Sprawled on a hilltop, this is the largest market in Meghalaya and one of the most authentic local markets in the North-East. It is animated and congested like a messy labyrinth of crossroads.
The name ‘Bara Bazaar’ can be simply translated as ‘big bazaar’. The locals called it Lewduh Market. You know nothing about Khasi culture and culinary sources until you’ve ventured into the Bara bazaar. The best and the quickest way of learning about a place are often by visiting local food market and getting to know their food culture.
There are congested gullies big enough only for a person, but hordes of people flow through it at once. You don’t have the answer but you fit right in when you are there. Butchers drenched in blood carry an entire pig like it is the most normal thing to do. They don’t shout to let you know they are coming. They only whistle, ‘phis…phis,’ when they are just about to make contact with you. You’re wandering through what is supposed to mean ‘Big bazaar’ but what you got after wandering through all that are small shops, small streets and small people. There are many things about this place that makes it unmistakably Khasi. Betel nut and leaves formed one large section of the market. Meat shops make up another major section. All kinds of vegetables and spices are brought from all parts of Meghalaya to be sold here. If you reach there early enough, you’ll end up seeing many local farmers shipping in their products. This place is always buzzing with life.
There are high chances of getting lost or separated if you are with some friends. You can’t simply stand at one corner and become a spectator. You’ve to flow with the flow.
Bara bazaar has some of the most exotic items and what people put on their plate will surprise you. Silk worms are sold at a very high price as it is considered a delicacy. But it is also wrong to assume that all people in Shillong consume that, many don’t. But people have the freedom to sell or eat anything they want to without being bothered by others.
Apart from exotic vegetable items, people flocked to Bara Bazaar to buy second hand clothes. Hidden between the congested gullies of Bara bazaar are many small shops that cater to different people. Goods brought from Bangladesh, like plates, cups and utensils are some of the most sought after items.
Though it is not a women’s market, Bara bazaar is mostly run by women. The men run meat shops and do the porter’s jobs, but women control the business. Unlike big Indian cities where people love to pose for you, here they are a bit sensitive about getting their pictures takes. It’s always a good gesture to ask for permission before pointing your camera. It is fun to explore the suffocating streets. Once you enter this, you’ll forget about the pine canopies, the lovely meadows and the gushing waterfalls, that made Shillong so beautiful. Instead you’ll experience another Shillong; beautiful and electric in its own way.
At the entrance a man in his mid 50’s sat on a bench strumming his guitar, while singing Khasi gospel songs. At a closer look, this guy is blind but he has a sonorous sound and his passionate singing echoes through the gullies of the nearby shops. Passerby who are touched and those who appreciate his effort dropped coins or some rupees into a container placed nearby. He is a part of this vibrant bazaar culture along with all the shopkeepers. More than anything, it’s the people and their culture that defines a place, which makes a place what it is.
Most businesses even in Shillong are run by Malwaris and people from mainland India. But in Bara Bazaar, there’s no competition, it is the locals alone who own this establishment. There’s no cultural proliferation. This is a refreshing in today’s world where originality is a fading notion.