To read Part I of Team APB’s Culinary Sojourn of Garhwal click here
Day 2 of our Culinary Sojourn of Garhwal, dawned early and found us piling into waiting cars. Soon we were driving along NH-507 to the ancient temple complex of Lakhamandal located in the Jaunsar-Bawar region of Garhwal. We drove along the winding roads that curled their way around the mountains, with the river Yamuna flowing through the valley below us. We arrived at the spiritually enriched space that is the Lakhamandal complex. The local panditji took us on a detailed tour of the complex.
The Lakhamandal temple complex is a mythological place rich in lore. Legend has it that this temple complex was the site of Lakshagriha. A story in the Mahabharata tells of a lacquer palace created by the Kauravas for the Pandavas in an attempt to assassinate them. The Kauravas lured their cousins into the palace, locked them in and set it alight. According to the priest the story goes that the Gods manifested in the form of mice and led the family to safety through underground caves. Corroborating the myth is a cave not too far from the complex that is said to be the exit to the secret route through which the Pandavas made their escape. Today, the temple complex is considered an important site in Hindu religion because an unprecedentedly large number of lingams have been found here (and are still found every time the ground here is dug up). The presence of four different colors of lingams – red, green, white & black at this site is indicative that the temple would have been an important seat in different eras down the ages as well. It is a fascinating place.
After the temple complex tour, we made our way up to the traditional Garhwali home of the Pujari. An ancient building with a wraparound wooden balcony that overlooked the temple complex and the hills beyond. We climbed stairs up into a long balcony that had been laid with carpets to a warm smiling welcome by 5 generations of the priest’s family. We were shown to seats along the walls and made comfortable as the family brought around copper jugs and bowls and washed our hands. Soon plates were laid out before us, filled with local foods cooked entirely by the women in the family. We suddenly realized how hungry we were! The meal was so good. Honest, earthy food that satisfied the soul!
Our plates had on them, swala; a large puri stuffed with gehat dal and deep fried, steamed crescent shaped ulua (in a savoury gehat and sweet coconut, sesame and jaggery version). There were also urad ki pakodi a local specialty, pancake like aska, and chullu ki chutney; a fresh chutney of apricots pounded with 11 other ingredients on a silbatta or stone mortar.
Still high on the morning’s activities we piled back into our vehicles and headed out on another beautiful drive. An hour later, we alighted by the side of an unassuming lane. We were at Pantwadi a typical small village where the villagers were waiting to welcome us. A short walk down a steep path and we found a full band bajaa walla rousing welcome with garlands awaiting us! A traditional dance and an energetic performance by the local band ensued. Some of us got in on the action too! The energy was so infectious! And we have to admit, we were absolutely fascinated by the home overlooking the square we were in. Soon, totally exhausted, starving and completely enamoured we made our way into the home of the Pradhan.
The home we were in was another charmingly traditional Garhwali home. Hundreds of years old, with 5 generations of the family still living in it. One had to enter through a trap door and stoop down to enter the rooms. Interestingly designed the house was made of wood, and all the doorways were low, making it mandatory for people to bow and enter. The trapdoors and small doorframes we were told were created as a mechanism to protect people living in the house from attackers entering the house. The moment the enemy’s head came through a trapdoor, or bent to enter the house he was vulnerable and his head could be severed from his body. A little vicious, but worry not, no one does that any more, present day Garhwalis are very friendly and warm and the only way you could be endangered is by being overfed! As we were soon to find out.
We were shown around the house, going from one room to the next, the kitchen in the house was a traditional one, still using a wood-fired mud stove on which our food was being cooked at the back while hot Makki rotis were being made on the front. We city dwellers were teary-eyed in seconds from the pungent wood fire rising up from to the open chimney, in the low ventilated kitchen but the women of the house carried on with their cooking with broad smiles on their beautiful faces. When the smoke got to unbearable, we made our way to the spacious room that had been readied for us to lunch in. Soon we were seated on the floor around the room, and our hosts came around to wash our hands and lay out brass thalis before us.
