You can never know what you might end up unearthing in a flea market. It might be a hidden antique, a British army officer’s uniform button or a totally useless piece of decorative junk. But one thing is for sure, the joy of rooting through a flea market is exhilarating. This is especially true of Hyderabad where all sorts of legitimate and stolen goods find their way into these bazaars. From designer goods at throwaway prices to scraps of twisted metal, used furniture, antique doors, wrought iron garden chairs; everything is up for sale and they provide a good excuse for the shopaholic to travel.
These bazaars are one of the most exciting and interesting places that I have ever been to, there are hidden gems everywhere around and you just need the patience to pick up yours. You may find anything from a pin to a plane (not the real one obviously, but at least a replica of the original ones). Such markets have become a part of Hyderabad life and are thronged by both the locals and tourists alike. The high season of this market is between November and February, during the peak tourist season in the city.
The thriving market around the Charminar attracts people and merchandise of every description. In its heyday, the Charminar market had some thousands of shops; today the market around the Charminar is crowded with shops which sell glass bangles in rainbow colours. In this market you can get everything from traditional to modern, though it is better to go for traditional items. Santha’s (or shandies) are a popular tradition in the rural areas. The genesis of the Sunday Bazaars may go back to as far as 400 years to the times of the Nizam. However, in its present format, it is said to be 30 years old.
It is said that life in Hyderabad is lived on its streets. But can you also say that shopping in the city is also carried out in its streets? Well, just come to the street markets and find out for yourself. Anything and everything might find its way into these bazaars. The permanent addresses of these markets are the kaaman near Charminar, near Erragadda Cross Roads, Abids, Nampally Cross Roads, Mangalghat and Barkas. Every Sunday the markets at Charminar, Erragadda, Abids and Nampally come alive with their quirky, weird, interesting, exotic, useful, useless, huge, tiny, mystic, antique wares. Barkas and Mangalghat are the only exceptions that comes alive on Thursdays and Tuesdays respectively. Makeshift stalls filled to the brim with everything from empty perfume bottles to nifty antiques at throwaway prices. A great bargain, if you are lucky!
Situated at the kaaman before you reach Charminar, you can find anything at the flea market. Whether it is the typical touristy stuff like coins favoured by foreigners or souvenirs, bamboo work or old spectacles – the flea market welcomes all kinds of buyers. It is also the meeting point of the footloose and fancy free. Who knows, you might even stumble upon a restored HMV gramophone sold by a departing tourist. The make-shift stalls also sell electronic music appliances, remotes, TV’s and many more. You name it and chances are that they might have it.
Every Sunday, the bazaar sets up its stalls where sellers from all over Hyderabad come to display their wares. Those looking for antiques should head to Charminar, the main avenue of this market. It is lined by rows of little shops on both sides. The loot might range from old car parts to gramophone records, grandfather clocks, crystal chandeliers or even old English tea sets. But beware, for their wares might not always be genuine as they claim. The owners are quite clever and they will give the best bargain hunter a run for their money.
Apparently, a few traders used to sell second hand stuff in one of the by lanes of Charminar on Sunday mornings, when the doors of the regular shops and traders were shut and there was very little vehicular traffic. Slowly, this trade grew and spilled on to other parts of the area and the city. Despite the big retailers and malls which are mushrooming, the Sunday bazaars are thriving year after year. As long as you don’t inquire too much into the origin of the products on display, you should be fine shopping within this bustling microcosm of Hyderabadi life, mainly bygone Hyderabadi life. The tales of finding ‘genuine’ stolen goods in these bazaars are legendary. The beauty of a flea market is that just about anything is possible here. From absolute junk like old, twisted bicycle parts to brand new snow shoes (true…..they really were selling snow shoes in Hyderabad!), all is available but you have your task cut out hunting for them. These Sunday bazaars in Hyderabad are the city’s answer to popular flea markets across the world.
The Sunday roadside market at Nampally sell used tables, chairs, garden wrought iron furniture, cupboards, side-tables, windows, doors, shelves and many more. The best buy for me at this place would be an antique teakwood door, complete with thick iron rods and latch; the only problem was the price…….he wanted me to pay him Rs.20,000. In spite of him lowering the price to Rs. 12,000, I couldn’t make up my mind.
