What a Summer! In a city where Summer is the longest season, this year it seems to have gone by in a blur. The highlights of this season were extended visits from family members living abroad.
First, May through June, it was TH’s brother and kids (we missed you, Aparna!). Despite the heat, and with help in the kitchen (yes, Kumari is back!), I spent a fair amount of time in the kitchen. There were old family favourites: poori-bhaji, Punjabi chhole, rajma, dal makhni, idli-sambar, besan-parothe, and newer ones like gavar with kaley vataney, and my original and disarmingly simple, pumpkin kootu. We partied a lot and I introduced the brother-in-law to my peanut sambal, fresh salsa, and roti-chips. When cooking got too much, we trooped out for food nostalgia to Karnataka Sangha for tiffin, and to Bercos for Indian-Chinese. Nathu’s chhole bhature (Bengali Market) have fallen from grace; Bikanerwala is the ‘new’ find.
The family drove up to Ramgarh for a short break. They (I stayed back to house-sit) spent two lazy days at a cottage there feasting their eyes on the peach and apricot-laden trees. It was only natural that they bring back boxes-full! The peaches were ripe and juicy and needed to be consumed right away. I made a huge batch of jam. If only I had thought of freezing some like Manisha did! Yet, in the end, I hardly had any left; it was all picked up by family and friends! I hope you are all enjoying it! The children also got their fill of aloo paranthas for breakfast at the cottage and at highway dhabas.
They left around June end and I made a not-so-quick trip to Dehradun-Bhimtal-Pithoragarh (Uttarakhand) before my sister and her family arrived mid-July. They stayed with my parents and it was crazy juggling office, teaching, home, and trying to be with everyone in Noida for at least 5 days of the week! They could visit us for a couple of days only during the one month that they were here, and my brother-in-law was promptly put to work in the kitchen fixing pancakes for breakfast one morning, and Thai chicken curry for dinner the next day! At mom’s place too he lent a helping hand in the kitchen (cooking a fragrant Chinese-style stir fry amongst other things) and in the garden (pruning trees and shrubs).
Towards the end of their stay we took a few days off from work to show them a glimpse of the mighty, though young, western Himalayas. We went a little further than Narkanda this time, up to Sarahan. We took the long and winding road through sleepy Chail and avoided a lot of the truck-traffic that was heavy partly because of the apple harvest being at its peak. Himachal is India’s apple state, and Thanedar is where the first apple orchard was established by Samuel Stokes, who arrived as a young, 22 years old American to help British missionaries in a leper home. Years later he converted to Hinduism and was also associated with India’s struggle for independence.
Our road trip had a shaky start. The brother-in-law woke up feeling a little under the weather. Yes, stomach bug. Should we, shouldn’t we? We delayed the morning start by an hour and finally decided to just do it. The boys, and the bro-in-law were in our car, and the rest in the rented Xylo. Mom was carrying methi paranthas for the way, and I had cooked jeera aloo. The son was firmly against eating any home food on the trip and chose to stay hungry till we reached Giani’s dhaba at Dharampur. It was a very disappointing Butter Chicken for him. Even the tea was so insipid that I left it untouched ! Boy, did we consume tea on this trip! I am accustomed to being the only tea drinker on our travels – neither the husband nor the son care for it. Now I know what it is like to travel with fellow tea lovers!
We drove through a spectacular thunderstorm while still in the plains. The late start, and the slow drive through Chail on the old road resulted in a late-ish, past sunset, arrival at Hotel Hatu, Narkanda. We arrived to wet clothes. The soft bags on top of the Xylo, covered with the sorry excuse of a tarpaulin, had received a thorough soaking in the storm! I was feeling so guilty about our dry luggage! NOT a good start.
Lucky for us, the rooms had modern quartz radiator-heaters. The wet clothes were spread out to dry, and we headed to the restaurant to drink more tea. By dinner the first lot of clothes had already dried and I heaved a sigh of relief.
Everyone was free to get up as late as they wished. Hotel Hatu has a nice perch and enjoys great views. A few of us decided to explore the narrow trail that starts at one corner of the hotel lawns. But not before having our morning tea, pots and pots of it! On the short trail that leads to the market, we spotted wild strawberry plants, wildflowers, and giant slugs! They were like nothing I had ever seen, so big that they were scary!
