Zainab Market: Searching for Gold
As a child, I’d frequent Zainab Market every time the weather changed. Whenever Karachi’s winter became demanding enough for warmer clothes, my parents and I would head to this massive bazaar in search of layers. My solo visits to Zainab Market began as I grew older and realized my propensity towards ethnic wear and handcrafted jewelry. My limited budget and endless desires let me to Zainab Market every time.
Zainab Market was set up in the 1970s and was a popular tourist destination in its earlier days. It was not an uncommon sight for tourist buses and guides to line the Abdullah Haroon Road in those days. Visitors would consider traversing the narrow streets as part of the quintessential Karachi experience. Although tourists can still be spotted here, thanks to Pakistan’s decreasing popularity as a tourist destination after 9/11, it is certainly not the same.
Recently, I had to make a quick trip to Zainab Market in order to avert a major crisis. My brother was getting married in less than three days and I needed jewelry for the event. With my limited budget, Zainab Market was the only viable option available to me. I went with a mere Rs.500 in my wallet and ended up with enough jewelry for all three events; mehndi, shaadi, and valima.
Zainab Market is a gigantic, complex market with vendors and shops of all sorts and sizes. If you are a newbie, you’re likely to find yourself lost unless you have exceptional navigational skills. I prefer to enter from the motorcycle parking entrance since the shops around it lead directly into the part of the market which specializes in ethnic wear, jewelry, and crafts.
There are diminutive jewelry stalls run by one person on every corner of the market. These stalls house an enormous collection of jewelry; there are dozens and dozens of jhumkas, mathhapattis, tikkas, jhoomars ,all at incredibly reasonable prices. There are collections of antique jewelry; rings and earrings featuring filigree metal work. Traditional headwear like Kashmiri and afghani matthapatti, kundan chokers and intricately designed anklets are available. All kinds of techniques and materials can be found here.
There are shops selling decorative pieces and ornaments, with traditional handwork and embroidery on them. Everything ranging from small, colorful trucks and rickshaws with glass work and Urdu poetry written on them, to massive metal chest boxes. Tiny, cute key chains shaped like khussas or shawls with traditional moti and glasswork on them, onyx vases, miniature paintings, and traditional tapestries festoon these shops.
Despite being crowded and noisy, the market has a friendly vibe and as a woman in her early 20’s I have never had an uncomfortable time at Zainab Market. I never think twice about visiting, even if it’s just to window shop.
The clothing part of the market can be called heaven for western clothes lovers. Shops sell export leftovers at throwaway prices. Fur coats and beanies, pashmina shawls, leather jackets, coats-you name it and they have it. There are no tagged prices attached on these clothes and shopkeepers are often open to bargaining, making it a very pocket-friendly destination.
Visiting Zainab Market is always an immensely rewarding experience; my jewelry collection is a testament to it.