Different vendors set up their products in a central location so that consumers can spend their time walking around and see the new and used items available for sale. You never know what you will come across at a flea market. There are plenty of new and used items as well as home-made crafts and clothing to choose from. The bazaar vendors and hawkers of every kind of goods set up their ware around 7 am with people trickling in and by 8 am the bazaar warms up for a long day. Toys and trinkets, tools and hardware, electronic goods and computers, garments, textiles and hosiery are all found here!
What to expect for?
What do you get at these markets? Well, it’s really difficult to sum it up and make a list of what you get and what you don’t. Its equivalent to, say defining love. Something that is difficult to sum up in words. Saying that you can find anything here from a ‘pin to a bathtub’ and ‘cradle to a cot’ would be taking things a bit too far. But local legend has it that what you don’t find here, you wouldn’t find anywhere else in the world.
For the householder there are utensils, clothes, stoves, mixies, hot plates, kitchen racks among other things and the prices are a fraction of what one would pay at one of the trendy shops. Besides you can bargain and get an even better deal. At Abids you can get old and new garments and clothes; everything from T-shirts, jeans, trousers, leather jackets, wind cheaters, sweaters, innerwear, hosiery and children’s clothes.
These areas are good places for hobbyist do-it-yourself types. One can get everything from bolts, screw drivers, electric drills, bicycle parts, bike batteries, chains, motherboards, CD ROMs, CD writers, monitors, mini TVs, DVDs, watches, car stereos and speakers, disc man, laptops, LCD screens, kitchen appliances, bulbs, tubes, computer speakers and so on.
Many of the things available here are old items to which value is added by washing, ironing, cleaning, oiling, painting, polishing, varnishing and refurbishing, thus adding value to the recycled goods. Of course, there are new items too. Some incur a loss too, when their articles break during transportation. Some sell, some don’t; which is further sold to other sellers in the same area.
What are flea markets?
A flea market is a type of bazaar where inexpensive or secondhand goods are sold or bartered. It may be indoors, such as in a warehouse; or it may be outdoors, such as on the roads. The flea market vendors may range from a family that is renting a spot for the first time to sell a few unwanted household items to a commercial operation including a large variety of used merchandise, scouts who rove the region buying items for sale from garage sales and other flea markets, and several staff watching the stalls.
Many flea markets have food vendors who sell snacks and drinks to the patrons. The origins of the term are disputed, but some have observed that buyers and sellers may be as active as fleas, or that the original people and goods were infested.
How did it get its name?
The first theory, and the one most popular on the Internet, proposes that the term is a direct translation of the French March aux Puces, a large, outdoor bazaar in Paris. This original market earned its name from the critter-infested goods it was rumored to sell. It is a large, long-established outdoor bazaar. From the late 17th century, the makeshift open-air market in the town of Saint-Ouen began as temporary stalls and benches among the fields and market gardens where rag-pickers exchanged their findings for a small sum.
The second theory alleges that the term was coined at a time when the slums and alleys of Paris were demolished and replaced by new construction. The dealers in second-hand goods who lived and worked in these old neighborhoods were forced to flee. The merchants’ new gathering place was referred to as the ‘flee market,’ which later became ‘flea market.’
The final theory associates the term with New York City’s 18th century Fly Market. Apparently, the Dutch name for the market was vlie, which means valley but is pronounced “flea.”
‘If you don’t look, you find!’ is a popular quote from a popular English film. And it applies here, quite literally too. For if you go searching, you will not find what you are looking for. But if you are on a casual stroll, then chances are that you will definitely find what you had been looking for earlier. Proof was Rahul who I bumped into at the market. He was ecstatic that he found a genuine gold Parker pen for a throwaway price. Says he, “This is a big day for me, since a casual stroll through the Sunday flea market yielded my very first, a Teal Aerometric 51. The pen has what appears to be a gold filled cap with the words ‘1/10 12 ct r. gold’ and ‘Parker’. Inside, the filler is an aerometric unit with a black plastic end portion. The words ‘Parker Made in England’ and ‘. 6’ are imprinted on the barrel. I think it is a Mark 1 Aero.” Though he was skeptical whether the pen will write or not, since he had picked it straight from the footpath vendor, he was pleased with the good bargain.
