop owners. They load their stock and wish to provide a taste of something different. With their shops an extension of their homes, the idea is to entertain the crowds in the best possible way. But for us, it is a way to add a pop of colour in our lives and homes.     

PAPER PRODUCTS AT CHAWRI BAZAAR (Old Delhi)

A hand made notebook for sale at a shop in Delhi

Most would head to Chawri Bazaar while prepping for a wedding. This market is known for its wedding cards. There is an array of shops that cater to customers’ demand, from small artist-led shops to specialised boutiques, and finally to grand, lavish shops that make picking a wedding card an event of its own. From September to November, the market is awash with customers, who pick cards that range from Rs. 15 to Rs. 300 per piece. As weddings become more lavish, prospective brides and grooms pick goodie baskets and boxes to go along with their invites, a clear indication of the kind of wedding it is going to be. 

Amid this, Avia Experts stands out like a beacon of colour and sweets in this ancient market. This artisanal store is born out of a simple need: they provide desserts, fruits and baklava to fill the boxes and baskets that go with the invite. 

You can personalise wedding boxes at Chawri Bazaar

But one mustn’t limit the potential of Chawri Bazaar to just wedding invites. This market is a paradise for artists, and of course, for people who love stationery. Even shopkeepers who used to deal with copper and brass products are moving to the paper industry, falling in line with the whims of their customers. Vinod Gupataa is one such entrepreneur; whose move to making handmade bags is truly interesting. According to him, people are only growing more conscious of their impact on the environment. Paper bags are a fun alternative, he believes.

The evidence of this is seen all throughout the market. There are winding lanes where paper bags hang like lights, and most shopkeepers are quick to customise one to your needs. There are paper wallpapers for as cheap as 300 bucks, a mountain of gift wrapping paper, and for artists, different types of papers and journals.        

EVERYTHING UNDER THE SUN AT CHOR BAZAAR (Old Delhi)A vendor selling showpieces at Chor Bazaar

If your local stores are not fulfilling your everyday demands of goldfish in a whiskey bottle and used dentures, head on over to Chor bazaar instead. A labyrinth of temporary setups, the market sprawls over the Meena bazaar compound. Everything you can imagine - and can’t- is available at these crumbling stalls. Clothes, electronics, superstitious gimmicks, packaged snacks, obsolete technological goods and even live animals and birds, each find at this marketplace is more fascinating than the last.

A strange combination of charging cables sold right next to men's shoes

“You can find absolutely anything here. Strange things of which you might have not even thought, can be found somewhere in these corners,” said Chota Bhai, a vendor sitting comfortably on a cot behind a generous display of loose batteries, a single Walkman and charging cords laid out straight. He has been a vendor at this station for 12 years now. According to another seller Prem, the market has been in existence since the time of independence. Earlier set up near Lal Qila, this market shifted its location later on. 

Sunday is the busiest day of the week. To take full advantage of the raging demand, the market begins as early as 5:30 am and goes on till 6-7:30 pm (a lot of shopkeepers are known to wind up shop by 4-5 pm). As the name suggests, the vendors of the market have a reputation for selling stolen goods. When asked about where he bought his goods, the cheeky Prem exclaimed, “Everything we get is from your houses”. While the explanation may be sincere, one could never really know, now can they? 

POTTERY AT MATKA MARKET (Near Sarojini Nagar, South Delhi)

A display of flowerpots on the side of the road (extras from a store)

Only a handful of stores tucked into a neat row on AK Roy Marg, Matka Market is the ideal outlet for all clay items. Flowerpots, diyas, religious idols, decorative vases constructed in both traditional and quirky styles are tightly arranged into these small spaces. According to vendors, the marketplace is nearly 60 years old and has seen every new generation takes over the previous one. “Three to four generations of my family have worked here, from the genesis of the market. Initially, there were only a few stores but the numbers have grown with time,” shares Gita as she checks on her goods. 

The Matka Market offers quirky pottery products

The wide road on which the market is situated gives it a prime advantage of space to handle crowds. While I hardly saw anyone else, another vendor Akshay further explained the seasonal rush they see in demand. “You won’t see anyone now. But when it is Diwali time or any other festival, people come in large numbers. In fact, to cater to them, we keep our market open till 4 or 5 in the morning,” he said. Not surprising, considering that they provide delicately ornate pieces when it comes to idolwork and diyas. 

It is only natural to assume that stores dealing with similar goods face fierce competition. However, each vendor has something novel to offer. All the base products are imported from Rajasthan, Lucknow, Gujarat and Kolkata (manufacturing near the market is illegal due to a factory ban), to which they then add bright colours. If you visit during lull hours, you can view the sellers carefully hand-painting the items while sharing a laugh. 

Read | Iconic places to eat at Old Delhi

SILVER ANTIQUITIES AT DARIBA KALAN (Old Delhi)One of the shop owners at Dariba Kalan

Quaint lanes with the smell of rust and a familiar kind of antiquity, Dariba Kalan is one of the oldest markets in Delhi. While that part of the city is known for its congestion and the constant honking, Dariba Kalan is a deserted market with shopkeepers’ keen eyes looking out for customers.

The market has its roots in place since the 17th century and most of the shops run in the family. “The shop has been here since 1918 and I’ve been here since the year 1985,” said Mukesh Singh, owner of Durga Jewellers. Standing as a testimony to the presence of Mughal architecture and influence in the city, this market and the people boast of its culturally rich legacy.

A flask made out of silver with stone work has been in this shop for the past 17 years

The customers head out here mostly during ‘tourist season’ beginning November. Most shops here have their own karigars and they customize designs too. The market runs dry as locals rarely pay a visit. One can find rare gems, antique silver jewellery and the lingering hope of shopkeepers here.

While silver trinkets are a common sight, the distinctive items here include ornate daggers, antique silver flasks and Tibetan music bowls. One should also not miss Gulabsingh Johrimal, the oldest shop dealing in perfumes and essential oils. The final product in the market is light on the pocket and essentially ‘haath ka kaam’ and hence is one of the prime spots for silver in the city.

LIGHTS AT BHAGIRATH PALACE (Old Delhi)

Bhagirath Palace doesn't disappoint with variety

While all of us love the tiny fairy lights adorning our walls, the lanes of Old Delhi take it to another level. Bhagirath Palace or the lights market is a maze of shops scattered at a walkable distance from Chandni Chowk Metro Station. Brightly lit even during the day, this market is a plethora of colours.

Right from customized designs to glass work, each shop here offers you a wide variety and spoils you for choice. A constant conundrum prevails throughout the day; labourers buzzing, people chatting, excited about the upcoming festive season.

A dimly lit frame of the lights market

Along with basic light fittings, the shops here do fittings for residential complexes, hotels as well as outdoor spaces. Existing since post Independence era, the market continues to be distinctive.

“My shop has been here since 1952 and has been in the family. We have more than three lakh designs. Our lights are handmade, decorated with gems on glass, and made in our factories across Delhi,” said Mr. Anmol Ratan, who got awarded recently at a German Exhibition for one of his designs. 

See | An illustrated walk through Old Delhi

The markets in the city are truly enchanting and one can spend days exploring the winding lanes of Old Delhi. 


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