Friday, February 24, 2012

Bazaars of Pakistan – Raja Bazaar [Rawalpindi]

Just the other day, I talked of the famous Jodia Bazaar of Karachi, which is considered to be the hub of wholesale business in Pakistan. In fact it is from here that the prices of commodities are regulated and maintained. When this post was published, a few friends asked me to write about other bazaars of Pakistan, like the Anarkali Bazaar Lahore or the Raja Bazaar Rawalpindi.

While I would definitely write about the Anarakali Bazaar Lahore as I have my childhood memories associated with it, today I will talk of not one bazaar but the gateway to many other bazaars and to the Purana Qila (old fort) of Rawalpindi.

Before I talk of Raja Bazaar specifically, let us talk of the Purana Qila. I tried to find out how old is the place and how actually it is configured or whether there actually is a Qila or Fort – I couldn’t get the answer. But the fact is that this place is hub of countless bazaars of Rawalpindi. And I must say ‘useful bazaars’ if you happen to be a good purchaser of stuff from the ‘source. Located on a high ground as all forts were normally built in the old days, the Purana Qila has small alleys or bazaars of all kind. There is the Urdu Bazaar for all kinds of stationary items, Sarafa Bazaar, the gold market, Mochi Bazaar or the leather market, Qasai Gali or the meat market and Bhabra Bazaar for general purpose good. Venturing into the Purana Qila complex is hair raising, specially if you are in your own car. 

The roads and alleys are extremely narrowed specially for two way traffic. Coupled with the rush of customers of all types and vendors occupying the free space, driving a car is extremely difficult. So it is better to hire a rickshaw for hassle free ride as all hassle then belongs to the driver of the rickshaw or the taxi you are in. I once had to drop a relative in the Bhabra Bazaar and when quite a distance inside from the main Murree Road, I could not find a place to turn about. So with lots of beeps and narrow misses, I had to travel the entire narrow alley to reach its other end near Raja Bazaar – it was a life time experience, never to be repeated again.
Old memories of Rawalpindi Raja Bazar
Old memories of Raja Bazaar [ Photo: History of Pakistan / Flickr ]
Raja Bazaar – Moti Bazaar – Bohar Bazaar complex is on the lower ground than all the rest of the bazaars. Bohar Bazaar is famous of homeopath medicines in particular and other medicines in general. Moti Bazaar is perhaps the most famous, specially if you are married and your wife happens to be a regular visitor to this market for all sorts of ladies garments and related items.

Now coming to the Raja Bazaar itself. Named after the Raja caste that abounds Rawalpindi and surrounding areas, it is the largest and biggest hub of all trade of Rawalpindi and surrounding areas. From the Murree Road, now called the Benazir Bhutto Road, one takes a westerly turn from the Liaquat Bagh T-Junction to go to Raja Bazaar. Liaquat Bagh is a big ground and is named after the first prime minister of Pakistan who was shot dead here when addressing a political gathering. Incidentally, Benazir Bhutto, twice prime minister of Pakistan, was also killed here.

After turning on the Liquat Bagh road, one passes close to the Gordon College, once a prime learning seat of Rawalpindi, passing between the Rawalpindi Bara ( a market of foreign goods and cloth) and Electronics market, one hits the once famous Fawara Chowk (the Fountain Roundabout). Although this Fountain has no similarity with the one in the famous movie ‘Three Coins in the Fountain’, it was once an actually functional fountain roundabout which is now only an empty pond with used shopping bags clogged into dirty water from the previous rainfall.

Now from this famous Fawara Chowk, you have all the options. It has roads leading to Moti Bazaar, City Saddar Road ( as the name implies a road connecting the Rawalpindi City with the Main Downtown Market called Saddar – the road is a place for those intending to build a house as all sanitary and electrical fitting are available here besides wood, doors, iron sheets, pipes, generators, lawn mowers and what not. Another road leads to the Grain Market for wholesale purchases and finally the Raja Bazaar.