My friend Ramana who is a regularly irregular visitor to the Charminar bazaar says “I got two sets of new German made Mont Blanc cuff links, a new pair of rimless Cartier gold frame glasses and a couple of original miniature paintings over the years; all at dream prices.”
Afsar Nawab, a frequent visitor to such bazaars, especially the one at Charminar, has a hobby of collecting antique stuff and has been doing so for the past 20 years. Says he, “I don’t get what I want most of the time and I usually get it through families and friends that I know. However, most of the time my friends come by and pick up what I have bought and I gladly give it to them. After all, they are my friends.” He’s been searching for original Mughal era gold coins but has not been able to find any, much to his regret. Talking about an interesting shopping experience he says, “I had once bought an Italian lamp at Charminar but could not get a matching and correct size shade for it. After four years when I was passing by Abids, I saw a lamp shade that would be perfect for my lamp, in a shop. When I told the shop owner about my lamp he gladly sold it to me for Rs. 4000/-. I’m really happy that the lamp is now complete.”
S A Nabi, who has been visiting these markets for the past 20 odd years says “quality of these goods are good and bad. We will get what we want here, things that we don’t get outside of these markets.”
Khadir, another regular at the markets sums it up perfectly when he says “what the higher class people use and want to discard, is sold to shops and dealers, which the middle-class people buy. Then if the middle-class people want to discard them, they sell it at such markets which the lower-class people buy and use.”
What and how much?
Here’s a sampling of what we get and their prices: dumbbells for Rs. 300, an assembled deck for Rs. 300 to Rs. 500, whisky decanter for Rs. 1000, binoculars for Rs. 1200, mobile phone batteries for Rs. 100, TV remotes for Rs. 50, watches starting from Rs. 200, mobile chargers for Rs. 200, soaps (without their wrappers) for Rs. 5, damaged shampoo bottles for Rs. 30, biscuit packets (which are slightly crushed) for Rs. 10, small wooden cart for Rs. 3000, pestle and skittle for Rs. 1500, used perfume bottles in shape of a car for Rs. 500, ceramic Whisky bottle for Rs. 2000, snow boots for Rs. 500, used wash basin for Rs. 150, clock for Rs. 2500, birds for Rs. 200 a pair, spoons for Rs. 2 each, DVD’s for Rs. 40 each, aphrodisiacs for Rs. 20, second-hand shoes from Rs. 100 to Rs. 400, seat covers for Rs. 80, used bags for Rs. 50, used school bags for Rs. 100, used bicycles for Rs. 600, old used DVD players for Rs. 400, new assembled DVD players for Rs. 1200, used TV’s for Rs. 2500 or Rs. 3000, rabbits for Rs. 350 a pair, etc.
Some of the sellers are so experienced that it’s a treat to just watch them, talk and even haggle! This old man who sells old/antique watches knows the history about each watch company. Ram Narayan Vyas, the 70-year-old who claims he is ‘the only Hindu man’ who has a shop at Charminar’s Sunday market has been there since the past 30 years. He says he was the first to sit there along with three others (who have since died). He sources his new pocket watches, magnifying glasses, clocks, stamps, old coins and currency, brassware, etc from places across India like Rajasthan, Marwar, Bombay, Gulbarga and then sells it here. Having been a photographer himself, he sold off his Hasselblad and Canon cameras due to some personal reasons. Been a philatelist and numismatist, he is a member of many such societies and holds exhibitions regularly. “I like Charminar both then and now. Earlier there were 700 shops and now just about 400 exist. There were baggis then, now there are more vehicles.” A prized possession he has is the 1932 dated medal given to Maharaja Umeed Singh that costs a cool couple of thousands. “Sometimes I do good business, sometimes I don’t. I like it here. We are all one big family, whether we are Muslims or Hindus,” he trails off before attending to a curious customer at his store.
Next, I chanced upon a fairly decent looking Remington typewriter, with all its keys intact. All it needed was a new ribbon at the most and costed only Rs. 600. I’m sure the price would have come down further had I bargained.
