Culinary Sojourn, Ranikhet style खाइये, कि आप रानीखेत में हैं !!!

Culinary Sojourn, Ranikhet style खाइये, कि आप रानीखेत में हैं !!!


From normal fare to Kumaoni delicacies, an interesting take on food and warmth


 Nirmesh Singh


“W

hat’s your name?” Kannu. It was a delightful reply from a tea stall owner in the Ranikhet Bazaar. Tea stall was little bigger than the usual ones. It would not be wrong to say that it was a ‘dhaba’ in the making because besides tea and snacks, Kannu was also serving lunch and dinner. The cuisine was limited. The diffusion of aroma indicated the mutton cooked in typically Kumaoni style. To support it were rice and roti. For vegetarians, it was ‘daal’ (pulses) in Kumaoni Style and a seasonal ‘subzi’ (vegetable).

It had been raining in Ranikhet for the past one day and it also rained heavily today restricting the visibility to few metres. It was cold. We had come out of the guest house with the idea of having dinner in the market at some small ‘dhaba’ as the small ‘dhabas’ serve the local food. The tourists generally don’t flock these so they are purely a local ‘dhaba’.

It was a four hour leisurely taken drive from Ramnagar to Ranikhet. The nature was at its mystical best all along the route. We had snaked up on the not so serpentine road along the Kosi River. A hault at a ‘dhaba’ at Swaral village will live ever in my memories for its rustic ambience, pure Kumaoni ‘karhi’ (jholi in local language), ‘baigan ki subzi’, ‘daal’ and ‘rotis’ coming out from inside the red hot embers. The ‘aalu ke gutke’ (masaala potatoes) and ‘khire ka raita’ was awesome. It was a divine food and the rain and a dip in the mercury had added its own ingredients to the cuisine. Stopping and admiring the nature and places en route we reached Ranikhet by the afternoon.

Ranikhet Bazaar-Nirmesh Singh (1)

Ranikhet Bazaar


Ranikhet is a quaint small town. It has a kilometer long market. Walking through the market of any town in the hills is like traversing through its culture. Local shops give the glimpse into the local life. Ranikhet is a cantonment town and is the headquarters of Kumaon Regiment since the British times. Except for the bustling bazaar, the town reflects the colonial look. Bungalows and churches form the greater part of it. We had spiraled down to the Ranikhet bazaar from our guest house on the Mall, another feature of every hill station and cantonment. It had just finished pouring.

The chilly breeze was adding to our temptation of having tea and eggs or pakoras. Just as we turned towards the market, the tray full of eggs caught our eye. Next was the Kannu pouring tea in the cups for the people who had congregated around him to catch hold of their cups. It was 7 in the evening. But for the hills, it was the time to retire back to the home. Still few of the shops, which on inquiring we found that they open till late, were open.

The tea stall was full of life and Kannu seemed to be the popular man in the bazaar. As I got the chance to peep into the stall, I found a small sitting place inside arranged in a row and all occupied with the people having their dinner. Tea, omlette and rotis and above all alone Kannu attending to all the customers, he was fast. He gauged us perfectly that we were tourists. He greeted us. I asked if he could give us boiled eggs along with tea. He expressed his inability for boiled eggs. But he was lured when we asked for dozen of them. He was polite and cheerful. The ‘dhabas’ in the small towns of India are very informal. We were hungry too and also curious about what Kannu had cooked. Lifting the lids of the utensils and peeping into them, I found that only mutton’s gravy was left.

Ranikhet morning-Nirmesh Singh
“What else is there?” I asked Kannu. “Sir, it is eight O’clock and everything gets finished by this time. I can only serve you eggs and tea.” Though there were other restaurants open in the market but Kannu’s ‘dhaba’ had settled nicely in our heart. “Sir, we generally add black pepper powder to tea here”, he asked with a hope that we would agree to his recipe. “It suits the chilly weather of the hills”, he further added. Go ahead!, we told him.

Talking to other customers and Kannu was giving me a good insight into their society and culture. Kannu belonged to the village near Ranikhet. He was literate and a socially aware person. Everyone there knew him as it is there in small towns. The favourite topic of conversation was the village politics. “The gram Panchayat elections are attracting youth now”, one of the customers shared his concern with Kannu. “It’s all because of handsome funds allocated by the government at the gram Panchayat level”, replied Kannu while he was washing the cups. The next moment he lined up the cups on our small table and poured tea from his old fashioned kettle. We had seen that kind of kettle after a very long time and that’s why it attracted our attention.

“I am renovating the dhaba”, Kannu smilingly said. I was standing just at the threshold and there were other people too who were standing and talking with Kannu. “Is there any Municipal Corporation here or just the Cantonment Board”, I asked the people around me and Kannu. Sir, only a cantonment board, came the reply from Kannu. “Here are the boiled eggs”, said Kannu while passing the plates to us. We guzzled all the eggs within no time. Everyone of us looked at each other and I understood that the team wanted more. As I was turning to Kannu for more eggs, my wife slipped in the demand for more tea too. “Now omlette and I will have roti too”, I was very hungry when I said it. I knew everyone was going to join me.

