What’s this? Traditional Southeast Asian-style shopping in India? In January, Kolkata welcomed India’s first floating market – a logical step for a city long associated with life on the water, from boat rides along the Hooghly River to sundown cocktails aboard the Floatel floating hotel and flamboyant immersions of Hindu idols during the Durga Puja festival.
Inaugurated by West Bengal’s chief minister, Mamata Banerjee, this government-backed venture is now home to some 250 vendors, afloat on more than 100 boats, selling everything from flowers, fruits, vegetables and fish to street-food snacks and a plethora of trinkets and collectable knick-knacks.
Got a dress to stitch, or a beard to trim? Well, that’s taken care of too, by a selection of floating tailors and barbers. And all of this while bobbing on the placid waters of a picturesque lake (which means the photo-ops come for free).
Developed in the southern suburb of Patuli as a rehabilitation initiative for small businesses that were affected by urbanisation projects in the city, the market sprawls over a network of wooden ramps that branch out over the waters on stilts, with boats moored on both sides of the walkway within arms’ reach of shoppers.
While the majority of shop owners speak Bengali, many are conversant in basic English, and friendly locals are always happy to play mediator if required. Even if you’re not buying much, it’s fascinating to strike up a conversation with sellers and go through their wares.
The market is open from early morning until early evening, although midday is a bad time to visit (especially through the summer months), given the market’s lack of shade. To reach the floating market from the centre, ride the Metro to Shahid Khudiram station (Garia), or take a shared autorickshaw from Jadavpur 8B bus stand to the Garia terminus.
By Anirban Mahapatra