So with all the verbosity, I have brought you to Raja Bazaar. Raja Bazaar is a place where I least enjoy to go for one simple reason – one cannot get a place to park one’s car. The place is already occupied by hundreds of motorcycles so artfully parked by the shopkeepers so that no one gets to park his (I have excluded her as no woman driver would dare test her driving skills here, specially of parking) vehicle in front of their shops. I fail to understand this phenomenon as unless people come to the market, how can the buy. But every shopkeeper would want that a car owner parks his car anywhere except in front of his shop. Going by the analogy, you cannot park your car anywhere. And to add insult to injury, the entire bazaar has no parking signs. And No Parking is only for cars – it doesn’t apply to the motorcycles or the vendors carts. But despite all odds, one finally finds a parking place at the end. It may take two-three turnabouts of the entire length of the road from Fawara Chowk to Purana Qilla entrance.

Although a huge parking lot has been constructed and all shopkeepers as a matter of fact should park their cars and motorbikes so as to provide space for customers, it remains empty as no one wants to park there. Anyway, if you are lucky to find a parking, then your rest of the stay is trouble free, which quite rare I must warn you.

Now from here on, there are two facets of Raja Bazaar: One its building and second the Bazaar itself. Raja Bazaar consists of old pre-partition (that is 1947 and before) buildings which mostly remain in their original design and architecture, though in much dilapidated and worn out health. 
 The wooden balconies still hang on though utterly dilapidated 
These old building are still used for living by the old dwellers or have been converted into offices, hotels or store rooms of the shop down below. Imagine the majesty and grandeur these once enjoyed. 
 The older buildings have been redone in fancy colours - but detrimental to the historic touch
One must appreciate the aesthetic of the architects who designed these magnificent building may be more than hundred years ago or even still older than that.
And down under these buildings are the shops and narrow alleys that house tons of merchandise that changes hands every day. Entering the Raja Bazaar from Fawara Chowk side, on the left hand side is the wholesale market of dry items and general merchandise, while on the right hand side are the cloth/shoe markets and the fruit/vegetable markets. There is also a Namak Mandi (salt market) as part of the overall Raja Bazaar complex where all types of grains, pulse and grams are available.
Women specific shops: The board in Urdu below reads: Here nose and ears are pierced with machine and without pain - I wonder if it is true

While I accompany my better half to the place, we usually go for the general merchandise market to buy dry milk, hangers, bags, tea, kitchen items and cosmetics. And after dumping the heavier load in the car, then we go to the cloth market where the lighter gender has more interest. Here laces for the clothes and all allied material are available at wholesale rate. Besides, it also has the fruit and vegetable market which becomes the last stop before going back home full loaded and empty pocketed.
I liked the caption given for this shoe selling photo: Mrs Marcos Discards?
A cup of hot tea lets out the tiredness while wading through hordes of people
To sum up what all is available here, let me narrate a joke a local once narrated to me. One of the shopkeepers one day noticed a young girl passing in fro of his shop many times as if she is looking for something very special. When she passed by his shop almost a dozen times, he could resist asking her as to what she was looking for. The young girl shyly replied that she was looking for a life partner for herself. The shopkeeper took a sigh of relief and said, “Dear daughter, go to Raja Bazaar, everything is available there.’

So if you are looking for anything – anything at all, go to Raja Bazaar in Rawalpindi. Who knows what you end up finding!!

Photos Attribution: All photos above are courtesy Mr Daudpota, an avid photographer who has a keen eye to compose events and scene from our very ordinary life. He has shared all these photos above in the set ‘An Evening in Pindi (Rawalpindi is also called as Pindi to abbreviate its long name)’ on Flickr. I am grateful to him for allowing me to use his photos for this post. 

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Rashid Zia Cheema said...

Very nostalgic article about Raja Bazaar, Rawalpindi.

Funny Pics Pakistan said...

Its really nice article and photographs

Rahmat Ullah Malik said...

Have a nice pics of Raja Bazaar, Rawalpindi