We got back and I found the son still asleep. As I tried to rouse him, there was the brother-in-law knocking at the door. He wanted us to check online the worrisome symptoms for concussion! What?! Apparently, my father had stepped out again, taken the other side of the trail, the one that was concrete, steeper, and covered with moss in this cool, wet weather, the one we had all agreed (especially, Mom) looked too slippery. He had slipped, knocked himself out, and lost his glasses, but he could not remember that he fell, or where he fell. He wanted to go back to look for his glasses. Only, my brother-in-law had made that trip with him once already! He had memory gaps. He was showing no other symptoms so a hospital visit was not warranted yet.
My father is amongst the most obstinate people I know. It was not going to be easy to make him sit in once place, more so since he was showing some memory loss, and we were having to tell him again and again what had happened, and why he needed to sit it out and not insist on going out to look for the glasses. The brother-in-law went again. Then my youngest sister and mother. We could not locate the bloody glasses. But my father would not relax. Neither could he recall that we had already taken him back once. So the poor brother-in-law went looking one more time. He returned triumphant much to the relief of everyone. Now there was less likelihood of father giving us the slip, we only needed to keep one eye on him.
Enough excitement, don’t you think? I forgot to add that the day my sis and her family left Hartford, a service vehicle backed into their waiting VA plane at NY and they were stranded at the airport. Instead of arriving bright and cheery at 11am in Delhi they landed at 3am, 14 hours late. There’s more. We had taken two cars to pick them. We loaded up my car with most of the bags. All aboard and my car refused to start! The battery just died! We got out and got the white man and his kids to push! Welcome to India, folks! But, really, it wasn’t us, it had to have been them and their luck.
The rest, of the trip passed off without much eventfulness. We left for Sarahan via the route that takes you to the small but picturesque water body at Thani Jubbar in a village of apple orchards. The driver forgot to gas up :-), so we drove back to Narkanda, and then back on track to Sarahan.
Sarahan (2313m/7589ft) is at a lower elevation than Narkanda (2708m/8599ft), and the mountains continued to be shrouded in clouds. After stops for drinking tea, taking pictures, and gathering wildflowers (to make a bouquet for the anniversary couple!), we reached Sarahan just in time for more tea. It was my sister’s anniversary and we had ourselves a chai party with Brittania’s Tutty Fruity cake (that keeps for four months! What do they put in it?!), and excellent pakoras to which we had contributed mint plucked freshly from the hotel garden! HPTDC is amongst the better run state tourism corporations. The hotels are clean, the staff efficient and helpful, the food acceptable to good (they have a standard menu all across Himachal), and the best part is the location – they have the best views! Their Hotel Shrikhand even has a charming heritage cottage (the older hotel)! Even the new additions are done in a style that mimics the vernacular. We all wished we could have stayed longer.
To take a break from the usual HPTDC fare, we decided to venture into the market and try our luck at the dhaba where a few people were already eating. There are few choices for food here. Some of the small Tibetan momo-thukpa-joints had already shut; it was 9pm. The dhaba was a bad, bad idea. Stick to HPTDC menu though the momos that were picked from the shack were not bad, so the nephew said.
On our way back to Narkanda, we split the group into people who were going to visit Asia’s largest underground hydel-power project at Jhakri, and those who weren’t. TH had made a few phone calls and been able to arrange the visit. The younger boys were very disappointed because children under 15 are not allowed inside. It was amazing to watch the giant turbines spin, and to know that the 1500 MW ultra modern run-of-the-river facility needs just 3 engineers in the control room!
We ate lunch at the Satluj View, another HPTDC restaurant. The Kheru, a delicious, warming dish of tempered beaten yoghurt was outstanding. You can try pahari specialties from their standard menu at any of the HPTDC restaurants. some dishes need to be ordered ahead though. We also tried their anardana chicken, gobhi palda, and madra, all good choices, though kheru gets top votes!
At the main market in Rampur, I did some foodie shopping! I bought three varieties of pahadi rajma, and desi coriander seed. We spent the night in Narkanda and were back on the road to Delhi next morning. Highway halts included buying apples and bottles of Bhuira’s Bitter Orange Marmalade, and spotting a flock of vultures devouring roadkill. We had an early dinner at the famous Sukhdev Dhabha at Murthal. The scale of this “highway eatery” is humongous – there must be at least 800 covers! There was a half hour waiting at 6pm! The stuffed paranthas served with freshly churned butter, lived up to the hype though.
Between June and August we celebrated 9 birthdays and 3 anniversaries! Only mom got a home-baked (coffee) cake - it was her 70th birthday and it had to be extra special!
For my parents’ 50th anniversary it was a home cooked meal again! We cooked some of their favourites: my younger sister cooked her famous dahi badey, the youngest one brought tandoori chicken, and I took fresh salsa, chhole, and modur polav!
Family, come back soon – we miss you already!