Indiblogger sent me an email 3 months back telling me about the IB 2017 awards. I’m a work-in-progress and blog once or twice a month, so I didn’t think I’d have much chance. But when I looked through their site I realized they had many categories.
“If I can find a category with 2-3 entries, maybe…” I said to myself.
I discovered they actually had state-wise categories, and Uttarakhand had only 3 entries. Bingo!
I submitted my entry and crossed my fingers. Then they emailed me again, saying I could nominate my blog for four other categories (with three posts required for each category). This time I thought of three appropriate posts in each category and submitted. But I still had my hopes pinned on Uttarakhand. India is a big country, and Indiblogger has over 25,000 registered blogs. What chance did I have?
Have you heard of BT Starbucks? BT stands for “Better Than”. The three café’s up here in the Himalayan Mountainside have been christened BT Starbucks, BT Costa and BT Barista. Each serves up one thing neither Starbucks, Costa or Barista can. They serve Simplicity. You go there and sit on the basic wooden bench and order a cup of tea, and that is exactly what you get. If you don’t say otherwise, it automatically comes with sugar. None of the three has the Teavana Shaken Iced Berry Sangria Herbal Tea Grande on the menu. Yes, that’s a real drink at Starbucks. Yes, that is just one drink, not three.
BT Starbucks does only “wood fired” tea because the owner does not use LPG or kerosene. We can discuss how eco-friendly that is. Best to do so in a Café Coffee Day where the Air Conditioning is set to teeth chattering. None of the cafes up here have air-conditioning. Actually, I am not sure they all even have electricity. You see, they close well before dark.
So imagine my shock when I went to a tea shop in the neighbouring village of Reetha, and the shopkeeper asked if we wanted regular or herbal tea. I was with my friend Nitin. I looked at him and found his eyebrows were attempting paragliding as well. We both sat down and agreed to try the herbal tea.
It was lovely. A clear golden-brown color, the rich smell of herbs – all served up in simple steel glasses and cups. The tea was free of sugar – sweetened naturally with a herb called Stevia. One could taste some rather distinct flavours. And the size of the serving was also just right – not an attempt to sink the titanic.
We had to come back to Reetha the next day to meet someone. As happens often in the
hills, we had to wait. So we had another round of the herbal tea. It was still great, but a little different from the previous day. The Rosemary was stronger. The sweetness a little less.
You see, the owner of tea-shop – a very friendly man named Harinder Singh – is not a barista. He does not have a single definition of perfection which he has decided to foist on all humanity. He said they tried slight variations and something new came up. And their customers enjoyed it.
So we got chatting about how he made the tea. Harinder Singh ji readily showed us all the ingredients – some which he had kept carefully in ziplock packets, some in plastic jars (see slideshow). It was obvious he took joy in growing and drying these herbs. With much pride he explained some trade secrets-
like mixing Rhododendrnon flowers with the Stevia makes a better sweetener. He enjoyed the appreciation and special attention he got from us.
What made the tea completely unbelievable was the price tag of 10 rupees. So the next time I am travelling to the city and we want to catch up, please don’t ask me to meet at a Starbucks. Where I come from, I can get 29 cups of real herbal tea for the price of one Teavana Shaken Iced Berry Sangria Herbal Tea Grande.
And if you frequent Starbucks, come and stay at Reetha for a few days. Your savings on herbal tea will pay for your entire trip.
(Title photo credit : Ek Chidiya Cottage)
About Chetan Mahajan: Chetan is a full-time author who lives in a village in the Kumaon Himalayas. He published his first book with Penguin, and is working on his next one. The amazing creative influence of the Himalayas inspired him to start the Himalayan Writing Retreats: writing getaways for both novice and advanced writers. You can learn more about these retreats at www.himalayanwritingretreat.com . He also writes and edits this blog.
I always had this belief that I was really good-looking. Somehow, the world at large seemed to disagree. Until now.
The call from the casting company changed everything. It started with a facebook post looking for a 45+ marathon runner for an ad film, went on to an online audition and finally culminated in me sitting in the airport lounge typing out this post, en route to Mumbai and the beautiful world beyond.
The moment the casting company confirmed the assignment, I felt an overwheming urge to end world hunger single-handedly based on my fabulous good looks. I now notice my ridiculously handsome reflection in every mirror and glass I walk past. And am seriously considering launching my own line of fragrances and deodorants. I can’t wait for my name to be in every underarm in the world.
The village is no place for a budding model – the supply of beauty and skin-care products is so limited. But I went to our local store and bought an exfoliating scrub, the age defying cream and some other random cosmetics – even though I couldn’t read much of what was written on the labels (reading glasses really don’t fit in this new world you see). The other stuff was okay but I really didn’t like the age defying cream. It tasted horrible, which was shocking given it was more expensive than a whole tandoori chicken. Of course the next stop was the salon to have my hair styled.
Many other cosmetic concerns emerged. Will I have to start using skin lightening cream? But the mirror told me sex appeal oozed from my dusky hue, so I decided against it. The casting guy had loved me just the way I was. And will I have to shave off my chest hair and stop eating puris? I hate shaving even my face. Then I remember Sean Connery with relief – at least for the chest hair. I wonder what the Hollywood Scottish do for Puris, though.
