27 | Aug | 13

Richard Johnson

Eating Above The Clouds

Today, the editorial team at British Street Food is joined by @Moiwalkabout, or Elise Pleterski — a culinary nomad, wanderer, writer, personal chef and cooking instructor. She blogs about her adventures at www.moiwalkabout.com and, occasionally, finds the time to take her own pictures. This is the first part in her occasional series for British Street Food.  

Once upon a time, two middle aged gals found themselves in Laos airport on their way to Hanoi. Emily, a Londoner, had quit her ho-hum PR job just before the world economic crisis, and was applying for jobs on the road. I was weathering a separation from a fifteen-year relationship, trying to figure out phase two in Southeast Asia. Mountaineer Emily was headed to Cat Ba, Halong Bay’s Vietnamese Riviera and ground zero for fabulous rock climbing. She planned to rendezvous with some climbers and I tagged along—and that was how we met.

But eventually all good adventures must end, and we returned to our respective homes and mundanity for a couple years, dreaming of the next walkabout. Back in the world of realty, we found a narrow window of time between monsoon and life, and agreed to rendezvous in Delhi for a trek in the Indian Himalaya. It was not exactly a walkabout, but a little taste for the next one, just a short adventure holiday launching from Manali. This is the tale of our trip over some of the roughest roads in India and the street food found along the way.

Manali, a hill station in the Indian Himalaya, is a well-known hub for adventure activities and winter sports, as well a honeymoon destination for domestic tourists. Prolific orchards dot the surrounding countryside, where spare pears, plums, peaches, strawberries, apricots, and apples are transformed into fruit wine, including the locally produced Wonder Wyne. There is an occasional chalet and snowboard shop—a bit like India meets the Alps. Sort of—but with yak cheese.

But this is India, where the sacred and the spiritual are never too far afield. Legend has it that Vaivasvata Manu—kind of the Hindu version of Moses—built a boat to survive the great flood, thus preserving the human race after a watery cosmic cleansing. It appears to be the Hindu version of the great deluge myth retold in many cultures, including the Judeo-Christian tradition. In any case, peaceful Old Manali is home to the Manu Maharishi Temple, where Manu meditated after landing his boat subsequent to the great flood.

Most importantly, it was also a jumping off point for mountain trekking. Here the rugged western Himalaya rises above the North Indian province of Himachal Pradesh, where snowbound roads cut off the high-altitude deserts for more than half the year.

We had our sights on hiking adventures further afield and promptly arranged onward transportation—fruit wine, yak cheese, and Manu would have to wait for the return trip. I could not convince Emily that the rickety public buses had the mountain stamina to crawl the highland passes, which were open for a narrow window between July and late October. So, we secured seats in a shared jeep-like vehicle, actually a Tata Motors Sumo Spatio. Since these were some of the most rugged roads in India, it was probably the best solution, and we joined our fellow passengers, an engineer, mother and child duo, and Buddhist monk. Only the engineer spoke English and he was a little sweet on us—regardless, it was going to be a long trip.

We did not have a clear picture of the travel conditions—no one told us it was a dirt road and, at the tail end of monsoon season,  that meant a mud road. Buses, army trucks, and jeeps inched up the mountain pass, occasionally passing on what was at best—and only occasionally—a one+ lane road. Recent rains made it a slippery affair, and we slid past vehicles already stalled in the mud.

But in India, there is always time for tea. We made a morning stop at a roadside dhaba (roadside restaurant) for some chai masala (Indian spiced tea) and aloo paratha (griddle fried flatbread with potato filling). Unleavened and savoury, this Indian flatbread is made from whole wheat flour and fried on a hot griddle. Parathas can be plain or stuffed with potato (aloo), cauliflower (gobi), chickpea (chana), or cheese (paneer). But at the Snow View Dhaba — 3390 meters above sea level — they also come with one hell of a view. It was a taste of things to come…

Elise will post the second instalment of this walkabout next month