“Business was good earlier, but now it is less because of the iron work factories that have come up,” says Mohd. Harun Sharif. Echoing his statement, Ali Bhai says “Ye bache kuche chizein bech ke zoru bacche to pal lethe hain (by selling these odd things, I manage to take care of my wife and kids)” Taking his statement further, Mohd. Imamuddin says “Bequari loggan aare yahan par, pehle hi aacha tha (people are unnecessarily crowding here, it used to be better earlier)”.
Mohd. Mohsin, who has been here for the past 30 years, buys and sells his stuff at the scrap mandi. He on the other hand likes it better now. Says he, “I like it now since there are more people now than earlier. Earlier only antique stuff used to be sold but now apart from that you also have other articles,” and adds further “foreigners buy more compared to our people. But we sell for the same price to everybody.”
Syed Bashir, who has been selling gemstones for the past 35 years, says “Hyderabad naginon, mothiyon ka shaher hain. Aap boliye aap ko kaunsa nagina chahiye? (Hyderabad is a city of gems and pearls. You tell me which gem do you need?)” He says people who understand, buy these gemstones according to their birth date and tells that some of his customers have become rich ‘by wearing these gemstones’ but still remember him and visit him often.
These sellers source not just from the raddiwalas but also from export reject shops and showrooms that take old furniture, electronic appliances, etc in exchange of new ones for a price. Rafiq, who claims that he has been around at Charminar for the past 50 years, sources his ware from Begum Bazaar and from raddiwalas. “People sell off their ware because they do not know its value. Here everything sells. Right from old chappals to new TV’s.” When asked how much he makes each Sunday, he says “On an average, we make about Rs. 1500 to Rs. 2000 which suffices for our daily needs until the next Sunday.”
Sheikh Satta is taking his father’s business further by taking care of it. He says “when old shops are shutting down, they sell everything for a less price. We buy them and then sell it here for a good deal, if we are lucky.”
Mir Khurshid Ali has been working as an antique dealer for the past 50 years. He used to earlier work at an antique shop at Charminar Chowk, which he claims that even the erstwhile Nizam used to frequent, apart from many British officers. “It was nice then, now it is nothing,” he says with a tinge of sadness in his voice. Now that he has stopped working at that store, he deals with rare Urdu and English books that he buys and sells. Talking about his most prized book, he says “I have a pictorial book on Hyderabad written by Sri Krishna Swamy Mudiraj and costs Rs. 5000. Tell me if you want to buy it.”
Ismail Mohd says, “Antique dealers buy our ware more than the regular customers; and then sell it at their air-conditioned shops for a much higher price.” The best deal he ever made was when he sold a ceramic doll for Rs. 50,000 to a German visitor.
Taj Bhai, who has shiny new cleaned gramophones, telescopes, hour glasses, watches, clocks, has been around for the past eight years. He buys all his articles from people who are moving abroad and sells the big and expensive ones to antique shops, while the smaller ones are at the market. He also has his own little shop where he sells the same ware the whole week. He says “the rich people who change their upholstery once in a while also replace their furniture and at the same time get rid of their items, so they sell it. We come to know of such people through a third person, who gets a small commission for telling us. We clean them and sell. If we try and remodel them, it loses its value and we lose our margin on it. Hardware shops sell in bulk to us and we then sell it for a small profit. We can recognize antiques when we see them. Antique shop owners from Banjara Hills buy from us and the same thing is sold for more than four times the price.”
Mohd Yousuf buys electrical and mechanical goods from the Erragadda and Charminar markets, because they come ‘real cheap compared to buying the originals’ and then sells them at his mechanical repair shop.
These shops have become a lineage business for many, like Akhtar Hussain, who claims that his ‘forefathers have been selling here since 200 years and during the Nizam era’, but it is not lucrative now, since ‘many make a profit of only Rs. 200 every Sunday.’
There are many who sell at all the markets throughout the week, like David who ‘sells at Barkas, Uppuguda on Tuesdays; Jumerat Bazaar on Thursdays; Erragadda and Charminar on Sundays and at BHEL, IDPL once a month on their salary day’. He rightly says “you will get everything here that you don’t get at showrooms.”
