City of Joy- Flower Power

The day started well with a sight like this:

Howrah Bridge

I am in Kolkata gaping at the iconic Howrah Bridge. The gleaming bridge stretches across the Hooghly river connecting the twin cities Howrah and Kolkata. It looks like a giant mythical creature with tiny humans and vehicles in its belly.

Two days is ridiculously inadequate to see the old capital of India but I am very excited.   My host, a dear friend who is a  long-term resident of Kolkata, suggested a heritage walk and here we are at the Jagannath ghat waiting for the guide.   Expecting a large group of tourists I was pleasantly surprised to find just the two of us with Navpreet, the vivacious host of FunOnStreets. After the brief introduction, she led us down the ghat which was already a hub of activities at 7 a.m:  morning ablutions, prayers,   wrestling practice, and photo shoots.


From the ghat we walked to the Flower Market, supposed to be the largest wholesale market of its kind in India.

Mullick Ghat Flower Market

The first sight of the narrow lanes filled with flowers and people is overwhelming. The bustling market has been operating for the last 125 years. Truckloads of flowers start coming as early as 4 a.m from all over West Bengal and the frenetic activities go on till late. The whole atmosphere is colorful and chaotic. We picked our way through the petal strewn path, careful not to collide with the milling crowd.

Flowers have always been an integral part of Indian festivals, weddings, and temple rituals. Here you can see a staggering variety of flowers and leaves of different colors, textures, and designs. Some are exclusively reserved for the temples; I didn’t know that Gods also have their favourite flowers!

Goodmorning Sunshine

Pristine white and deliciously fragrant jasmine

Fiery cockscomb

Aparajita flower

Akundo flowers for Lord Shiva

Lotus buds for Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi

Floral offerings for the temples

Special leaves for the temple rituals

Exotic roses for export

Over 250 stalls line the alleyway. Despite the shabby exterior, they make a decent income which goes up considerably during festival and wedding seasons. Navpreet kept us engaged with interesting trivia.

There are people everywhere: vendors, buyers, porters, and tourists. You just got to go with the flow and take in as much as you can.

Deftly weaving garlands

Pitching sales

Red hibiscus garlands for Goddess Kali

Where are the buyers today?

We need a break.

Men outnumber women; they lug their colorful, fragrant merchandise with ease and grace.

I like the way he is holding the garlands

Wonder why none of the ladies have worn flowers in their hair.

Vendors are quite used to the awestruck tourists; photo permits sought and granted in the most eloquent silent language

Spilling over to the footpath

Marigold flowers are the most in demand. The bright yellow and orange blooms are visible all over the place:


Heavy load!


In bundles

Floral cascade


I see a giant floral dump; some flowers look too fresh to be discarded.IMG_5652


Temples and religious rituals require a fresh batch of flowers every day so all the unsold wares end up in the dump. I wish the authorities do something about it. There is a Kanpur based startup ‘HelpUsGreen’ which recycle floral waste into incense sticks and vermicompost.  Anybody listening?

It will be exciting to spend an entire day in this market but we have to catch a ferry, so let me stop and smell the roses/ marigolds.



Dragon Tales,Thimphu-A walk down the streets

From the rustic hamlet of Paro, I found myself heading for the equally sylvan surroundings of the capital Thimphu and Bhutan’s most populated city.

Getting there took  about an hour and a half, vending through highway and all the while being treated to a still unblemished scenic beauty on either side. The capital city came into being in 1961 and the valley that envelops it stretches along the Wang Chhu river. It does have some of trappings of a bustling city but omits some features that we have come to accept as standard fare these days – airport,  traffic lights ,MNCs  and billboards.

My hotel was  near  the main street and opposite the National Stadium. This  stadium has historical significance as it is built at the site of a famous battle which led to the unification of Bhutan and the coronation of their first king.  When I went in  a football match  was going on. Though archery is their national sport, football is quite popular.




A short walk took me to the main throughfare of Zorin Lam Street and the clock tower square. This is a  city landmark  and  remains an ever popular hangout for the young and the young at heart. A gig in connection with 4G launch was going on .For a country which introduced internet  as recent as 1999,their telecom sector is booming.
I was quite tired after the epic Tiger nest trek  and was looking forward to a comfortable night’s kip . Clearly, I knew nothing about the notorious dogs there. They  were barking all night and the canine symphony kept me awake  most of the time.

Later I came to know that stray dogs are a major problem here and being a Buddhist country they  cannot euthanise  them.Singey told me that they have an ongoing spay neuter and vaccination program.Well,that did put me at ease.These dogs are fiercely territorial and  one can see chorten dogs,monastery dogs , restaurant dogs,etc.My tormentors  could be the downtown pack.

I got out of the hotel   as the city  was waking up to a new day. My first stop was the clock tower centre.  Souvenir shops,restaurants,cafes, and bars are seen around the  well maintained streets.A few elderly ladies were seen   turning the prayer wheels.I think this is their  morning ritual.



From there I walked down towards the  traffic kiosk. Thimphu being the capital has the  heaviest traffic  in the country and it also boasts of having no traffic lights.Traffic police from the Royal Bhutan  Police controls the traffic.In 1995  traffic  lights were installed  but they were taken off soon as most people failed to follow  and there were accidents.So  the  traffic cops were reinstated   and this spot has become a major tourist attraction. The kiosk also sports  the  traditional  look.  The night revellers  were seen curled up and sleeping cosily.They must be the kiosk pack.


The picturesque traffic kiosk.Don’t miss the sleeping beauties.

Symbols of Buddhism and pictures of the King  and the royal family  can be seen everywhere.


Most of the commercial buildings are 4-5 storey structures  made in the traditional style with  brightly coloured  hand painted floral, animal  and religious motifs on the walls and  embellished windows.All the shops are numbered.bldgb19b16

Few old mud houses   share space with their modern concrete counterparts.

Impressive government offices are also scattered in and around the main street.




I wandered into an alleyway and  couldn’t help noticing the red stains on the wall.These are betel nut stains.Doma pani is the local term and quite a few  Bhutanese are addicted to its use.



The high point of the morning was  seeing the flowers  in bloom and I knew I  was in the right place.appleyellowflora