Thukpa vendors fighting against all odds to make a living

However, time extension has given them the opportunity to earn better

Time clicks to 10 pm, and the thukpa soup vendors set up shop at their designated areas across Thimphu city, mostly nearby entertainment centers. They work for than 5 hours during weekends and 2 to 3 hours during weekdays fighting against the harsh winter cold in Thimphu.

Two years of the pandemic almost wiped out their business, the only source of income. As things normalize, the thukpa soup vendors are relieved that they have their livelihood back even if they have to endure the harsh weather condition.

It is never easy to make money, they shared, and yet they do not want to pass on the option to earn an income. Most of the thukpa vendors are women.

Dorji, a man among the group of women, said, “Everything has become competitive with time now. There were a very few of us into the business before, but today, the number of people selling thukpa has doubled, which has hindered our earnings.”

According to Dorji, while everyone is desperate to earn as a living, however, it would be nice if everything is being monitored as per the rule. The business has now become so competitive that they sometimes have to throw almost half the food, putting them into loss.

The vendors do not have to pay any kind of fees to the government, he said which could be the reason why so many vendors are into the business today. But, the government’s decision on the time extension has helped them in good ways, he said.

“I usually choose to stay alone rather than being in group. Staying alone gives me the opportunity to sell better, but there were incidences of me being harassed and being teased by men. They were treating me inappropriately, and knowing the risk, I decided to prioritize my safety over earning more,” Yangzo said.

Due to the competition, she said the vendors have to go out of their way to build good rapport with customers.  Everything has become difficult, but they are fighting against all odds to make a living, she added.   

It is not safe for a woman to stay out late nights to selling food, said Dil Maya who has been doing the business for few months to support her family.

“I am being cautious every time, and I try to avoid selling things to those people who come drunk as they do not pay easily after eating and create a nuisance. Majority of the customers pay but there are a few who don’t, and to them I do not react because it is not safe to argue with drunken people,” she added.

Everything is challenging, the winter cold being the biggest challenge, she said. However, she is happy with the earnings. She said her taxi driver husband drives within town area to make sure she is safe.

Another, 25-year-old Zam who has been into the business for few years shared that with the time extension of entertainment centers till 3 am, it has given them the opportunity and rights to earn better legally.

She said, “Before we used to earn Nu 1,500 to 2,000 per night during the weekdays and Nu 3,000 to 3,500 during the weekends. Today, we can earn Nu 3,000 on weekdays to Nu 5,000 on weekends. It has added to our income generation.”

Nevertheless, she said doing business is all about taking risk, whereby they have to bargain with the customers over the payment, and sometimes argue or beg with officials to allow them sell overtime.

“Exactly at 12 am and 3 am, the police chase us out, it would be nice if they can at least allow us to sell until the time people completely disperse as we cannot sale the same old food the next day,” Zam added.

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