Sunday, November 27, 2011

How Not to be a traveler:

Situation 1:
Traveling through some narrow bad road in the hills of Madhya Pradesh

Me: Ohh…we forgot to take water.
Co-traveler: We will buy a bottle
Me: From where?
Co-Traveler: Am sure we can get it here. (and points to a tiny pan/kirana store)
We were crossing a small village which looked really poor and the pan shop seemed like the only shop there.

Me: You think you will get a mineral water bottle here?!!
Co-traveler: Why not, am sure they will be keeping water bottles atleast.
Me: Yeah sure, for a village which might not be getting safe drinking water, they will definitely be using mineral water!

Situation 2:

Our tickets are RAC and 4 hours before the scheduled time I check with IRTC. The tickets are not confirmed but two of us get one seat number. The final number showed as RB2 55 against two of us. Initially we found this number confusing to understand.

Me: I don’t think we are confirmed. It’s still showing R. We will have to check the charts.
Co-traveler: I think they have a separate coach called RB1 for all RAC travelers.
Me: RAC means Reservation against Cancellation. And it means exactly that. If they had a coach for waitlisted travelers, why would they call them RACs?
Co-traveler: I don’t know. It’s been 7 years since I’ve traveled by a train.
Me: So you have forgotten all about train journeys and understand only air travel, is it?

Situation 3:

Co-traveler and I wake up early to go to the point from where we could see a beautiful sun rising across the valley.

Me pointing in the opposite direction: So we have to go that side for the sunset.
Co-traveler: Oh I wouldn’t know.
Me: Meaning?
Co-traveler: I don’t know which direction the sun will be setting and all.
Me: You don’t know the sun sets in exactly the opposite direction to the sunrise??!
Co-traveler shrugs his shoulder.
Me: And you call yourself a traveler.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Tea, Chai and its various cousins:

That necessary morning cuppa, your travel memories on many a road trip, the energizer after a particularly tiring day or the calming effect after a stressful experience. A delightful way to spend time with a close friend or just sit alone with a hot cup looking out on a grey drizzling sky. What would life be without that cup of chai!

Traveling across the country I have noticed that those 3 or 4 necessary ingredients that make the cuppa created tastes and experiences so different from each other. It might be the leaf used, the taste of milk, the style of making or simply the person’s personal touch…but the taste in each cup can leave behind many beautiful stories and memories.

Back in my native state, the tea made in most homes is mild, watery and with minimal milk for a greater emphasis on the flavour of the leaf used. That taste always remind me of carefree days when the whole family would come together over an evening cup of tea along with bowls and bowls of telebhaja, moori and lots of easy banter.

In Maharashtra, tea is milky and very sweet. The more they like you, the more sweet and milky it becomes. In the mountains up north, a cup of hot adrak chai can help dispel the coldest of weather. Further up in Ladakh, the locals make butter tea….a salty tea made of yak butter, salt, milk and tea leaves. Its takes a while to get used to the taste but it’s the best drink to keep you warm and energetic. If you go to any local’s house and not finish the proffered tea, it’s not considered good manners.

In Assam, even the tiniest of the thela chai is full of flavour reminding you all the time why Assam is such a tea haven. In Arunachal, they make lal chai due to non-availability of milk. Its light and that one slice of a large fragrant lime found only in the eastern part of India, makes it oh! so delicious. Even at an expensive rate of Rs.15 per cup, you will feel like downing cup after many cups.

But strangely I have had the best tasting roadside tea in the southern states which most people misguidedly think as coffee states. In Chidambaram, after a hearty breakfast of divinely soft idlis, I stood and saw an entirely different process of making that perfectly balanced cup. The chaiwala had a huge metal pot with a tap where the hot liquor of the tea was collected. In another huge patila milk simmered over a low fire with a thick layer of cream forming on top. And in a third container, he kept sugar syrup. That’s it! When anybody wanted a cup, he just took measured portions of each one by one and poured it in another glass in one long sweep which only the south Indians can do. He then served the tea with a drop of cream on top for just the perfect taste.

Going inside the tribal areas of Vidarbh and Chattisgarh, I had an opportunity to taste a type of herbal tea made from dried palash flowers, since tea as we know it is unknown in these regions. An extremely different and creatively made tea is the lal chai of Raipur. They put a dash of lemon juice and a unique mixture of some roasted and ground spices along with chaat masala for a delightfully tangy tea.

But the one taste that can never leave my memory is the taste of kulhar chai on our many journeys to Calcutta during my childhood. I remember how quickly and efficiently the vendors poured the tea in the kulhars and shove them at us through the train window. Sometimes the train would start and the vendor would run along till he got the money and then go back to his kettle kept on a now empty platform. I would then sit back to inhale the heady mixture of tea and wet earth smell of the kulhar as fields and distant hills whizzed by.