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Pettah – a City within a City

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Pettah  - a city within a city. It’s a marriage of multiple shops with knick knacks, bazaar style pedestrian stalls, barrow boys, branded outlets and a number of dramatic and awe-inspiring religious monuments.

The gridlocked streets of Pettah are absorbing and unique, and best experienced on foot. Each vibrant street is devoted to a different trade and presents a highly entertaining blend of sensory delights.

Main Street is Pettah’s key artery of enterprise. It is common to see female shoppers take wedding saris off displays and scrutinise them carefully or drape Indian saris with designs, embroidery and rich textures around them. Modern consumers are as active as a hive of bees here, sifting through arrays of fabric and clothes, looking for the perfect purchase. Other traders offer bags – from school bags to handbags to travel bags, caps, baby products, stationery, gift items and much more. Familiar names such as Hameedias, Ganesh, Ranjanas and Saritas known to high end Colombo shoppers can be located down Main Street.

‘Dutch House’ is a famous monument found on Prince Street. As much as the unique architectural features of the building’ s exterior tell a four hundred year old story, the Dutch Museum, opened over thirty years ago, lends character and inspiration within its colonial walls. The Museum houses ceramics, coins, arms and many more ancient artefacts, in addition to beautiful antique furniture on its first floor. Prince Street also houses several boutiques and stores around the colonial monument, including wholesale dealers and importers of shoe accessories, leather products and even medical related equipment.Pettah Streets
Front Street, Pettah’s western border is well known for hundreds upon hundreds of shoes, bags and suitcases, stacked on the sidewalk. As a point of interest to all who wish to travel here, this cobblestone pathway is now referred to popularly as Malwatte Road.

A set of suitably named ‘Cross Street’s are found running parallel to Front Street, each firmly devoted to a unique trade. First Cross Street is full of electrical goods, where one can avail themselves of electrical fans, DVD players or rice cookers. Hardware such as chargers, flex cables, wireless modulators are also available. Second Cross Street is known for a slightly mixed bag of perfumes, cosmetics, and electrical home appliances, but its strengths also lie in vibrant selections of jewellery stores, and fabric and tailoring hotspots. Third Cross Street is similarly endowed with colourful fabrics, being that several wholesale and retail dealers line the bustling pavement. Turn into Fourth Cross Street, and one is greeted with colourful lorries unloading sacks of spices. One can simply enter the warehouses and look to sample some of the piles of spices. Fifth Cross Street specialises in ayurvedic medicines, with a dash of tea and spices too. Pettah Food

The ambitiously named World Market can be found next to the Fort Railway Station. This set of stalls, manned by friendly shopkeepers house a huge selection of clothes, leather products and shoes that have to be seen to be believed. One would be hard pressed to come out empty handed after a visit here.

Maliban Street is a wedding couple’s paradise, with a veritable selection of wedding supplies such as invitations, cake boxes and so on made available through a line of paper and board manufacturers and importers. Office stationery and options of all sizes, colours, and weight are available here for the discerning artist.

Sea Street is a paradise of jewellery. Walk down the north east corner of Pettah and one cannot help but be entranced by the glittering stores that cling to each other, with signboards spanning English, Sinhala and Tamil. As much as some of the streets of Pettah scream oriental culture in the loud cheerful voices of the sellers, Sea Street is a quietly elegant road frequented by customers purchasing gems or jewellery worth small fortunes.

What gives Sea Street character however, are the two stunning Hindu kovils (temples), dedicated to the war god Murugan. Fantastic doorways coloured a palette of blue, yellow, red and green reinforce the feeling that Pettah is one of those places that, if adequately explored, will unearth hidden jewels of culture and beauty. Similarly, one can find the Jami Ul Alfar Mosque on the corner of Second Cross Street, conspicuous with its ornamental red and white patterned brick- work – one of the most recognised spots in the district. The Wolfendahl Church with its red roofs and pristine white walls is located on Wolfendahl Street – Wolf Valley –a religious landmark, with a rich heritage beginning in the 1700’s – another striking union of Sri Lankan and colonial cultures.  Clearly Pettah is one of the most ethnically mixed parts of the city – each place of worship like a magnificent star amongst a multicoloured sky.

Of course, it is impossible to document every angle and alley of Pettah. Down one street you will find a barrow of toys, or a street vendor with a new batch of flowers. Down another, plastic items will be neatly arranged on the sidewalk. The district is a living organism in itself, and whether a traveller interested in observing an age old Oriental bazaar formula, a shopper looking for the right deal, or a family on a fun filled outing, Pettah offers something unique for everyone.


Written by ashan.j for colomboguide.net ©

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