If you think you’ve been teleported to the Cairo or Tehran bazaar once you step into the Pettah streets, you’re forgiven. Flaunting a Middle Eastern-esque flair, Pettah is where Sri Lanka’s diverse multi-culturalism is most evident.
Located to the East of Fort, Pettah is a chaotic bazaar that feels unlike anywhere else in the country. Long inhabited by Muslims, Pettah is also strongly populated with Sinhalese and Tamils, adding an intoxicating fusion of ethnicities. With the pulsating energy that reverberates throughout the Pettah bazaar, merchandises piled up on the pavements and small shops with barrow boys navigating through the crowds pulling or carrying huge loads, Pettah is a bustling bazaar.
A shopaholic’s paradise, a claustrophobic’s nightmare
The good news that Pettah is a business district and sells virtually everything you could dream of at unbelievably low prices. The bad news is that exploring the streets to find what you’re after can be slow, tedious and exhausting. But if you know where to go, how to navigate and what street you should be at, Pettah can transform into a treasure trove for an avid shopaholic.
Thankfully, the shops in Pettah are arranged in the traditional bazaar layout where each street is selling a different variety. We’ve listed it out for you:
First Cross Street – Electric Goods
Packed with vendors selling electrical goods, where one can avail themselves of electrical fans, DVD players or air- conditioners. Hardware shops such as Transasia and Polek eMarket selling mobile phone chargers, second-hand mobiles and phone accessories. These stores also offer AAA grade substitutes to original phone accessories.
Second Cross Street – Perfumes, Cosmetics
A mix of various different goods like perfumes, cosmetics, electrical home appliances, and a vibrant selection of jewellery and fabric stores. The well-known Kandurata and Rainco umbrella showrooms can also be found here along with the Apsara’s Saree Center.
Third Cross Street – Fabrics
Packed with colourful fabrics stores with several wholesale and retail dealers lining the pavement.
Fourth and Fifth Cross Street – Food
Both these cross streets also contain wholesale food items, fresh vegetables, fruit and dried goods. Fourth Cross Street is packed with trucks unloading sacks of spices and warehouses with piles of spices. Fifth Cross Street specializes in Ayurvedic medicines, with a dash of tea and spices too.
Malwatte Road – Bags, Shoes and Suitcases
Offers a wide variety of shoes, bags, and suitcases. They also offer watches and are mostly knock-offs of expensive brands like Rolex, Piguet, Mont Blanc and Omega at very reasonable prices.
Maliban Street – Wedding supplies
Wedding couple’s paradise, with an authentic selection of wedding suppliers such as invitations, cake boxes and so on made available through a line of paper and board manufacturers and importers. Office stationery and options of all sizes, colours, and weight are available as well.
Sea Street – Gold and Jewellery
Filled with gold traders and dealers of semi-precious stones is where jewellery is usually sold and is frequented by customers purchasing gems or jewellery worth small fortunes. Giants in the jewellery sector such as Ravi Jewellers, Muthukaruppan Chettiar and Swarna Mahal are also found here. This is also known as Hetti Veediya.
China Street – Ornaments, Home Decor, Glassware
A string of Chinese shops are said to have once dominated this street, but now only a handful remain selling ornaments and home decor, glassware and polythene. This street also has stores comprising of the party and festive decorations
Bankshall Street – Chemicals
Chemicals—borate, boric acid and chemicals used to treat water, as well as artificial flowers and other equipment are found here.
Old John’s Street – Construction supplies
Building materials such as sacks of cement, bricks, sand, asbestos sheets are found here.
Gabo Lane – Pharmaceutical items
Pharmaceutical items, Ayurveda drugs and cake items like baking trays, cake ingredients and more can be seen here, while Perera Road has a selection of dried fish.
Olcott Mawatha – Bus stand
This lane is where the majority of the buses coming from long distances pass through, thus, the lane comprises of a variety of goods. More vegetables and fruits can be found here along with clothes, jackets, bags and sunglasses are available at cheaper prices. Moreover, the Norris Hotel Bakery is also present where travellers can grab a bite to eat and drink a Milo.
Dam Street – Bicycle and parts
This lane offers a wide array of bicycles and spare parts. The lane has various showrooms such as Tomahawk, Lumala and City Cycle are present here. More cake items and ingredients can be found here as well.
Prince Street – Toys
This street offers electronics, light fittings and toy stores such as Penguin Toys and Novelties. The Dutch museum and the Fancy Mahal shop can also be found into the depths of the street. The lane is lined with a variety of roadside tea shops and small restraints as well.
This busy street can be found next to the fifth cross street and is often the main entrance route to the Gunasinghepura private stand. The street is lined with an array of stores selling a colourful variety of toys, junk jewellery, retail goods and silverware. Moreover, avid travellers can also indulge at the Hansagiri Restaurant and bar. Furthermore, the well-known shopping complex, People’s Park is also present here. This complex has various banks, the Ceylon Electricity Board, music equipment shops such as Yamaha and wholesale outlets.
The World Market – Clothes, Shoes
Can be found next to the Fort Railway Station. This set of stalls houses a massive selection of clothes, leather products like bags and shoes at comfortable prices such as Rs800 – Rs200 with their target market being foreigners.
This is where real business takes place. Price is the most important determinant of a sale on the streets. Then comes the screaming, singing and rhyming calls to get the buyer’s attention. This is the place where customers regardless of status will bargain and benefit from buying the product at a cheaper price than from a renowned store. The district is a living organism in itself, expanding and adapting to supply and demand.
Tips for shopping in pettah
- Pettah is a winding maze with a web of interconnected streets so if you find yourself lost, don’t be afraid to ask for directions.
- If you’re a tourist, then it’s better to take a local along with you. They can get a much better price because hey, you need to bargain in the local language.
- A lot of street-side vendors in Pettah will show their merchandise to you and be very pushy. If you’re not interested, politely refuse and quickly duck into another shop because persistent salesmen can sometimes cross the line with their pushiness.
- Be very, very careful with your belongings and it’s best to carry a money belt with you or limit yourself to taking only a little cash.
- Shopping is a tiring affair but shopping in Pettah is even more so. So stop by at one of those street-side food vendors for a sip of chilling faluda and if you fancy, you could even munch your way shopping on some crisp maniocs, savoury accharu (Local pickles are usually sour-sweet affairs marinated in vinegar, sweetened with sugar, garnished with hot pepper, and christened) or Bombay sweets.
Photograph, creative common lisence – imke.sta