I am really looking forward to being at the shoot, although I guess I won’t have much to do but hang around and look pretty.
Letting such raw sexuality loose in a rural setting, however, is not without risk. The other day as I caught my own reflection in the window pane, I pouted. I noticed some movement outside the window and heard a crashing sound. I rushed outside to find a cow had fallen over outside the glass I was pouting at. As I bent down to take a closer look at the cow, the bovine beauty made a sudden jerking movement. I swear she was trying to kiss me. I guess it was just my irresistible animal magnetism.
The cow will eventually get over it and return to normal quite quickly. But I wonder how long it will take me.
The guy who wrote this post, along with his more talented but less good-looking colleagues host the Himalayan Writing Retreats – a variety of events on writing, blogging and podcasting at gorgeous Himalayan locales. You can learn more at www.himalayanwritingretreat.com.
No country spares the English Language, not even America where people often drink a bunch of water, and kids and criminals alike “ain’t done nothin”. But given that India is a melting pot of a few score nations, we’re far ahead. With our blenders we can grind our way to happiness (see pic above). We have petrol pumps named “Siddharth Feeling Station” (of which, unfortunately, I could not get a picture) and so on.
The government itself can rename and re-spell legends – probably hoping to throw off google maps.
We all recognize and appreciate the value of Government education, so this dude called his “Education Institute” (unclear exactly what they do) G.O.V.T. – “Gyan Obtain of Vision Technology”
When we marry a fitness band to Mountain Dew (how appropriate) this is what we get. Darr ke aage Kuljeet hai.
We have gender-based AA messaging : we exclusively tell old women not to drink alcohol.
Our KFC stands for the Kapkot Food Court, which serves fish 24X7.
Kapkot is an obscure village in the middle of Kumaoni nowhere, which is even more nowhere than regular nowhere.
And finally, the guy who runs the Ojaswi Himalayan Resort did not find a word good enough to describe his place in the English Dictionary so he invented one : Butiane. That is Butane with an “I” in the middle i.e. an ego surrounded by gas.
It is a pleasant afternoon. We have those often in the Himalayas. I sit down to write.
My wife – a psychologist and mentor – is on the phone coaching a counsellor about something that sounds rather juicy. She notices my attentive eavesdropping and leaves the room. I turn back to writing.
I am short of my daily target of words to finish my novel. Yesterday, the words just flowed. Not today. A Facebook alert pops up on my screen. I stare at the intrusion. A reflective brain thinks but a reflexive finger clicks faster. Almost subconsciously, I am chatting with some obscure acquaintance. I learn that her daughter has colored her hair blue. And she wants a place in the mountains. But with a/c – mainly for her heat sensitive pet. At 6200 ft, I don’t even have fans in my house. I end the chat.
I scroll Fb. Brexit update. So now EU sounds like Ewww? See the cute puppies video. Get the latest Trump news – what’s wrong with America? See Dipa Karmakar’s vault – again. Indian sports history will remember her posterior for posterity. What a touching moment. “Mat finish” says one part of my mind. “No empathy” says another. Sigh! Politics and Religious fundamentalism bait me into pointless rants. Full of wisdom, I resist and shutdown Fb.
Bloody time thief.
Alone, I focus. Still no words.
I think of creative ways to unblock. Vaastu? I turn my chair to face south instead of west south west. The vacuum continues. I put on a hat – maybe that will focus the thoughts. Nah. I put on my full-face motorcycling helmet. Still nothing.
Maybe a cup of tea will help?
I put the electric kettle on. The power fails. “Should’ve picked a village with full power backup.” I chuckle and grumble.
I transfer the water to a pan and set it on the gas stove. Waiting for the water to boil I vacantly look outside. The kids have left a bike out, and it is cloudy. Might rain.
Still helmeted, I step out and move the bike to the store. Our store has two rooms. I have intended to make one into a writing room for a long time, to stay away from the distractions in the house. I look around at the mess and see some books that I was intending to give away. I set the bike down, pick up one of the books and leaf through it. Turning the fourth page I find a royalty cheque of 46 rupees from my first book. It is dated January. Sheesh, what a waste! I wish I was better organized.
Just then Munni – who thinks I am goofy anyway – walks in and asks why an empty pan is on the gas. She sees me in my helmet and runs away. I run after her – but to the kitchen. The steel pan looks like a rainbow on steroids, with colors ranging from rosy pink to burnt black.
I kill the flame, remove the helmet, and step out to find Munni peering at me from behind a tree. Non-chalantly, I ask her to make me some tea. I return to my writing and take a deep breath. Just then the door opens – both my kids are back from school …
(As a full-time writer, I know writing is hard. Starting a book is daunting. Keeping it going even more so. Daunting enough to ignore, avoid, not put on to-do lists. Or only put on to-do lists.
That is why my friend Roy and I are doing the writing retreat. We understand. We hope the retreat will keep you – and us – on track and fill the world with more high-quality books.