Wednesday, June 08, 2011

The Witches' Market

GUEST POST by Meena Venkataraman.  We casually stroll into Witches’ market looking for souvenirs to take back home. Aimless tourists with a fancy camera on a hot Bolivian afternoon. In the heart of the hilly city of La Paz, a narrow alley leads us on and we follow, a little buzzed by the hot afternoon sun. On first sight we see an array of shops selling shawls and winter caps, sweaters for those needy of warmth and then an assortment of small souvenirs greets us. But this was just the beginning of the maze.

As we walked along, each step becoming a revelation, we discovered that we were in a veritable labyrinth of little alleyways leading in and out of descript buildings and fanning out into little walkways that disappear over the gentle curves of innocuous looking hills.

A Bolivian flag is spread out in bright colours over a balcony. From where we are standing, the traffic seems to descend over the teeming multitudes. I am watchful having been warned about pickpockets, and forewarned is forearmed. Beyond the multitudinous realms of El Alto stand over us at what looks like a safe distance, a million rooftops gleaming in the morning sun.

Walking into Witches market, what strikes you is the traffic running downhill towards you

El Alto in a distance, its vastness a constant looming high over La Paz.

We take a blind turn and come out into what looks like a dead end. And, there I see it, the dried carcass of a Llama Foetus. For the souvenirs and many trinkets is only a front for what is really sold here in Witches Market. Repulsion and Awe tug at my insides, and I stand transfixed, overcome by the tug of these two evenly matched polar opposites. "It is used for the foundation of houses" a passerby explains in broken English. I nod back acknowledging the receipt of useful information. Irony in language, its information I will never use 

a Llama Foetus, on display, along with other trinkets and charms

Frogs and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails? Not quite. But there are plenty of things on display bordering on the bizarre. This one seemed to be some kind of tooth.

The lair of witches, who mostly foretell what the future has in store, the Witches market is a surreal and fascinating place. They mostly wear dark hats, we are told. We walk around a little longer. With time and in response to the demands of tourists like me, the place seems to have grown and the roads are lined with hotels and restaurants, alongside shops where you find Herbal remedies for all of life’s ills, raw ingredients to appease the spirits of the Aymara world, folk remedies and other strange and interesting things like frogs legs, dried turtles and snakes.

Inspite of its associations with the morbid, the Witches Market is a lively, cheerful place. Every shop with its neatly stacked shawls is a riot of extraordinary colour. The warmth of the red, orange and yellow hues makes a simple task of picking out a keepsake seem like an impossible choice. Every turn took us to something spectacular. We haggled to our heart’s content. Sometimes the stony faces told us we had gone too far with the bargaining game only to beat a hasty retreat and try elsewhere.

One of the many colorful shops selling brightly colored shawls

This is a guest post by Meena Venkataraman. Meena is from Bangalore, India where she lived before moving to London a couple of years ago. An engineer by profession, she is also an artist and a freelance travel writer, both of which bring together creativity and her love for the outdoors. An avid traveller and a wild life enthusiast, Meena has travelled through much of India and the world. She blogs at Travel Tazzels

Read about: 
Fish Market Mumbai
Temple Bazaar
Dadar Flower market


Anil P said...

Wonderful, illuminating read. Meena's blog is among those I read regularly.

The name of the market, well, promises little adventures. Seems like a bustling, cheerful place to wander about.

Tails of puppy dogs! Diversity is great but sometimes I wonder if we'd prefer to not experience certain a kind of diversity.

Meena Venkataraman said...

Thanks ever so much Anil. Its a beautiful place.. unlike anything I've seen before...

Haha.. Dead right about diversity!