India: Chor Bazaar &
Bhendi Bazaar, Bombay

Dodging goats and bicycles.
What?
An intriguing old Bombay neighbourhood of narrow streets, antiques, goats, and obscure Muslim sects. 

Why visit?
Chor Bazaar is well known as a place to buy antiques. 

But even if you're not interested in schlepping home a 15kg statue of Lord Ganesh in your backpack (‘16th century statue Ma’am! Very rare!’), it’s well worth coming here to gawk at some beautiful art, dodge the bearded men on motorbikes and take in a real slice of Old Bombay life. 

Friendly pet goats are an additional attraction.

Where? 
Just outside Bombay’s downtown centre, between MS Ali RD, SV Patel Rd and next to Mohammed Ali Rd. Map.


MOST GUIDEBOOKS GIVE Chor Bazaar a passing mention as a place to go antique and art shopping. And indeed, there are several streets full of carved statues, second-hand furniture, vintage film posters and more mundane items like car parts and metal rods. But there is more to this fascinating area….
Chor and Bhendi Bazaars are predominantly Muslim- but in true Indian fashion, there’s a plethora of sub-groups, sub-‘casts’, off-shoots, and other minor sects, the most visible of which is the Dawoodi Bohra community, a sub-sect of Ismaili Islam, itself an offshoot of Shia Islam, with its roots in Yemen. Confused? Welcome to India. 
The Dawoodi Bohra are known as traders, and seem to be particularly good at it, as the community is famously wealthy. Its principal shrine is the Raudat Tahera mausoleum in the middle of Bhendi Bazaar on Raudat Tahera St,  although its late leader was known to inhabit a palatial mansion on Malabar Hills next to the Bollywood elite. 

Dawoodi Bohra women are easily recognisable- they look like friendly nuns who had a bunch of indian fabrics stitched into colourful habits. The men wear white kurtas and gold-trimmed skullcaps. 
Bohra women in their technicolour habits. 
Bohra men dressed in white, hunting for spring onions. 
For most visitors, the primary attraction of Chor Bazaar is Mutton Street, an aptly-named alley of antique and second-hand stores full of meandering goats. The goats are actually held as pets and well-looked after- until the next Bakr-Id Festival of Sacrifice, when goat curry features on the menu of every Muslim family here. 
Don't forget to feed the goat. 
Savvy expats scour these streets for bargain antiques. And you can, too. Even if you’re not buying, it’s fun to look around as you will find items that are as beautiful as what you will find in Bombay’s Prince of Wales Museum. Some of the traders are reliable and will actually ship.
14h century treasure or 21st century copy? Either way, it looks gorgeous. 
More portable statues are also available. Special price for you, my friend!
Take everything you’re being told with a rickshaw-load of salt. Buy pieces you like, and remember that 5th century Chola pieces rarely show up in a dusty shed of some grungy bazaar-wallah. And bargain. Hard. 

There are shops that specialise in vintage posters, lamps, as well as recycled car parts. There is vintage furniture as well as many furniture workshops that can make to order- or recycle old pieces. Something for everybody, really. 
Pink lamps, anybody?
Would you like a new armoire that looks new? Or a new one that looks old?
Although one of my favourite neighbourhoods in Bombay, Chor Bazaar (and neighbouring Bhendi Bazaar)’ s days are numbered as an ambitious development plan aims to flatten the colonial-era houses and replace them with shining towers of modern apartment blocks, in one of Bombay’s most prominent Cluster Redevelopment Programmes.

Romantic minded firangis (like me) bemoan the coming disappearance of this ‘quaint’ neighbourhood and its old-fashioned ways but the reality is that most locals are fully supportive of the redevelopment (which is spearheaded and financed by the Dawoodi Bohra leadership.) They are keen to swap their dilapidated, leaking and crowded houses for new flats equipped with mod cons like a sit-down toilet and running water. And so would you.  

Getting there:
Take a taxi to any of the main streets- Mohammad Ali Rd, or SV Patel Rd, and from there just walk, wander and get lost. Dress appropriately- you'll stick out like a nun on Rio’s Copacabana beach if you dress in shorts and tank tops. 

Useful links:
Excellent Time Out Mumbai article on the Cluster Redevelopment of Bhendi Bazaar. 


2 comments:

  1. Great article- definitely a much different atmosphere than other parts of Mumbai. We picked up an antique telephone from there, to my surprise, works nearly 2 years later.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Ansh, glad you appreciated it. Given the age of the phone, it may work a few more years- back then things were built to last ;-)

      Delete

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