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Shopping Guide: Decoding Kolkata's Burra Bazaar


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Calcutta (or Kolkata as it is now called) is a city soaked in stories of valor, legends of literature, archetype of architecture and fusion of cultures. It was my third visit to Kolkata and this time I decided to take detour from the prominent attractions and visit the chaotic yet vibrant market of Burrabazar.

Justifying its name, “Burra Bazaar” is one of the biggest wholesale markets in eastern India. Famous for wedding shopping, this market is nothing less than a labyrinth of alleys  replete with shops and stalls selling everything that you desire.

History

Hidden behind the vibrant shops and busy streets of this market is the long forgotten Jewish history. Judaism was probably the first foreign religion to arrive in India. Jews initially visited India for trade and majority of them came from Baghdad and Syria. They settled across the ports of Bombay, Calcutta and Cochin.  The first Jewish trader who settled in Calcutta was a jeweller and was later honored as the court jeweller for a Muslim emperor and his son in Lucknow. Nevaeh Shalom, the first of the five Synagogues (praying halls of Jews) built across Kolkata is situated at Burra Bazaar (China Market).

Who knew shopping could be so informative!

It is the history and rich culture hidden behind these chaotic walls that drives me to visit such precinct markets. One needs to feel the ground to understand and learn what it is made of, rest are just numbers and words written in the books.

Method to Madness:

In the first go, one cannot comprehend the randomness of this place as you will see a dozen of parallel activities. Hand-rickshaw pullers maneuvering through congested alleys, vendors organizing their shops in impossibly small areas, customers bargaining like it is their last chance to shop and people balancing cartons four times their weight on their heads.

The place is an utter mess and yet to me it looked like a drama scene of a marketplace where characters are busy playing their roles and knew exactly how they are meant to move and behave. Although cluttered, the setting was in a perfect harmony.

It took me a couple of minutes to capture this view before I truly started exploring the market. Burra bazaar is vast and you are bound to get lost if you do not know the geography. The market is categorized into streets, with each street selling specific line of products.

Exploring the Market:

I felt that the best way to figure out where to explore is to ask the locals. Language could be a problem but everyone around here is extremely friendly. As advised by the locals, I decided to explore some prominent area of the market: Satyanarayan AC Market, Banstalla Street, Kalakar Street and Bagree Market.

Satyanarayan AC Market is ideal if you are new to this area and want to have a comfortable shopping experience in this underground market. Contrary to its name, the market is little suffocating and claustrophobic. Broadly describing, it majorly encompasses imitation jewelry and ethnic wear stores with some silver sellers. I would recommend checking other places in Burra bazaar as they are comparatively reasonable.

Unlike Satyanarayan AC Market, Bastalla Street and Kalakar Street are super congested with narrow lanes spreading like branches of a tree. As you walk in, you can see a huge range of sarees and dress material with vibrant colours and embroideries on either sides of the street. Though I did not pick anything for myself in particular, but I can assure you that you will definitely find something of your choice at a very reasonable price. Apart from clothes, the streets are loaded with stalls selling Chinese lanterns, fruits, souvenirs, and other sparkling things.

What to eat at Burra Bazaar?

If you are already tired with all the walking and shopping, take a break and savor the utterly delicious street food at Banstalla and Kalakar Street. The street has an array of stalls selling tempting dishes like dahi kachori, matka kulfi, samosas, chaat, jalebi, bhelpuri, jhalmuri, ragda patties, pavbhaji, chole kulche and of course famous Bengali sweets.

With heavy hands and empty pockets, it was time for me to retire for the day and come back to the modern world where trams have been replaced by metros, shops by malls and tea stalls by cafes. I left with a lingering thought and a desire to come back.

Useful Tips:

  • The best way is to take a taxi for Satyanarayan AC Market. The location is available on Google maps.
  • Best time to visit the market is late morning around 11. You can avoid all the traffic and busy streets.
  • While returning, expect a lot of walking to catch a cab or taxi because all roads are one way.
  • Do carry shades and water.

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