Pettah, in Colombo, is a bustling business district selling miscellaneous goods, where almost anything under the sun is sold at amazingly low prices. However, to be rewarded with these economical prices one must brave through the crowds of people and three wheelers, endure the heat and tolerate the cries of eager sellers. Take at least half-a-day, clad in comfy clothes and with plenty of water to meander the jam-packed streets of Pettah. Systematic though chaotic, each busy street is dedicated to particular goods; be it stationery, clothing, toys or gold.
Starting from the prominent Khan clock tower roundabout, it’s worth browsing in the surrounding shops packed with cotton dresses, saris, school bags and luggage, though overzealous traders beckoning every passer-by to seek a deal can become vexing. Front Street on the right, contains a continuous row of closely-packed shops selling shoes, watches, cameras, and a whole host of other equipment.
Main Street is a woman’s paradise for saris and textiles, with an identity retained for years by various shops that have become trusted names in the trade. The sight of vendors selling sunglasses, knives and various knick-knacks along the corridors of Titus Stores is as old as this perennial establishment.
First Cross Street is generally the location for electrical goods and hardware; Prince Street is a toy paradise, in addition to multitudes of school items, light fittings and electronic goods. A mansion of columns and arched doors now housing the Dutch Period Museum is the only unobtrusive edifice among a host of cramped shops containing flashy and multi-coloured goods.
Once inside the maze that is Pettah, it is only a matter of time before you become lost in the web of interconnected streets, but don’t be afraid to ask for directions. In the confusion, you may find yourself in Second Cross Street, a road running parallel to First Cross Street. It is a hotchpotch of shops selling textiles, perfumes, cosmetics and electrical appliances. Third Cross Street is more of a hotspot for wholesale textile and manufactured garments, just like the adjoining Keyzer Street, which also has a few retail shops.
Variety of goods
For artificial flowers, art and craft, surgical equipment and chemicals, Bankshall Street is the place to go, whereas the venue for a range of party accessories is definitely China Street. At one end of Second Cross Street are shops selling an array of rich lace from Bombay for bridal attires. For stationery, wedding cards and items for special occasions the go to place is Maliban Street, where the selection is great and the price affordable.
Young couples and their families are usually seen here negotiating designs and timelines with helpful shop owners. Sea Street, the jewellery hub of the country, glistens with flamboyance. Fourth Cross Street is where much of the country’s supply of onions and potatoes and spices are unloaded.
Sweet n Sour
If you dare, during your expedition, take a sip of a cool Faluda, munch on a crisp pack of manioc or savour some tongue tingling achcharu (pickled fruits). These street side food vendors and abundant Bombay sweet shops are after-all a popular feature of this crowded shoppers paradise.
Enduring the jostling that comes with shopping in Pettah is worthwhile, given the fact that commodities are at least 30 per cent cheaper than elsewhere and vociferous bargaining yields a great discount.