A Bad Day and a Good Day in the Market, Indian style

Blogging challenges, India

When abroad – or even somewhere fresh here in the UK – a big pleasure comes from visiting the local market.  People-watching ordinary folk going about their daily business: seeing what’s on offer at the run-of-the-mill fruit and veg stalls.  What are the local cheeses?  Is there any honey from round and about? What have they got on sale that‘s unexpected?  Perhaps a stall holder will invite me to try this kind of apricot – and then that one – before I buy.  Maybe a nun from the local convent will be selling home-pressed apple juice.

In India, it was spices I was particularly keen to see.  But in Mysore, which isn’t short of European visitors, I had such a bad time I almost didn’t venture into a market again.  I had Tourist emblazoned across my forehead for all to see.  And I was pestered, by one young man in particular, who wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer, whether I was nice, nasty or ignored him.. Whatever.  I left with no purchase, and in a very bad mood.  Though later I got a few photos – the ones you see below and as the featured photo.

Pondicherry was much better.  Here were men, women, seated on the floor and selling whatever they had – a few vegetables from their land, a few fish.  There were larger, more business-like stalls too.  I was doing my usual diffident-about-asking-to-take-photos there, so I only have one of a  woman selling fish, and one water buffalo, who made a good story for the day by peeing copiously all over my feet.

Best of all was Thanjavur.  Here, I stayed with a young American academic, who spoke fluent Tamil, and took me into the homes of her Indian friends, walked me round the back streets to admire the Diwali pavement decorations, and generally gave me a good time.

  One day, she wanted me to go to the market for her.  Just a few simple purchases.  Carrots, onions, that kind of thing. For the first time in India, I met people who spoke no English at all.  And my Tamil didn’t extend beyond ‘please’(தயவு செய்து Tayavu ceytu)  and ‘thank you’ (நன்றி Nanri).  But pointing’s fine.

I don’t think they’d ever had an English tourist wanting anything, let alone humble carrots at the vegetable stall, and soon I was the centre of an amiable group helping me make my purchases.  They tried to increase my vocabulary, and begged me to teach them the same words in English because it was the end of the day and they weren’t busy.  It was such fun.  And when it came to payment, I tried to press far too much money into their hands.  I thought they’d asked for 70 rupees (about 70 pence), and felt it cheap at the price.  How ridiculous!  They wanted seven.  Honestly, that English woman!  Is she made of money?  And my new friend, the one who actually served me with the vegetables I needed, begged for a photo.  Here it is.

My friend in the Market

So here we are: Two market traders for Just One Person from Around the World. There are a few more from where these came from. If we can’t go very far, we could at least do a Virtual Trip to India for a week or two.

58 thoughts on “A Bad Day and a Good Day in the Market, Indian style

  1. I guess markets is one of our fetishes when travelling. Kathmandu, Chinon, Beaune, Toulon, Estepona, all spring to mind. Sadly not as prevalent in England nowadays even though many towns have market charters going back to King John!

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  2. Market food shopping is a wonderful way to experience an unfamiliar place. Your friend was giving you quite a gift in sending you out on her errands!

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  3. What a wonderful post and wonderful experience! I don’t think you can do any better than a local market do you? And to go out by yourself is entirely different experience altogether! I am curious…….. is there a story behind the pavement decorations? Are they there all the time? Are they changed up? I look forward to all these posts because everyone has been to such interesting places and I love seeing the people and learning about them!

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  4. Love your tales. I would have quite a few to tell too. One memorable was when I was in Mexico, and I saw a ‘Moses basket’ so beautifully woven that I had to show it to my (then) husband. Immediately a fabulous bidding war ensued. I was a very young, and not pregnant European (goldilock) woman and the last thing I needed or wanted was a large baby basket to schlepp on the Greyhound (we left our VW bus in San Antonio Texas, with friends who locked it in their garage)…. Of course although I spoke English, I got nowhere with my non-existent Spanish. Who would have thought I needed to haggle over the price for a non-wanted baby basket?! I got so desparate that I underbid the vendor so badly that I hoped he would refuse…. but he did accept my offer. I have no idea any more how much this basket cost me, it was certainly more than the vendor could hope for but it also was a huge burden for us, to have it with us for the rest of our mexico trip! And you should have seen the eyes of our family when they picked us up at the airport upon returning to Switzerland….. and their deception when they had to realise that there was no baby to take place in said basket – not for a long time yet!

    If I can, I always buy some local food, but best I like honey from that region. Also, I can’t eat mango fruits any longer because I bought too many and couldn’t take them back into America. So we either had to throw them away (we never ever throw food away) or eat them on the spot, before crossing the border. We weren’t even allowed to offer them to the border controllers…. so that’s me gone off mangos forever!

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  5. There’s nothing like a local market for absorbing the ‘feel’ of a country, and for photography 🙂 You have some great ones here, despite your diffidence and that bad experience in Mysore. That’s so untypical of India from all that I’ve seen. People we’ve met are usually far more like your vegetable seller – eager to help and keen to be photographed 😀

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  6. Amazing images. Such a great adventure out of the simple task of food shopping! My eldest daughter was travelling in India when Covid kicked off, luckily she managed to get home in good time. I know she is itching to get back though.

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  7. Yes, good and bad has turned into a lovely post with delightful photos especially the chap who sold you the veggies. You’ve captured him looking like he is in full flow. As I think I have commented before on your trip, I do admire that you travelled on your own although it can bring some difficult situations.

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  8. Wonderful experience! I love local markets even if I – with my limited sense of direction – tend to get lost! 😆 I once went to a goat market in Oman, that was so much fun! Yes, discussing prices when you don’t speak the same language can be daunting, couldn’t they just write it on a piece of paper? Even if you paid too much, it was probably still cheap. 🙂

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  9. I love the story-telling, Margaret and the photos are wonderful! Unlike most people, I find markets claustrophobic and start to feel very anxious if I can’t escape easily – which is a shame as I know I’m missing out on a great experience.

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  10. What a delightful story. I remember a rather enthusiastic vendor in Victoria Falls who was insistent on selling me a wooden elephant. He kept reducing the price so much that I thought he was going to have to offer me money to take it! Such harassment can be very wearying. I think Morocco is the worst place though.

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  11. It’s not great when they absolutely know you’re a tourist and apparently fair game. The trouble is, it stops me engaging even when I am genuinely interested.

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  12. Very interesting to read of these market experiences. Mostly I enjoy markets although I have not been to many places where prices are negotiated (haggled?) or where visiting tourists are pressured (or peed on by large animals). It can be amazing how kind people are. I remember when walking around a fresh produce market in Sparti in Greece (and not buying anything) one of the stall holders gave us each an apple as a gift.
    Are those garlic cloves in the last photo?

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    1. Shockingly, Carol, I can no longer remember what those are. Not garlic anyway! And haggling did not come naturally to me. I don’t enjoy it at all. Tell me the price. If it’s worth it to me, I’ll pay it, if not, I won’t.

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      1. I agree about haggling, although I suppose it might result in fair prices being paid if one knows about local pricing. But it bothers me that poor crafters are often so underpaid for their wonderful work, and then relatively well-off people haggle the price down even further …

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      2. It would be nice to think that people can tell the difference between craftsman earning a living, and big firms just putting their machine-made stuff out there. But I guess it’s not always taht obvious.

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