Old Church in Ranikhet

Church in Ranikhet Cantonment


“Kannu, give the left over gravy of the mutton. But I want it boiling hot and daal (pulses) too”. No sooner did I finish my words than Kannu asked. “How many rotis, sir?” “We are very hungry, you just start rolling them”, I said. More Tea, more ‘omelette’, ‘rotis’, mutton’s gravy and ‘daal’ were all there in 15 minutes time. “He is damn quick”, other people said. We had attacked the dinner. The mutton would have been awesome as the gravy suggested. “The water of the place makes difference as it lends the typical taste”, we talked among ourselves. “Kannu, what are the places of interests here”, I said with my mouth full of food.

“Tomorrow morning go to the Durga temple (‘ghantiyon ka mandir’/temple of bells also called Jhula Devi ka mandir). It is towards the end of the Mall. Towards the other side of the road there is the Ram Mandir inside which is the Sanskrit School. “Kannu was a warm-hearted person. We had finished our dinner and left very contented from the Kannu’s ‘dhaba’. In the two and half hour stay we were blending ourselves with the life of Ranikhet. The sight of illuminated villages down the hills and on the other slopes in the night was spectacular. The silence was now at its peak except for the sough of the chilly breeze. It was dark and twinkling stars high above in the sky was divine light falling on us. Anything was hardly visible.

The bungalows and churches could be seen faintly through the cedars. It was enchanting to hear faint chimes of the bell ringing somewhere in the temple. The breeze was filled with romance Ranikhet is known for. The British Lord Mayo who established Ranikhet found the hill full of rhododendrons. Since then it became a place for the Kumaon Regimental Centre and the cantonment sprung up on the hill. But the charm of the place and the nature was not disturbed. The English Bunglows and Churches put forth an intoxicating sight that we feel to lose ourselves in the history. Ranikhet has been attracting people from pre-independence times.

enroute-


Jawaharlal Nehru was a regular visitor to Ranikhet and stroll on the pedestrian track just alongside the Mall. We were told that if we take a morning stroll, we would be able to see rare species of birds which may not be visible otherwise. The trek is flanked by tall cedars on both sides. The next morning we woke up to the misty, mystical morning. The sight of Panchachuli peaks was divine. It connects you with five Pandavas standing amidst the Himalayas. The clouds were still clinging to the sky and made the sight little blurred. The Sun was overpowering the clouds gradually and exposing us to the unprecedented feelings in the lap of nature. The flowers blossomed everywhere. We were seeing colours around us.

The Sun was changing the colours of the hills. The flowers were smiling in every possible colours. Kannu had really shared his rare philosophy of befriending Ranikhet. He had said that we should walk around Ranikhet in the morning surrendering ourselves to the nature, cut through the bazaar and feel the culture. This was the place to feel and not sightseeing, which was also my philosophy. I also say that best way to see the place is walk in it, watch the people, touch the trees, have food at the local ‘dhabas’ and you will feel the culture of the place yourself. Gazing at the cedars and chinars and magical sunlight interspersed by them was leaving us spellbound. The chirping of birds was musical.

The faint sound of Kumaoni folk emanating from the medium wave device from the nearby hut added to the serenity. When we actually reached the Jhula Devi Temple remains a mystery. We were walking into the timelessness. Jhula Devi is a 700-year-old temple constructed by the local villagers to worship Durga as the goddess appeared in the dream of a shepherd to dig up her idol here and construct a temple at this site, which is called Chaubatia. Once upon a time the villagers were living in fear from wild animals. Leopards, tigers and other wild animals inhibited the area. (These can be seen even today if a person is lucky enough.). People prayed to the Maa Durga for protection and henceforth the dream and construction of the temple. The unique feature of the temple is the countless bells hanging in its courtyard.

Jhula Devi Temple-Nirmesh Singh (1)

Jhula Devi Temple


People from nearby villages and Ranikhet visit the temple regularly. It is said that after the construction of the temple, people heaved a sigh of relief and children played around temple without any fear. They would swing on the ‘jhulas’ which they hung on the trees. Now Goddess Durga wanted a ‘jhula’ for herself too and the request was duly respected and fulfilled by the people. Hence the Jhula Devi!

It’s a place to sip a cup of tea at the only stall outside the temple. Just across the road and few steps on the little hill is the Ram Mandir. What fascinated me here was the Sanskrit Pathshala and young Sanskrit scholars. Children chanting prayers in Sanskrit were as enchanting as their prayer. Talking to the priest, we came to know that children studying here were from Almora, Pithoragarh, Kausani and some nearby districts. It was a place where the Sanskrit was alive and students of Vedic language which is a very rare sight though today.

The bazaar was another four-five kilometers from here. It was a kilometer long market. What was not there other evening was now in place. The little market was the reflection of the culture of Ranikhet. The vegetable shops gave us idea what was being grown here. We came across certain brands which are almost extinct in the cities. The sweets being sold were typical Kumaoni. ‘Baal Mithai’, sugar syrup soaked ‘Baalushahi’ were typically Kumaoni. People could be seen engaged in their daily chores. It was Ranikhet at its nostalgic best.

Dhabha at Swaral Village enroute Ramnagar to Rankhet 1



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Nirmesh Singh is a Journalist and Public Affairs professional based in Delhi. He writes on consumer affairs, agriculture, infrastructure and travel.
Currently writing for ConsumerToday.in, Agrination and NBM&CW. He had also run his own magazine on travel and culture in past.

He can be reached at singhnirmesh@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter at @bulandnirmesh


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