If you have been following my blog, you will know that I have just returned from an amazing trip to Kolkata and Bangkok and if you missed my first blog post from the trip, you can find it here. This was my first time in Asia so the initial ‘culture shock’ was marked, even though I knew what to expect.
One of the places I visited whilst in Kolkata was the Mullik Ghat Flower Market, a vibrant and colourful place. As you would expect, this place was full of…….flowers! But for my visit I wanted to focus more on the people as there were many colourful characters there – in fact, in many ways the characters were more colourful than the flowers!
Mullik Ghat Flower Market has been in existence for well over 100 years and it is said to be the largest in Kolkata and one of the largest in the whole of Asia. It is a hive of activity from dawn to nightfall as the wholesalers arrive first thing in the morning to auction their flowers to the stall holders who then sell those flowers throughout the day, creating arrangements and strings at their stalls. I say stalls but in reality, most consist of just a patch of ground.
The other thing that takes place here in the early morning, and perhaps somewhat incongruously, is wrestling! A sandy area has been set aside so that local wrestlers can practice their craft. I visited in the afternoon so there was no action to photograph.
Kolkata is a city that thrives on flowers, with these being a seemingly essential and major part of every temple ritual, wedding, and festival. The sellers weave flower heads into garlands, strings, bouquets and other floral displays with patience and deftness. Orange and yellow marigolds are everywhere, but there are all kinds of blooms on display. This is much more than a market though, it is a community, a way of life and for me, was much more about the people.
Many of the sellers live on site in makeshift homes, more like shacks really, and they wash themselves and their clothes in the River Hooghly which runs alongside the market. This market and the Mullik Ghat area is therefore their home and livelihood. The word Ghat, incidentally, refers to steps leading down to the river.
Tragically, it was all but destroyed in 2008 when a fire swept through the area but fortunately it was rebuilt, albeit still as makeshift shacks.
It was really interesting just walking around looking at the sellers and the different way they set up their ‘stalls’, some spread on the ground, some in baskets, some on makeshift tables. Some under cover and some out in the open. Some sellers perched seemingly precariously on stools, some sat cross legged on the ground, whilst others were much more active!
In amongst the melee of sellers and buyers lining the busy walkways, porters weave their way in and out carrying heavy baskets of flowers and other paraphernalia on their heads. Rickshaws wind their way slowly around too. There is just so much happening constantly in this thriving and wonderfully vibrant place.
Even in this busy place though, there has to be time for some rest, perhaps to read the paper, or maybe to just sit! In the heat of the day, people will even sleep despite the constant noise, hustle and bustle all around.
Oh, and of course, time for a shave from one of the barber’s stalls amongst the flowers!
The faces here are often craggy and characterful, they are faces that seem to say, ‘we’ve had it tough but we are still here, and we are still smiling’! It was a privilege to be allowed to wander amongst them and take their pictures.
All the portraits you see here were willingly given and were taken in situ, without any ‘setting up’ or posing by me, and they were all taken using available light. Any attempt at posing would in any event have failed since I was unable to communicate with any of them – they spoke no English and I spoke no Bengali, Hindi or Urdu.
My policy was always to ask first by simply indicating my camera – sign language tends to be universal 🙂 ! Actually, even more universal is a simple smile which breaks down any barriers quickly! For the most part, the sellers were very willing to be photographed although a few indicated either ‘no’ or that they wanted money in return. My policy always was just to respect them as individuals and to respect their wishes. And also to show them the pictures afterwards.
As you will know, landscapes are much more my normal subject because I spend a lot of time in the countryside of Dorset, but I love photographing people too. In a different culture and on my first visit to Asia, I have to say that I was somewhat out of my comfort zone at first and was really glad to have a friend with me who currently lives in Kolkata. He was a great help as I found my feet in this unfamiliar environment. I discovered, though, that it actually didn’t take long to gain confidence and feel at ease and this is certainly in part down to the friendliness of the people.
I found this visit and the challenge of doing something different, really rewarding, and I met some great people even if I was unable to converse with them. It was fantastic to see a different culture close up and to connect with the people, albeit briefly. Their lives are very different to mine but we all live on the same earth and are all ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’.
Mullik Ghat Flower Market is just an amazing place. Colourful, vibrant and bustling, so much to see and take in, and so many characters to photograph. I would love to have gone back for a second visit but unfortunately time did not allow, but one day……!
I hope you have enjoyed walking through the market with me today and meeting some of the characters there.
Thanks for stopping by.
Until next time,
The Dorset Rambler
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