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– George Bernard Shaw
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I have discovered over my travels that one of the most effective way to create memorable experiences out of your travels is to let the senses take over to sample local food, take in local aromas and savour local tastes; and then the smells and the tastes that you experience linger with you for a long time to come. The memories are not preserved only in photographs but also in those little jars of local pickles or sachets of the spices of the region or that special bottle of wine of the season or the rice/rajma with the flavors not to be found elsewhere that you pick up on your trips.
On one of my recent trips to Kumaon, I did precisely this and even though I came back a month back, the flavours still linger. One very interesting lentil I found on the trip is Bhatt, a kind of black soya bean that is prepared in very many different ways. It’s another variant is rust brown in colour commonly known as Kulathi in some areas.
These lentils are not only recommended for a variety of ailments of the urinary tract, they are also when cooked over slow fire in an open vessel and imbued with local spices give that rich textured taste and magical aromas. In valleys in Kumaon along the rivers where a variety of red rice reputed for its medicinal properties is grown, these lentils are eaten with red rice.
On the spices side besides that relatively better known Pahari Lemons and Heeng (asfoetada), I came across interesting spices like ‘Jambu’ (a jeera like flavouring herb that is supposed to be of Tibetan origins), and Gandhrouli (another asfoetada like substance.
Another interesting spice that I found was bhanga (essentially seeds of the Marijuana plant used often as a ‘chatni’ ingredient, it is also used to give specific flavours to curd based dishes. Dried seeds of small pomegranates called Dadims are also used to lend specific taste to some meat dishes. The area households also use many of the exotic flavors originally from Tibet.
Many of these typically local products are now relatively easy available through the efforts made by local women self help groups that organize themselves to process and package them, and then market them through kiosks set up in areas of tourist interest.
Interestingly these kiosks are also manned by local women working for the NGO working in close cooperation with local village leadership and are able to provide interesting insights into how to use these products. I was very fortunate to have found the perfect place to discover these in ‘Chhoti Haldwani’ a village set up by legendary hunter and conservationist ‘Jim Corbett’ through a community level initiative focused on homestays, community engagement and building value around environment and shared heritage. I do believe that more initiatives of this kind will build memorable experiences for the tourists.
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