One seller that I would never be able to forget is an octogenarian at Erragadda who sells exotic brassware. With no family to take care of him in his prime, he used his savings to start this small shop on the street. He sources the brassware from Bombay, Begum Bazaar and Marwadi Gali and ‘barely makes Rs. 200 profit if he is lucky’.
These native old traditional flea markets are a good place to pick up little knick-knacks for the house. I would love to spend hours at these flea markets for different items. Last time I was at these markets, I spent practically the whole day, from 6 am to 7 pm.
Plan for the day:
To help make your day at the flea market the best it can be, plan for the day. Since these markets are outdoors you may want to put some sunscreen and a cap. You don’t want to spend the day carrying around the items you purchased so make sure you take along a bag.
Make sure you wear good walking shoes too so you won’t have to end your day early due to tired feet. A good tip to help if you do get tired walking is to walk to the very end of the vendors and work your way forward. This way you will have the heaviest load from items you have purchased when you are nearest your vehicle. Keep in mind that most people start at the entrance of the flea market, you will be able to see many items before too many other people do and avoid the crowd if you start at the back.
Most flea markets are offered on the weekends but some of them do take place on weekdays as well, like the one at Barkas. The number of other people looking around is generally lower during the week but then so are the number of vendors. It is really a decision about when is the best time of day to make a deal at the market. It is perfectly acceptable to try to get the price lowered down from what the vendor is asking for it.
By going to a flea market first thing in the morning you are likely to be able to take advantage of the selection before everyone else has. This is the best solution if there are particular items you are interested in finding. Yet many people claim they have a harder time getting the seller to negotiate the prices when they purchase early in the morning.
By the end of the day though, most vendors are very willing to lower the prices on the items they have remaining. They definitely don’t want to pack up any more stuff at the end of the day than they absolutely have to. If you have a particular item in mind and you can wait until the end of the day, you will get a better price. You also run the risk of someone else snatching it up though, if it is a one of a kind item.
There are different ways to negotiate the price of any given item. You can ask the vendor what the lowest price is that they will take for a given. You can also offer to pay a certain price and see if they will take you up on the offer. If you want to offer a certain amount then have that money in your hand for them to see. Seeing the money will often entice them to take the money.
I have found it is always worth my time to look around though, because I may find that the vendor in the next aisle has the same item for a lesser amount. If you are going back to check on an item that you like with a particular vendor it is better to write down their location because by the end of the day it can be difficult to remember who is located where.
Of course, there’s a method to scoring a great deal at these markets. The key and most important thing in scoring a good deal is patience. Be prepared to rummage through piles of junk items before you actually find your desired item. Be ready to do some hard-core haggling and then get a good bargain. Always start with about half of the quoted price, or even lower if you are sure of the worth. Most of the vendors quote high and then come down to an agreeable price. Some will quote exorbitant prices to ward off the casual passer-by. In such instances the trick is to persist and try to chat up with the seller; by being persistent you can also get good flea market bargains. The usual trick of walking away also works wonders; since the seller is most likely to call you back, as long as you look genuinely interested.
Always be alert. Some vendors like to sell off damaged or broken goods that might fall apart when you finally bag it home. It’s always advised that you keep an eye out for defects, especially while buying items like porcelain figures or antiques. Moreover, a good deal of the supposedly ‘vintage’ items being sold can actually turn out to be well-crafted fakes. In that case it’s a good idea to take an experienced friend along, if you are not too sure. Most sellers, unless specified, do not take items back, and you are expected to make an informed purchase, so look out for hairline cracks and visible signs of damage in the goods bought. It might be a bad idea to buy electronics goods from the flea market, as goods have a chance of being tampered or refurbished with fake spares.
Calling all bargain hunters, the Sunday markets might be your next shopping destination, provided you are equipped with a watchful eye and willing to drive a hard bargain! You would not want to miss out on this marvel for anything in the world. Such is the sheer brilliance and charm of these markets that it puts even the most modern shopping malls to shame.
One visit to such markets will really sum it up for you, so that you know where to head the next time you need anything or when you just want to kill some time. So, when are you heading out to experience these unique bazaars of Hyderabad? #KhabarLive