The One with the Old City
Inspiration for Chapter 8 was not hard to come by. For a while, I was dilly-dallying with the idea of dedicating a chapter to the Bangali Bajaar (Bengali Market). There’s a full fledged ‘Mandi’ stocking atypical requirements of the Bengali kitchen including Jharna Ghee (clarified butter) and Bori (Oxford probably recognizes this as an English word). Not to mention the varieties of shaak-shobji (Creepers and Veggies) which comes in twice a week all the way from the glorious land of understated cooking.
But in the end, I had to write a detailed account of my sojourns to the City Bazaars.
I don’t quite remember the timeline but it was during the first few months. We were getting most of our basic stuff – which included bedding , crockery, utensils, towels, and the likes – online. I am always of the opinion that we only perceive a ‘discounted rate’. More often than not, we pay the actual or even an inflated price for substandard products (only exception to this belief of mine are books and to some extent electronics). But it’s convenient and you get used to it. However, for once convenience seemed too pricey when I came across rather plain-looking lamp shades on various sites. That is when I thought of giving the City Bazaars a try.
So every time I got in an Uber, I would ask the driver where could I get nice lamp shades. The most common reply would be ‘Madam, yeh to pata nahi’. Then I started mentioning the few Bazaars I read and kept hearing about and the answer would be ‘Madam, wahan to stone jwallry ya kapde milegi aapko’ After many such futile conversations, I realised, the Bazaars one finds listed on the Net are rather mainstream and frequented by tourists.
Even most locals are not quite aware or are disdainful (not unreasonably) of the lanes and bylanes of the City where you get get SST (Sasta, Sundar, Tikau) stuff for daily and decorative purposes. Let alone a complete outsider like me.
But I was determined to find what I wanted. At long last, one Uber driver mentioned Indira Bazaar. In spite of Mr.B’s vociferous protestations – he’s not quite comfortable with crowded market places – I decided to give it a go. It turned out to be narrow stretch. Either side of this stretch – littered with with dung, straw, rotting vegetables and a peculiar smell of fried snacks – was dominated by local shoe and bedding stores and surprisingly illuminated showrooms.
There were a number of cramped and not so cramped shops selling beautiful shades at reasonable prices. Alas, when you go shopping at a brick n’ mortar store, the impracticality of some of your needs hits you hard.
We basically wanted bedside lamp shades. Now the holders for bulbs were already placed on the walls which made it impossible to install lamp shades. The only thing we could do with those holders was to place bright bulbs in them. This didn’t strike us while we were taking a virtual tour of stores. Even then, we looked hard for shades that could just be placed over the bulbs, somehow. Obviously, we didn’t find any. Instead, I ended up buying some bedsheets with typical Rajasthani prints and I find them far more elegant and durable than the ones I bought online.
Thus ended the first visit to a lesser known, seedy Bazaar amidst dingy alleys which seemed to be made out of various hues of dried (and fresh) dung rather than black pitch. Our landlady was rather appalled when I told her about this little adventure (much to Mr. B’s glee). The bhodroloks of Jaipur do not visit seedy markets even if they cater to their needs. To be honest, even I would feel rather creeped out visiting Indira Market alone or with a female companion.
My next two visits to the City were made on consecutive days just as the Winter months were fading away. This time around, it was a friend from Delhi.
On the first day, we ended up at Johri Bazaar for lunch at LMB. Johri Bazaar is famous for its semi-precious stone and silver jewellery. We weren’t quite keen on either. So we went straight to the City Palace post a quintessential lunch at LMB. On our way back, we decided to do a bit of walking. We passed by countless pigeons pecking at cereals as hungry street dogs eyed them, an unruly herd of goats which almost hit me, idle men and women squatting on the pavements smoking beedi, and more such snapshots which have become the mainstay of travel shows. Although we had no intention of purchasing, we stopped by at the colorful shops to take a look at the attractive merchandise opposite Hawa Mahal. And then we came across the Camera Man.
Every city has it’s Street Artist/Legend. I was lucky enough to come across the Melody Man of Delhi on a crowded stretch of CP a couple of months earlier. How I wish I could have stayed a bit longer to listen to his tunes.
Here in Jaipur, we spent a good 1 hour or so, chatting up the Camera Man listening to the story of his old Pinhole Camera, reading the laminated Los Angeles Times coverage of the Man and his legacy, and even spending 500 bucks to get clicked with that contraption. It was amusing to see curious foreigners patiently waiting to get clicked. We were probably among the handful of Indians to have spent money on two distorted photographs. But there are some experiences, which makes you want to spend money, seemingly pointlessly. He gave us a 50 INR discount each, if you must know!
The next day we spent time roaming around Bapu Bazaar – recommended by the Landlady – comparing prices, bargaining, and finally buying leheriya chunnis, a traditional jacket and a jooti with a promise to come back later. On our way back, we took a rickshaw to LMB once more to get the famed Ghevar of Rajasthan.
For the discerning foodie, avoid LMB by all means for both the food and Ghevar. It’s over-priced and overrated. I am not too keen on Vegetarian food. So I haven’t tried figuring out the best place to have traditional Rajasthani cuisine. And honestly, being a Bengali, I find the Northern palate way too pedestrian. No offence.
As for Ghevar, try Laxmi Sweets in Sodala. Trust me when I say, it’s heavenly. And always go in for Malai/Mawa Ghevar. There’s a variety – called ‘fika’ or ‘plain’- which is dipped in sweetened saffron milk or syrup (the one my friend bought) before being consumed. I don’t find it so great.
The Bazaars aren’t too far apart. And yet, if and when I do go back I wouldn’t be able to find my way through them. It’s quite maze-like. But hopefully, I will explore the them a bit more, this winter.