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Thimphu Weekend Market (Bhutan)

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A weekend market in Thimphu, Bhutan

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      24.01.2009 13:17
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      Not quite like my local market.

      The Weekend Market in Bhutan's capital city, Thimphu, takes place every weekend, starting on Friday evening and running through to late afternoon on the Sunday. It draws traders from all across this Himalayan kingdom, many of whom will travel several days by public bus on poor roads, up and down mountain passes just to get there and then several days to get home again.

      The market is located close to the city's river in an area bordered by Chogyal Lam and Kuendey Lam and is well known locally for providing the best and freshest goods in the city. However, it must be stressed that this is most definitely not a market staged for tourists. We were taken to see the market on our last day in Thimphu on our way back from visiting Cheri Gompa and were quite fired up to see what would be on offer.

      The market sprawls across a large area with certain types of product being focused in particular areas. One such area was the yak-meat zone which turned my vegetarian stomach quite badly. There's no risk that you could be sold anything else pretending to be yak because 9 times out of 10 distinguishing features such as hooves are still attached to the yak leg that's in front of you. The meat is particularly dark in colour and left me feeling squeamish.

      Many of the traders don't have stalls as such; instead their goods are laid out on cardboard or plastic sheeting. Vegetables of all shapes and sizes are scattered around the feet of elderly ladies, many of them with their traditional tribal jewellery of complex nose rings. Quite how they communicate was unclear as our guide told us that many of them only speak their local dialects and don't understand the national language.

      Particularly of note are the massive baskets of fresh and dried red chillies which are used as a vegetable rather than a seasoning and eaten in great quantities especially for the national dish, ema datse, which means 'chillies and cheese'. Nearby you'll find traders offering leaf-wrapped parcels of datse, the soft cheese that accompanies the chillies.

      In addition to fruit and vegetables, you can find incense and household goods, cheap poorly made western-style clothing, mountains of dried fish that would stink out your luggage if you felt the urge to take them home, and a few odds and ends that could at a pinch be considered worth taking home as souvenirs. However this is a market for the locals and its interest for tourists is much more for looking at than for shopping. If you smile nicely and ask the stall holders if they mind, most will be happy for you take their photos or let you snap away at their attractively arranged piles of chillies. Nobody is expecting you to buy anything and it's a refreshing change from the full-on aggression of bazaars and markets in much of the world. Here you'll be free to look but please be polite and keep in mind that whilst some of the sellers may seem to have nothing more than a pile of old junk, that really is all they have and they don't need you turning up your nose or laughing at their produce. Play nice and you'll be welcomed but don't stay too long. Our guide advised us to get out after about 20 minutes because of the foul smelling dust that was blown up in some parts of the market which he said could carry germs for unwary foreigners. Or maybe he just wanted to get us back to the hotel for a beer.

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      A weekend market in Thimphu, Bhutan