Istanbuls’ Grand Bazaar, or Kapalıçarşı (meaning ‘covered market’) speaks directly to every Indian’s heart. Over 550 years old, this market has over 3000 shops inside a large covered area. Everything that a tourist needs – or doesn’t really need but will buy anyway at great cost – is to be found here. Carpets, silver jewellery, tea, spices, lamps and kandeels, souvenirs, leather goods, and ceramics, among other things. And Indians, with their love for bargaining, will find themselves right at home here.
Competition is fierce among the sellers and they employ all kinds of techniques to woo customers. They make jokes – many of them inappropriate but it is difficult not to laugh with them because they have such a pleasing manner and enjoy their own jokes immensely. For example, the shops selling tea – many nudge-nudge, wink-wink references to the sexual prowess some of these teas are believed to impart. They proudly advertise their ‘Turkish Viagra’ and display signs for ‘genuine fake watches’. It is futile to resist those who are happy to laugh at themselves this way.
Like in other countries like Egypt, the minute they know you are Indian (and oh, believe me, they can identify us very easily), they launch into long discussions about our movies. And of late, Katrina Kaif in particular. They offer refreshment (oh, the apple tea!), discounts that seem attractive and lots of reasons why you must buy that item and from that shop alone. Listen to them patiently, banter with them and start from half the quoted price. They enjoy the bargaining and bantering more than you do and will probably be disappointed if you pay the asking price. If you are planning to buy something expensive, like a carpet, then it is best to do a bit of research before you enter the bazaar. Me, I stick to cheap souvenirs and tea – the varieties and fragrances of Turkish tea!
You can easily spend hours here, browsing, bargaining and buying – with stops for coffee and lunch in between at one of the numerous cafes inside the bazaar. Whether you want to buy that pair of lovely silver earrings or a set of six ceramic bowls with the whirling dervish motif, or even a belly dance costume as a souvenir to take back home, the grand bazar is the place to shop at in Istanbul. Hang on to your patience, sense of humour and your wallet (watch out for pickpockets) and you will have a great experience.