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Shah Alam Market is a thriving centre of commerce (Photograph by Rana Zahid)

Once an important portal to the Walled City of Lahore, Shah Alami Gate was named after the Mughal prince Shah Alam I (Bahadur Shah). Although the Gate was destroyed during the riots of 1947, the Shah Alam Market, located adjacent to the site of the gate, has been a thriving centre of commerce for over a century. And it is still going strong.

Essentially a wholesale market, Shah Alam is a labyrinth of winding, narrow streets (sometimes barely wider than a few feet) that are flanked by tall, narrow and often dilapidated buildings, some of which still retain their original facade. Don’t expect to find any parking within the bazaar – even deliveries are made on the backs of sturdy men.

Floral arrangements are available in the Bazaar (Photograph by Rana Zahid)

If one is willing to brave the maze of twisting alleyways, this is definitely a trip worth making.  For what Shah Alam Market lacks in ease of accessibility and ambience it makes up for in unparalleled variety and extremely competitive prices. Apparel, accessories, cosmetics, electronic goods, handicrafts, antiques, stationery, crockery, genuine items and counterfeits, brand new, reconditioned or spare parts – anything you can think of is available there. And haggling is not only acceptable – it is expected.

There are several bazaars within the Market. Kanari Bazaar with its fabric merchants, bridal shops and embroiderers specialising in ethnic handiwork (all at reasonable prices) is a paradise of sorts for women. Glass or metal, Hyderabadi or Indian, you can find bangles of all sorts at the ‘churi bazaar’; the henna artists (mehendi walis) there are also famous. A few lanes away is the Gumti Bazaar where all manner of artificial jewellery is sold. Looking for mojris in a rainbow of colours and embellishments? Head over to the nearby Chata Bazaar.

Churi Bazaar carries an amazing variety of bangles (Photograph by Rana Zahid)

Kasera Bazaar is Lahore’s largest brass and utensil market. You can find a plethora of hand worked brass utensils, artefacts and antiques there. Butt Sahab’s brass shop with a mini museum displaying brass antiques makes for an interesting visit.

When you have had enough of the noise, dirt and haggling, head toward the Rang Mehal Post Office; the ‘food court’ has some refreshing juices and killer desi desserts to offer weary shoppers.

Shah Alam Market may not be the epitome of style, but it has its own peculiar aura which, along with the prices, makes shopping there an interesting experience to say the least.

– Syed Wajeeh-ul-Hassan Naqvi

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First published in the Real Estate Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on March 11, 2012