Pashupatinagar, May 7: Anyone travelling along the Mechi highway gets attracted to the roadside shops full of small packets of local products. From Kuttidanda in Ilam to Ranke Bazar bordering Panchthar district, the shops are full of packets of different gift items placed beautifully in their showcases.  

All the shops operating along the Mechi Highway, right from Kuttidanda, to Harkte, Kanyam, Fikkal, Ilam Bazar and Ranke, are decorated with packets of different gift items. 

The sight of bottles filled with red Akbare chilli, butter adorned in plastic packets, and chunks of chhurpi (hardened cheese) delicately displayed on winnows lures the visitors and many of them buy the goods as gifts for their family members and relatives. 

The parcels containing the local products are arranged in the way so that both large and small shops look adorned with intricate decorations, enhancing the allure of the roadside scene.

Only agricultural products are traded in the Rake market near Panchthar border. Bahadur Bista, a local businessman, said that it would be more convenient for tourists if the market was properly managed and prices of packages containing gifts were fixed.  He said, "The goods are sold at arbitrary prices in lack of proper pricing."

The tourists returning home after visiting the Pathibhara temple of Taplejung love to visit Ranke market to buy gifts. Debi Paudel, president of Hotel Business Association Ilam, said that tourists prefer to stay in the hotels of Ranke because of its cold weather.

Muna Shrestha, a businessman, informed that a single shop in Ranke sells gifts worth more than Rs. 20,000 a day. Around 100 such shops are in operation in Ranke alone.

They have prepared the packets of gifts so that the shopkeepers can promptly carry them to the customers who tend to stay in their cars.   With the growing number of gift shops, there is also a tough competition among businessmen to attract customers. In this bustling market, where passenger traffic is heavy, there are daily transactions of agricultural produce worth hundreds of thousands of rupees.

Ranke serves as the primary market for farmers from villages like Ekatappa in Ilam and Pauwasartap in Panchthar. Tourists from Sikkim, Darjeeling, Kathmandu, Pokhara, Biratnagar, and other locations, who visit tourist destinations like Taplejung, Pathibhara, Pauwabhanjyang and Sadhutar, often return from Ranke laden with parcels containing chillies, ghee, hardened cheese, lollipops and other local delicacies.

Not only Ranke, but also Ilam Bazaar is also renowned for tea and other local products. Many of the houses in Ilam Bazaar have been converted into shops. Mandira Ghimire, a local businesswoman, mentioned that the gift market in Ilam Bazar is operating normally despite a decrease in the number of tourists visiting the old town.

Kanyam and Fikkal, located in Suryodaya Municipality of Ilam, are thriving economically due to the abundance of local agricultural produce. Hundreds of gift shops operating in these areas offer milk products like ghee, hardened cheese, and lollipop. Additionally, tourists often take other agricultural products like tea and cardamom.

Tea prices range from Rs. 800 to Rs. 5,000 per kilogram. Bandana Pradhan, a businesswoman from Fikkal, said that hardened cheese is typically sold for Rs. 1,200 to Rs. 2,500 per kilogram. During peak seasons, the price of raw materials can escalate to Rs. 1,000 per kilogram.

Mayor of Suryodaya Municipality, Ran Bahadur Rai, highlighted that the market of different items including lollipops, is thriving. He said the city has brought an agricultural market into operation in Kanyam specifically for marketing the agricultural produce.

Chairman of Rong Rural Municipality, Manikumar Syangbo, said that the rural municipality of Ilam has been branding brooms, honey, and gundruk (pickled leafy vegetables) as part of its marketing strategy.

According to the Veterinary Hospital and Expert Centre, Ilam alone exported Akbare chilli worth Rs. 10 million last fiscal year. Among the top 10 agricultural products of Ilam, potatoes rank first, followed by ginger, cardamom, vegetables, oranges, and chilli. -The Rising Nepal