Juma Bazaar: Islamabad’s diamond in the rough

Juma Bazaar: Islamabad’s diamond in the rough

Funny thing about the weekly bazaars in Islamabad – be it Tuesday, Friday or Sunday – you will see a mix of people, notably Islamabad’s elite. That’s not the funny thing though – what’s funny is that many of them will refuse to make eye contact with you and acknowledge they’re there. To date, people talk about these bazaars with a sneer, inferring that the place is cheap, tacky and common. But we all know everyone shops there, even though they won’t admit it.

And having visited the Bazaars as far as I can remember, even back when they were in G6 near Lal Masjid, I have found that the bazaars are anything but tacky. They bring together Islamabadis, usually strictly segregated by class.

For those new to Islamabad, or even to Pakistan, the tri-weekly bazaar is home to an extensive fruit and vegetable market, home goods, textiles and a burgeoning and expanding flea market, known as the ‘Landa’ side.

Everything and I mean everything you can think of can be found here. New, or in the landa side, second hand. And while prices may be low, with the right approach, you can walk away with some really high-quality stuff. While the bazaar is generally known for its fruits and vegetable area, it has a large section where cloth, readymade clothes, groceries, spices, lentils, nimko, secondhand clothing, furniture and bric a brac can be bought – among many others.

The bazaar seems to have a pull of its own. An elderly vendor at one of the General Stores told me he had run his shop for decades, but his sons don’t let him work anymore. “But I like to sneak out and do this work,” he says with a grin. As I walk off with my purchases, I hear him chatting away to his friends – the other shopkeepers, some old customers, and the trolley men who chase you around offering to wheel your shopping for you.

Since the bazaar moved to this organised space, it is remarkably clean and sanitised. This includes the public bathroom – which I was expecting to be in dire straits. But it wasn’t. The constant sound of the man selling insect repellent (with a rather confusing sign that made me think, as a child, that he was selling the insects instead of selling a repellant) is coupled with the hum of people bargaining, and vendors from different shops selling their wares.

In case you are new to this, always go to the bazaar in the early morning, when it is less crowded. Or if you do go in the afternoon, there are plenty of places to stop and have a nice cold drink and some really nice French fries.

The main pull of the bazaar, for many, is not only that everything is found under one roof, but also that everything is affordable enough for even those with the most basic income to buy. And of course, revel in the atmosphere the place has to offer.

Oh and in case you were curious, here’s a photo of what I bought today. Some place mats, a couple of vases, some delicious Afghan chutney and a ‘mandaroo’ as we call it in Pashto.

The writer can be reached at anam.zeb@gmail.com