In Search of the Ghost Pepper at Bara Bazaar Shillong

Bara Bazaar in Shillong is said to be the oldest market in the area and a market that is primarily run by women. Bara bazaar is also known as lewduh which is a literal translation of the word big market. The market is housed on a hill and is huge in its layout, narrow alleys traverse up, down and all over the hill and is definitely not for a claustrophobic person.

The market sells anything and everything one could fathom, from tobacco, to dried or fermented fish which is a local delicacy, to clothes, diapers, vegetables and other house hold goods. Definitely carrying goods up and down the bazaar through the crowded alleys and a labyrinth of stairs is a task a requires a level of skill I have not witnessed before. Men scurry along stairs and alleys with heavy loads tied to the back bent on a double. I also witnessed an erstwhile iron cupboard being carried down steep steps by a man who had tied it to a back and was transporting it at top speed by himself.

Goods being carried up and down the hill!

Our purpose for visiting Bara Bazaar was to buy the worlds hottest chili – Bhut Jolokia. Bhut Jolokia or ghost peppers is known by various names across the north east of India. We however didn’t know what is was called in Shillong. Anyone we asked for directions in the market pointed us towards various paths at random. One of the mistakes we made was to trying to speak Hindi in a state which has English as its official language. After walking around aimless around the fringes of the market which was full of godowns and old trader mansions, we plunged into one of the alleyways which intuitively seemed the unlikeliest place to hose such a big market.

To our surprise this dark small rabbit hole of an alley was one of the main entrances to this wide network of alleys also known as bara bazaar. The bazaar is traditionally true to itself and performs many rituals to the deity of the market (Ka Iew- Lei Hat-Lei Khyrdop) and the deity of Shillong (U Blei Shyllong). The shop keepers are primarily women and shops are placed wherever possible in the tiniest of spaces which is out of the way of the trampling feet of the crowd.

Dried Fish being sold at Bara Bazaar

We were asked to go up market to the vegetable section to find chilli. Up market there were more indigenous produce of mushrooms, banana stems, bamboo, pineapple, various types of almost lethal chillies, dried and fermented fish and tobbacco (which I thought was tea at first). We bought a couple of varieties of chillies as we frantically tried to google Bhut Jolokia but with some luck we did manage to buy a bit of bhût zôlôkiya (ভুত জলকীয়া) or bih zôlôkiya, also known as ghost pepper, aka naga zôlôkiya, umorok and probably bham (not sure of this) in Meghalaya. It was named the hottest chilli in the world in 2007 which is 400 times hotter than tobasco!

My Haul From Shillong, Bhut Jolokia, Bamboo pickle and something they called Red fireball!

It is usually used fresh or after drying and slivers of it are used in the stews, sauces or curries. It is also pickled and used, different types of pickles are also available in the market using bamboo, various chilies and other produce. Bara bazaar is definitely an experience, most Indian markets are narrow and crowded but the hilly topography and different type of merchandise at the market also the distinction of being one of the oldest women owned markets gives lewduh a unique flavor.

Here is a video of us navigating Bara Bazaar in search of the World’s hottest pepper!

Photographs copyrighted to Traveling Noodles.


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