Looking for chai on the road

On road trips I’ve got used to stopping at road-side shacks for a tea now and then. The trip to Kumaon last month was the first time I found this to be difficult. As we travelled north of Almora, traffic thinned out and the little shacks by the road where you can normally stop for a chai or an omelette were hardly visible.

We peered with fading hope at little stores. Some had fresh food, but all had the shiny packets of trans-fats loaded with either salt or high-fructose corn syrup (sometimes both), liberally doused in sulfite containing preservatives, which are consumed in large quantities by travellers, after which the non-biodegradable packaging is dumped into the hillside. All of them also stocked highly sugared drinks in large plastic containers, which leak bisphenols into your body, and into the environment, when the empties are dumped out of cars. Very seldom did we find a place with a working kitchen. This was very specific to this part of Kumaon; closer to the lakes one could find the normal density of roadside eateries. Nor was it the mountain-hugging roads which made such shops difficult; even inside the small towns and villages we passed, a chai or a fresh snack was not so easy to find.

Our best finds were always close to a town. Outside Almora, on the Binsar road we found a wonderful bakery and cafe. Little terraces with potted plants overlooked a valley. Someone recommended the almond butter cake; we added a pie because the waiter told us it had just been baked. Both were superb with the steaming cups of tea they gave us. Uttarakhand has begun to produce an interesting variety of cheeses, and I selected a few from the counter to eat over the next few days.

Eventually, the most relaxed place that I found for chai was the dining area of our hotel in Munsiyari. The cook had a way with the chai and omelettes, and the pleasantly chatty waiter knew when to leave you alone with the view. The window looked over the town at the nearby Panchachauli massif. Even though the air was not clear enough for the wonderful views which gives Munsiyari its reputation as a place to visit, the place was wonderfully relaxed.

By I. J. Khanewala

I travel on work. When that gets too tiring then I relax by travelling for holidays. The holidays are pretty hectic, so I need to unwind by getting back home. But that means work.


    1. I think this could be localized. A month before that I was in another part of the Himalayas and found all the usual shacks. That said, there’s much more of this packaged stuff. The terrible thing is that across the country you can see these bright discarded plastic packets polluting the landscape.


  1. Thank you again for taking me “with” you and the Family. As for ‘what’s wrong with people’ the Dead Kennedys (hardcore punk group from the 80s/90s) said right in the title to their album, “Give me Convenience or Give Me Death.”

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      1. Packaging plastic in plastic does sound like a bad idea. If recycling means just using multiple times, then it is still equivalent to single use with a longer shelf life. If it is recyclable in the sense that it can be turned into useful new products again and again (unlikely) then I wonder what fraction of recyclable plastics are actually recycled. That’s something worth finding out. That would tell me how much the added non-recyclable weight adds.

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      2. I don’t know about the rest of the world, but the US isn’t doing very well. I decided that for myself the thing to do is avoid single use plastics whenever I can and use fewer when I can’t avoid them. Maybe that just soothes my conscience but I think it does something more — it puts my money into businesses that are trying to turn the tide. I found detergent that comes in small paper boxes and is made into sheets. Much better than a giant plastic tub. I use bar soap instead of bottled soap. I drink from a water bottle that lasts for years. I keep looking for more shifts in this direction for other products. I have plastic bags to store food, but I wash and reuse them for sometimes years. It’s an empty gesture because my groceries come in giant plastic bags. With COVID there’s no taking your bags into the store any more. The bags all say “recycle this bag” but that’s a joke. It’s just marketing. There is no way to recycle those bags. Paper bags are fine with me, but, again, they aren’t there any more.

        It’s funny how in this country there’s all this yammering about clean energy but people don’t think that plastic is made from petroleum… I might be totally meaningless in the grand scheme, but I think if I can’t do everything, at least I can do something.

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  2. Plastics create hot burning fuel which consumes other waste. But burning waste to produce energy is resisted by environmentalists fearing air pollution. Lee County, Florida, however, persisted using scrubbers to clean the air. Regular testing over a ten-year period found no significant pollution, and now Lee County also burns the waste of surrounding counties that otherwise would be put into landfills. It is an expensive technology that ultimately pays for itself. About thirty-five years ago I wrote a paper on waste that promoted “reduce,” “reuse,” and “burn” but it gained no traction because those who were interested wouldn’t go beyond reduce.

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