Sunday was not just the polling day for Old City. It was also a day for setting up the traditional weekly ‘kabootar mandi’ (pigeon market) on the lane that runs adjacent to Company Bagh. Despite the poll fever, which had the entire city in its grips, the spirit of the pigeon handlers remained high and they turned up in good numbers to purchase the birds of their choice.

It is believed that the ‘kabootar mandi’ is the preferred destination of pigeon handlers from all parts of the country. “‘Shauk badi cheez hai’ (hobby / interest means a lot). That’s why we are here all the way from Varanasi to buy pigeons of a specific breed,” said Mohammed Salman, a pigeon handler fond of ‘Kabootar-baazi’ (pigeon racing).

The sport, said Salman , is an age-old tradition from the time of the Nawabs and the Mughals, who started and promoted the practice. “It is as common as reading, listening to music, swimming or any other hobby,” Salman told HT.

This pigeon market too is an old one, going back to the times of the Nawabs. It includes some 100-odd makeshift shops, neatly arranged alongside the road. They sell a variety of pigeons, including some much sought-after species. “We deal in all varieties, including Bedag, Ambarsaria, Saldaar, China, Shajahanpuri, Hara Shajahanpuri, Girabaaz and many others,” said Shahbaaz Khan, a shop owner.

Each variety has its own speciality, he added. “The key factor that guides a handler’s preferences is the pigeon’s ability to fly for a long time. Girabaaz can fly non-stop for 12 hours. It’s the most preferred species and costs around Rs 1,200-10,000,” said Khan.

Javed Khan, a pigeon handler who bought birds worth Rs 23,000 on the day, said, “Generally, there are two sports that are common among pigeon handlers. In one, the competing handlers will set of their group of pigeons (both groups having equal number of birds). While coming back, whichever group has more pigeons in it, that handler wins the contest. The second type involves solo flight – where only one pigeon per handler is set off. In this, the ability of the pigeon to fly for a long time will ultimately decide who gets to be the winner,” he explained.


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