The roadside vendors of Burichu

Business: It’s a gloomy day and Damphu town is silent.

But about 25km away towards Wangdue there is more excitement.

Burichu has become the latest attraction for commuters between Tsirang, Dagana, Wangdue, Punakha and Thimphu.

By the roadside are vendors displaying mouth-watering edibles. They have rows of colourful locally made pickles: dalle dominates followed by bamboo shoot pickle, radish pickle, jeera or cumin pickle, and honey are displayed to entice commuters to break their journey for a while.

Among the other it ems on sale are green dalle, tree tomato, cheese, butter, varieties of fruits and vegetables including mangoes, bananas, papayas, pineapples and cucumbers, among others. In the dry category, vendors have dried mushrooms, sesame seeds, buckwheat flour, lintels and a variety of pulses.

The items on sale here change depending on the seasons. Almost all fruits and vegetables grown in the villages of Tsirang can be found on sale here.

This is a place to stop by if commuters are looking to buy some local products, purely grown in Tsirang and few products such as lintel varieties from Dagana. It is a bustling place during the day. Commuters do not buy as much items from Damphu town as they do from here.

The only imported items vendors sell here are mineral water, a few varieties of cold drinks and bhujiya, the crispy Indian snack.

It was sometime in 2006 when Meena Kumari Rai began selling oranges by the roadside in Burichu. In small quantities she sold bananas, guavas and mangoes.

At that time she walked back to her village in Patalay in the evening, which was a two-hour walk away. By the year other vendors began vending along the road displaying almost similar products for sale.

After years of hiding and running from dzongkhag officials who did not allow them to sell on the roadside, Meena Kumari and friends managed to find a permanent location near the Burichu bridge. Here they constructed makeshift huts. Since then they have not moved and now there are 11 vendors here.

While the vendors get fruits and vegetables from farmers in surrounding villages in Tsirang, all varieties of pickles are homemade. “As far as possible we want to sell only local products but commuters demand for imported items such a juice and mineral water,” she said.

Seeing Meena Kumari prosper in her business, her Manrupa Rai also joined the vendors two years back. It is from this business that she has been able to send her two children to school after her husband left her.

On a good day, vendors here make a maximum of Nu 5,000. “Products here sell better than in towns such as Damphu,” she said.

On the extreme end is Pema Lhamo’s stall. She is busy packaging fresh siesie-shamu (chanterelles) just brought by a villager. Pema joined the vendors some five years back. After she separated with her husband, she had no means to educate her three children.

“I did minor seasonal business until I decided to stay permanently here,” she said. “Had it not been this shop, I would not have been able to educate my two elder children.”

When the 11 vendors in Burichu began doing well with the business, similar stalls began mushrooming about a kilometre away. There are about 10 of them here as well. The same products are sold at similar prices.

Surprisingly prices of products are quite expensive here, almost similar to that in Thimphu. For instance a small bottle of dalle pickle costs Nu 100. Vendors in Thimphu buy pickles from here at a wholesale rate and sell at a similar price.

However, no matter how expensive the products, commuters continue to buy it, one of the vendors said. She added that the products are costly here because farmers have increased prices.

Neither a licence nor a permit was required to set up stalls until now.  But henceforth, vendors say that should anyone else wish to join the group an approval has to be sought from the gewog.

Nirmala Pokhrel | Tsirang

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