Soon we were being served up a meal by the family and team JW. The food was simple, made with ingredients grown by the family, cooked simply and served fresh and hot! The silence in the room was a testament to how good it was. Laal bhaat, makki ki roti, aloo jhol, rajma, kaddu ki bhaji and jhangore ki kheer were spooned onto our plates. We ate and ate, unable to get enough of the food and we drove back to the hotel with full hearts and satiated bellies.
That evening, after a rest, we refreshed ourselves and met for a very special dinner. A modern interpretation of Garhwali food. The chefs at the hotel and Rushina had worked together to create a meal using traditional ingredients in modern dishes. The message behind this being that we have to create new ways to use indigenous ingredients to keep demand for them alive. Our meal began with an amuse bouche comprising of local seasonal fruit like lychees dusted with Buraansh or Rhododendron flower dust. Next came a soup of lentils and Kandalee (nettle) with Mandua crisps followed by chicken cooked with a puree of local amelda leaves, the vegetarians got cutlets of kandalee. The next course was smoked grilled Himalayan trout with achari nimbu rub and a kafli & walnut stuffed gucchi mushrooms with steamed rice and saffron curry for the vegetarians. The meal concluded in flames, yes you read right! Dessert was a bal mithai gateaux with local berry compote covered with spun sugar that the chef set alight! The sugar caramelised over the dessert, lending the whole beautiful caramelised notes. We heading to bed, at the end of another lovely day of discovery to soft pillows and the signature sleep sprays that lulled us to sweet sweet slumber…
Day three commenced with a traditional Garhwali breakfast of gulgule, chappat and swala at the JW Café made by the women from the nearby villages after which we had the run of the property. We made the most of the opportunity to explore all the spaces it had, doing yoga, sipping on tea at Perch, the coffee bar of the lobby where one could admire the view, wandering around the property, checking out the herbs and flowers grown in the green house, planting trees as per the tradition of the hotel to make every guest plant a sapling(so that the guest return soon to see the progress of their plant), talking to the women tending to the fields of beans, chilies and other leafy vegetables and hiking up to a nearby temple for a stunning view of the landscape.
We returned to an elaborate lunch featuring the Garhwali thali that JW Mussoorie has on its menu. Featuring dishes like ghare kukdi, kandalee ka saag, aloo ki thechwani, railu, gehat ki dal, chainsoo, laal bhaat, bal mithai and accompaniments
That afternoon we took advantage of the beautiful Cedar Spa by L’Occitane set in sprawling 5500 square feet space of the hotel. The spa boasts of some of the finest Mediterranean wellness rituals offered to guests through its two couple therapy suites as well as three single therapy rooms.
The day ended with a dinner of forgotten foods at the Farm under a canopy of stars. We were all dressed up, and a live band played Hindi classic numbers as we mingles and savoured heirloom recipes like til khichadi, chanchya, dabhdi, nalbadi ka saag, bhutwa, ghare kukdi, aloo jakhiya, jhangore ki kheer, meetha bhaat and much more.
Our Culinary Sojourn of Garhwal ended on a high note with our last culinary experience set in an idyllic location in the lap of nature. The Breakfast in the stream is a signature experience that JW offers its guests. That morning we drove down to the Kempty rive, hiked downhill for 10 minutes to arrive at Kempty river, where is meandered into a little glade spotted with the sun. Here an exceptional breakfast awaited us, right in the middle of the stream! And we ate more hot swalas and parathas with chai, or feet dangling in the cold water rushing past our, the sunlight on our faces and a guitar playing crooner singing love songs. It brought home to us all the sensual richness hidden away in the hills of Garhwal and made us feel so very sad to be leaving, even as we promised ourselves we would return…
We couldn’t have asked for a more apt climax to our Culinary Sojourn of Garhwal and look forward to learning more about this delightful cuisine! Inspired from this sojourn, team APB will be showcasing Garhwali cuisine through a series of meal experiences.
APB Food Consulting specialises in creating aforementioned exceptional food experiences for its patrons as well as clients. To have a similar program designed for your brand you can connect with us on 02242152799 or write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org