Main story: It’s weekend, a time when you finally get to take some time off to do shopping or grab a new book to read. If you have no plans, then a mini-gateway around town might just save you from boredom.
There is nothing better for the soul than a change of scenery or to explore a new territory or better yet re-discover the charms of an old place.
Located opposite Centenary Farmers’ Market (CFM) is a bustling yet forgotten market, a perfect mini-gateway to explore new things and meet different kinds of people.
After climbing the steps towards the traditional bridge and crossing the Wangchu, one will descend to an entirely new place. One might even be transported back in time where instead of buildings, there were street vendors that sold anything and everything one can image.
Located next to the steps is an ancient looking shop, perched up by traditional pillars and roof, and bulbs that gives the much-needed light.
Lobsang Tashi, 66, owns the shop. He is dressed warmly since it gets cold during the evening. His wife is accompanying him.
All kinds of religious items can be found in his shop especially all sizes of butter lamps imported all the way from Delhi in India. One can also find hand-woven scarfs, traditional arrows, traditional belts, handmade ladle and ropes made from yak hair, among many other interesting items.
Lobsang Tashi has been a businessman for the past 30 years. He has been selling at the particular place for the past decade before it was shifted from the main weekend vegetable market.
Sales have definitely plummeted after moving to a new place, Lobsang Tashi said.
“It was easier to sell when we were located next to the weekend vegetable market because people used to buy the things when they passed by. But it has been difficult to sell after we shifted here,” Lobsang Tashi said.
The market is open Friday to Sunday. It starts operating by 9am to late evening.
Lobsang Tashi reaches the place early in the morning every Friday. He unboxes the items and places them on a neat cloth one by one. His wife helps him with the unboxing and she neatly arranges every item so that it will be easier for the customers to see.
There are days when some of the vendors don’t even sell an item, Lobsang Tashi said. “All we do is wait and hope that the sale is better next week.”
The vendors bring their lunch and water from their home since there is no water supply at the market.
We collected a sum of Nu 50,000 from all the vendors so that we can put tarpaulin sheets to protect ourselves from the harsh weather and also paid to bring in electricity to light up the shops, Lobsang Tashi said. “Our main challenge is not having water supply and we would be grateful if the authorities concerned would be able to address our hardships.”
Located further away from Lobsang Tashi is Tshering Pema, 23, who sells all kinds of handicraft items in the stall. Most of the items are local products from Zhemgang and Trashigang, which comprises of bamboo baskets, wood products such as ladle and cups, and the famous bangchung from Zhemgang. One can find an item as affordable as Nu 20 to expensive as Nu 4,200.
The products are bought at a wholesale rate from the craftsman from these dzongkhags, Tshering Pema said, who has been working as a sales girl in the stall for the past few years.
“We support the local craftsmen who are unable to sell their products. There are also a few that brings their products directly for us to sell,” Tshering Pema said.
The sales in the handicraft shops at the market depend on tourist season, Tshering Pema said. “Since it is an off-season right now, our sales are not good. Sometimes we have to leave home without a penny earned from the sales.”
However, the owners of the handicraft shops at the market are hopeful that the tourist season is nearing. The tourist season usually picks up by mid March.
Located opposite the handicraft section of the market is garment section where one can find an array of shoes, bags, jackets and jeans that are sold at a very affordable rates. Most of the clothes are being bought from the borders of Phuentsholing.
One can usually find group of young boys and girls that are busy rummaging through a pile of clothes. As one walks by these vendors, one will occasionally find a few branded jackets among the piles. One will also stumble upon a wide range of jewellery items for both men and women.
At a centre of it all is Tshering Dukar, 35, who has been selling clothes for the past three years. She brings these items from Phuentsholing and also from Jaigoan at times.
Tshering Dukar says sales are not good at this time of the year when children are back to school. She earns around Nu 7,000 in a day.
“For now, it has been enough to look after my two children that are studying at school. For me, the market is a viable opportunity and a platform for people like us to be able to make a living,” Tshering Dukar said.
The day is coming to an end. A cold wind blasts through the stalls. Vendors are packing their things in the boxes once more. The boxes will be guarded by security personnel, who the vendors hired to look after their things when the shops are closed. It will be next weekend when the boxes will be re-opened to be sold once more.