While we discussed the practicalities of traveling to Jalori Pass from the hotel, Dilsher told us, “For lunch there is a dhaba which serves rajma and rice.” Nothing else needed to be said on this matter. Since Dilsher had a wonderful cook, I took him on trust.
There were a few dhabas on top of Jalori pass, but when we said the magic words “rajma chawal”, it was clear where we would eat. From outside it looked like the hut was actually a general store in a village. The (slightly broken) windows were packed with the usual quick eats which cause elevated levels of blood pressure and sugar for those who would like to pay for the privilege. Only a few stickers distinguished it from any number of such little shop windows: the Tripadvisor sticker was a standout, another said something about Himalayan Motorbikers.
Inside, on the counter, in plastic jars were the reminders of my youth. In the days before junk food came out of factories, it was made by hand, and stored in glass jars in just such gloomy shops. The glass jars have turned into plastic jars, but suddenly I had the feeling that I had come home after a long time. How did we avoid the lifestyle diseases which plague our children? It cannot just be that factory-made junk food has chemicals which we never got (the words trans-fats and high-fructose cornstarch roll so easily off our tongues now), for some jars had toffees. These are the goodies that I and my friends would hoard in ones and twos when, as schoolchildren, we had money to buy them. No, it is not just the new foods, it is also the increased prosperity that has brought these disorders with them.
The Young Niece knew better than to look longingly at the bottles of poison displayed so colourfully in another window. During the trip her indulgences were largely restricted to the hours between sundown and dinner, at the same time as ours. The minivan which you see outside the door disgorged a very large family who sat here and had little bits to eat. The children, mostly younger than The Young Niece, had plates of maggi noodles, while the adults ate rajma-chawal. That was a pattern we were happy to replicate. When we ordered rajma-chawal, The Young Niece ordered a maggi instead. After polishing off the rajma, we could mop up the remaining rice with a pakoda kadhi.
The food was wonderful, as I’d suspected it would be. I had to take a portrait of the cook in the little corner of the hut which served as his kitchen. You can see the pots of rajma and kadhi simmering away on the chulha. The man lives in a village a little way down the road and comes up here every morning to open up his shop. He made us a chai as we chatted about high seasons and the closing of the pass in winters. He says the traffic has been increasing over the years, and if it were not for the new dhabas which opened up here, he would not find the time to serve food to everyone who stops here.
The Family had noticed him making something else in the morning when we had a chai before leaving for our walk. After taking his photo, I noticed a big thali full of something that looked like a halwa. When we asked he said it was besan. I’ve only had it as a laddoo before, but the rhomboids he cut and gave us were rather nice. I guess shape does not matter when it comes to things like this. As we were praising the food, Soni, in his usual charming manner, said that the Punjabi version was much better. We all agreed that since the Punjabi version was not available right now, what we were having was the best. This was one of the tastier versions of the sweet I’d had, and I packed up some to take back to work.
I was moving about the shop as we talked, and took a photo out of the window behind us. It looked out on to a wonderful view that we’d seen in the morning. You could open up the door which you can see in the photo with the pots and the kettle, and walk out on a narrow platform overlooking a sloping meadow and the road snaking its way down to the plains. I didn’t want to forget about this little dhaba, with its genial cook who gave us some of the best food in the world 3 Kilometers above Mumbai.
I walked out on that narrow platform and looked again at the view. It was still windy; passes always are. But it had warmed up since we sat out here and had our breakfast. Everyone had taken off some of the layers we had worn then. A last look, and it was time to turn and head back north.
I think your sweet went down a treat… More than the rajma chawal. My late aunt made besan biscuits…. We miss it now.
Besan’s nice, whether it comes as a laddoo, a pedha, or biscuits.
Yes. You are right.