Pettah is Colombo’s biggest, most functional market space. It’s loud, crowded and infinitely full of interesting and useful things. Each of the streets is known for specific items, and with a little help it is easy to find your way around. There are continually new businesses popping up and little old shops in corners that are yet to be discovered. Let’s go through an overview through the busy market but first, a little history.
Pettah is derived from Tamil word Pettai, an Anglo-Indian word used to indicate a suburb outside a fort. Today, the Sinhala phrase, pita-kotuwa (outside the fort) conveniently describes the same place. As indicated by its name, Pettah, or Pita-Kotuwa is the area outside the fort the Portuguese built in the 16th century. The fort was besieged by the Dutch in 1656, who demolished part of the fort and rebuilt it to take advantage of the natural strength of the location. After the British took over in 1815, they set about establishing control in Colombo, and in 1870 demolished the walls of the fort. Despite the absence of ramparts, the area continues to be known as Colombo Fort.
Pettah being one of Sri Lanka’s busiest commercial areas, where a huge number of wholesale and retail shops, buildings, commercial institutions and other organisations are located. The busy market is divided into separate streets as;
First Cross Street – The first crossed street is packed with vendors selling electrical products as mobiles, mobile batteries, webcams, electrical fans, DVD players or air- conditioners, mobile phone chargers, second-hand mobiles, phone accessories and all other electrical items.
Second Cross Street – A mix of various different goods like perfumes, cosmetics, electrical home appliances, and a vibrant selection of jewellery and fabric stores. The well-known Kandurata and Rainco umbrella showrooms can also be found here along with the Apsara’s Saree Center, Mesco, Raina Silk and JDM Textiles.
Third Cross Street – The shortest of the ‘Cross Streets’ that criss-cross the Pettah Market is the Third Cross Street. The street is packed with colourful fabrics stores with several wholesale and retail dealers lining the pedestrian way and a little shop for padlocks and doorknobs.
Fourth & Fifth Cross Street – On these two streets you can entirely find wholesale food items. This place is just a trading street – mostly huge trucks and workers with loads on their shoulders, and onions and potatoes and spices everywhere. The entire street is filled with fresh vegetables, fruit and dried goods. Fifth Cross Street specializes in Ayurvedic medicines, with a dash of tea and spices too.
Prince Street – Prince Street are more electric items, leather products and mirrors. The street is lined with a variety of roadside tea shops and small restraints as well.
Maliban Street – It is a paradise street for wedding couples. There’s a whole bunch of shops here dedicated solely to wedding cards, cake boxes and all other wedding needs are available along with stationery items as well.
China Street – This street is packed with stores for party equipment (hats, wrap, banners, balloons, candles), and a few for chinaware. China Street didn’t seem as crowded as the rest of the streets around. Further, ornaments, home decor, glassware and polythene are available here.
Keyzer Street – You can find a collection of cloths materials here.
Old John’s Street – building material—sacks of cement, bricks, sand, asbestos sheets are found here.
Bankshall Street – Artificial flowers of all kinds, surgical equipment and chemicals and other paraphernalia can be found here.
Gabo Lane – Pharmaceutical items, Ayurveda drugs and cake items like baking trays, cake ingredients and more can be seen here.
Perera Road – This road has a selection of dried fish.
Olcott Mawatha – More vegetables and fruits can be found here along with clothes, jackets, bags and sunglasses are available at cheaper prices. Further, the Norris Hotel Bakery is located in Olcott Mawatha, where you can sit in and eat short-eats and drink Milo.
Dam Street – This street has bicycles, bicycles parts and more cakes items and cake ingredients. The lane has various showrooms such as Tomahawk, Lumala and City Cycle are present here.
Bodhiraja Mawatha – The street is lined with an array of stores selling a colourful variety of toys, junk jewellery, retail goods and silverware. Moreover, the well-known shopping complex, People’s Park is also present here. This complex has various banks, the Ceylon Electricity Board, music equipment shops such as Yamaha and wholesale outlets. The Hansagiri Restaurant and Bar is located here and the beautiful and spooky Old Town Hall, which you will have the walk in and check out the unrevealed museum.
Sea Street – This street is mostly known for gold. The streets are filled with gold traders and dealers of semi-precious stones.
Wander around the streets of Pettah as it is the best place to buy goods for the most reasonable prices. This is where real business takes place. Try to always stay on the little bit of 5-inch pavement next to the shops, because there are always trucks, wagons and trishaws trying to impossibly maneuver themselves on the roads. It is better to get there by foot rather than going on a vehicle as you may find difficulties to park it. If you do have to get to Pettah by car, you can go around the Khan Clock-tower and park near there. It is advisable to take someone who knows Tamil or Sinhala Language as it’ll make your street walk a problem-free one. You can mark Pettah street walk on your things to do list in Sri Lanka to buy cheaper goods and make memorable memories.