“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.
Getting to the Malik Ghat Flower Market is easy – every taxi driver in town will know where it is.