“There is nothing like an Asian street market to remind me why I’m a vegetarian,” my wife once said as we walked through a local market full of pig heads, assorted organs, squirming fish, and skinned chickens. The pungent smell of animal flesh filled our noses and our feet slid over pavement made slick by animal byproducts. Asian markets are fun to visit due to the swirl of activity, but also a challenge for anyone with a soft heart for animals.
However, at the Malik Ghat Flower Market in Kolkata, India, we found the perfect compromise – a chaotic, colorful Asian market that was vegetarian friendly. The flower market was delightfully fragrant and the walkways were stained with flower petals, not animal blood.
Even though the market specialized in beautiful flowers, it still had an edge to it. I saw a group of men who looked like they’d done time in prison, haggling vociferously. It was rather comical to see tough men flailing their arms while furiously debating the price of delicate petals.
Some men wore capes of flowers like floral superheroes, others moved about with stacks of flowers atop their heads like elaborate hats. I saw one stately man draped in orange marigolds like the Emperor of Flowerlandia. These men no doubt leave the market emitting a botanic perfume, which I presume helps attract the ladies. They may look tough but they smell of jasmine and roses.
Some of the younger guys looked hip and cool, like they should be selling records in a music shop, not flowers. I imagine this can be a source of playful derision from friends who likely mock them for slinging pretty flowers.
Like all of India, the market overflowed with people. Every time I stopped to take a photo I was jostled, elbowed, crushed, and eventually swept away in the river of humanity. I had to make myself small and stand in tiny alcoves in order to fire off shots. Even then I once got crushed by a basket of marigolds.
In the less hectic zones around the edges of the market we encountered many friendly people. An old lady carrying a sack of yellow flowers atop her head smiled and struck a pose upon seeing my camera. We ran into a group of friendly kids playing in a small courtyard who were eager to practice their English. One beautiful young woman, with skin stained pink from the Holi festival, gave Kristi a flower.
Outside the market Kristi saw a sidewalk restaurant busy with locals and decided we should dive in and eat. It was the sort of place that can be intimidating – there was no cutlery, no menu, and certainly no health inspection on file. We mixed spicy curry with rice and ate it with our hands, then washed it down with masala chai. Kristi may not like stinky street markets or the sight of animal carcasses, but she is still very adventurous.
Malik Ghat Flower Market Photos
Getting to the Malik Ghat Flower Market is easy – every taxi driver in town will know where it is.
So colourful. What a great find!
Gorgeous! Your photos always make me want to go! Wherever!
Thanks Melissa. It was really beautiful and fun. Plus it smelled great!
Unbelievable shots of these flower ropes, or whatever you call them. So amazing!!!
I’m not sure what they are called either or why people wore them as capes. Either way, I really liked them!
Jeff, these are such incredible shots. The colours leap off the page!
It really is an incredible and colorful place. I was overwhelmed with things I wanted to photograph.
Love the flowers, but the people are just as colorful. I especially like the guy in the jeans and pink belt lying on his side!
The boy in jeans was great. He was just chillin. Lots of interesting people in the market, mostly men working there which I thought was odd. Thanks for commenting!
Great photos Jeff! The colours make me happy. I especially like the photo of the guy with the giant bunch of flowers on his head..something about his expression. Have you taken photos at the Bangkok flower market?
I like the shot of the guy with the flowers on his head too. There is something unexpected about him and the “hat”. I really like Bangkok flower market area. I need to go shoot there more often, but it is a little inconvenient from my house. Thanks for commenting!
Wow, so many beautiful flowers. I would never have thought there was such a demand for flowers. Great post!
I had no idea there was such a demand either!
Fabulous photos Jeff. You really captured it and made me long to go back to India. It reminded me of the day in Tiruvannamalai: we’d been living there for a couple of months already but on this day I saw an opening, almost hidden behind strings of marigolds, that I’d not noticed before. I said to Don – I want to go in *there*! – and behold we discovered the flower market. What a glorious fairyland. All those flowers! And friendly people. We loved it.
I bet that market in Tiruvannamalai was extra special since you didn’t know it was there. What a great find. I saw photos of this market and wanted to go, but they saw it was next to the Howrah bridge and was extra excited. India is so great. Any plans to go back soon?
I’d love to go back to India, but Don doesn’t want to. Perhaps I’ll head off alone one day. It wouldn’t surprise me.
I think your wife and I are of like minds when it comes to Asian markets. The smells are still fresh in my mind…or possibly less than fresh.
The flower market photos are stunning Jeff. I see that you have a link to click on prints at the bottom of the post. I’m just on my phone but didn’t see how the photos you have on that page can be purchased?
Asian markets are such a mix of smells – frying garlic one minute, stinky fish the next, fresh flowers on the next row, durian on the next. I don’t think I have any photos of that market on the print website but I need to add them. Thanks for catching that.
I have never been to a traditional market in India, well… I almost went when James and I were in Kochi. Our rickshaw driver at first insisted on taking us to a market, but when we saw from the outside it looked exactly like how traditional markets are like in Indonesia. So we decided to go to the next place on the long list of places he wanted to take us to that day. However, these photos of yours made me think maybe I shouldn’t have given it a miss when the opportunity to visit an Indian traditional market arose.
An Indian market would probably be similar to Indonesia, unless it was a unique market like this. There is a massive flower market in Bangkok but it is more organized. The one in Kolkata, like all things India, was chaotic and fun.
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