Kutch, Dec 17: Nestled in the dusty alleys of Kharaghoda village in Gujarat, a 111-year-old covered market set up by the British and called the "country's oldest mall" by locals, has been catering to the needs of the villagers besides acting as their meeting point.
The Bulkley market, located in Surendranagar district, was built in 1905 by Hindustan Salts Limited, a company engaged in salt manufacturing. The company was run by the Britishers before Independence and like the market, it had developed the entire village in a planned manner. It had also built a hospital in the area which remains functional to this day.
The small market complex houses 8-10 shops under one roof. The shops are lined neatly along a passageway and the shopkeepers sit on elevated platforms, where they also display their wares. The market caters to the villagers of Kharghoda, most of whom work in a salt factory nearby.
This nucleus of shops stocks items ranging from daily necessities like groceries, vegetables, clothes to bicycle tyres. The shopping area also serves as a meeting point of the village where the locals gather daily to talk and exchange news. The locals express a sense of pride in the market and most consider it a heritage.
Most shopkeepers have owned the shops in the complex for over 25-30 years and the rest say the shops have been in their families as long as they can remember.
Poonamchand Jain owns a 75-year-old shop in the market. Jain, who traces his roots to Rajasthan, says, "This shop has been in my family for over 75 years now. We sell almost everything here. It's difficult to run a business in such a poor village but we would never want this market place to shut down as this is our heritage."
Habib Khatri, who owns a tailoring shop, in the market, says, "My forefathers started stitching garments in this small shop and I continue to do what they began. I make clothes for men and boys only as women in the village mostly stitch their own outfits."
Another shopkeeper Mohandas says the shop had always been in his family and most villagers depend on this market to buy items to daily necessities. The villagers claim that the market has never been renovated.
They say the thatching on the rooftop has been replaced over time but its basic structure remains the same as when it was built a century ago. According to an inscription on the facade of the complex, the market was "named after Mr Bulkley who was for many years assistant collector of salt revenue in-charge of Kharaghoda and interested himself greatly in the welfare of the village".