This heartwarming food experience dates back to my visit to Shoghi last year. It was a beautiful winter afternoon and after walking through the woods, I was as hungry as a bear. The final descend to the house in the neighboring village was worth all the effort. The warmth and hospitality of the family members and the experience of eating a wholesome meal in their kitchen made for a lovely travel memory. While the lady of the house and her daughter had put up a big meal for us, it was heartening to see her husband cook fresh chappatis for us. And trust me the makke ki rotis (breads made of maize) baked on fire had no match to the chappatis cooked on gas. Let me take you on this special gastronomical trip.
NATURE TRAIL IN SHOGHI
We commenced our nature trail at 11: 30 a.m. The terrain around the railway track (Kalka-Shimla heritage narrow gauge railway track of the Indian Railways) looked easy but gradually the ascends and the descends of the forests made it moderately tricky. One had to be careful about the slopes. The woods around Shimla are one of the thickest and densest in Asia and there are many options for hiking in and around Shoghi itself. We city dwellers had chosen a small route to relish the beauties of nature. I was glad that the twists and turns, uphills and downhills were keeping us on our toes. It was a path used by the locals to avoid taking the main road and it was a nice way to escape the pollution of the vehicles on the roads. In the hilly terrains, these shortcuts save a lot of time for the local villagers who any day prefer walking on these paths than opting for vehicles for distances of 4-5 kilometers.
The weather was perfect to interact with Mother Earth and her creations. It was a sunny day of the winters and we were happily enjoying the coziness in the lap of nature. Though we had been walking for more than an hour, we had only covered a stretch of 2 kilometers. After wandering for an hour and thirty minutes through the woods and greens of Shoghi, my stomach had begun to growl with hunger. When I was about to give up and sit down to take a break, our manager and escort from the resort pointed out to a colorful house in the far end and said that we would be stopping there for the lunch. The mention of food fueled me with energy and I was all charged up to tread the last lap. When we finally reached their house, it seemed like a well-deserved treat both for the body and stomach.
EATING LUNCH AT A LOCAL’S HOUSE
The family members had put up some chairs in front of the house. They gave us time to catch our breath and served us water. Three young girls were playing in the vicinity. While I drank water, I couldn’t help but notice that they had grown fruits and vegetables in their garden. We ate the fruit (it was sour, juicy and absolutely yum) and clicked pictures of this different kind of bottle gourd.
Soon, a lady of the house directed us towards a door. We removed our slippers and walked inside one by one. I had thought we would eat in a room but the idea of eating in the kitchen looked amazing. A chulha (a small earthen or brick stove where wood sticks are used for fire) at one corner was the first thing that caught my attention. Unlike our kitchens at home, it wasn’t cramped at all and had enough room to accommodate 7-8 people in one go. Thick mats were already laid out and six of us easily settled in. Our hosts were an elderly couple. Their young daughter quickly arranged our plates while both Uncle and Aunty remained busy in giving the final touch to the already cooked meal. I was immediately transported to the days when I used to visit my paternal grandparents in our ancestral village and my grandmother would serve me fresh food and make me eat in her big and half open kitchen (Chauka).
Initially, we were served a bowlful of jaggery (Gur) and ghee along with hot makke ki roti (breads made of maize flour) straight from the fire. Next, we were served some rice. The combination of jaggery and roti along with ghee was absolutely out of the world. For the first five minutes, we thought this was all about our simple meal and we happily indulged into chappatis after chappatis. But soon, Aunty surprised us with pots full of local delicacies. There was Dal, Matar Paneer, Chick peas, Arbi ki sabzi and more. Most interestingly, most of the dishes were cooked in yogurt to give us a taste of the authentic Himachali style of cooking. With so many options, it became complicated in no time and I did not know what to eat and what not. Every item tasted delicious and we all ate in full concentration. I only took the mandatory breaks to click pictures else my complete focus lay in enjoying the food. The combination of unique ambiance and home-cooked food made the whole experience very special. Lastly, they also served us the much-needed buttermilk to help in easy digestion.
Rice and Chick peas
There is definitely much more to the traditional cooking style of Himachal. This experience was one of its kind made to suit our taste as well. Wheat, barley, maize, buckwheat, rice and millet are the major cereals cultivated in Himachal Pradesh. These food make for staple diets in rural areas of Himachal. Also, curd is prepared and consumed in almost every house in the village which rear animals. Curd is generously used in everyday cooking. It is used in the recipe of almost all beans and curries. When the curd is churned, the butter is separated and the buttermilk (Cha) that is made is relished as a refreshing drink.
The best part about this local luncheon was that our hosts were extremely sweet and warm. Indeed, they made a great couple too. Both Uncle and Aunty worked in tandem. When Aunty was making chappatis, he helped us with the servings and when Aunty came to our help, Uncle was quick to take over the chulha and make some bread. He was good with his work and this proved that he was not doing it only to show us but was a pro at his work. Together, they gave out a strong message too that men and women can equally participate in the kitchen. It becomes difficult for the woman to handle it single-handedly.
After the lunch, I could have easily slept for few hours if given a bed. We had an option to take a car back to the resort but I chose to walk back through another interesting route. Another hour and more was invested in discovering the glories of nature and catching up with the hues in the sky. I must say it was a well spent day, away from the hustle-bustle of the city.
Last but not the least, this food experience happens to be a perfect example as to how we can help and support village tourism in India. This family charges a certain amount for this lovely experience that they offer to their guests. They have been doing this with the help of Aamod Resorts. The resort arranges this experience for their guests. Whenever you are around Shoghi, this is a must-do for you too.
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