A Delightful Taste of the Truly Incredible India!

The very act frees the mind to fly unfettered through time and space to discover and muse over new insights. I had mentioned as much in an earlier blog Education By Travel. And here I am again just back from a gorgeous journey through the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh with the same feeling. Though this time I have different thoughts to present. If the earlier blog was about the progress India is making, this one asks what India’s tourism strategy can do to retain the quintessential essence of India; the soft aspects that makes the country truly Incredible India.

What is the quintessential essence of India? Now, that is a complex question to answer. Much like the rapidly changing images in a kaleidoscope. Ergo, the best way to present the answer may be through simply presenting the different vignettes of my trip, which led me to wonder about how India’s tourism strategy can be crafted to retain the country’s soft aspects that makes it truly Incredible India.

In Nature’s Cradle 

The Himalayas cradle the Indian subcontinent much like a protective mother who cloaks and feeds her young ones, nurturing them along. Perhaps it’s that loving embrace, which makes the people of this region seem so contented. They lead a simple but healthy life, nourished by the mountain air and long walks as they go about their daily life. I must mention that through the holiday, all my aches and pains vanished leaving me feel healthy. What can I say? It appears that long walks in crystal clear mountain air are the best medicine!

Shepherding the flock - car journey Himachal Pradesh, India; Nov 2014 - all rights reserved
Shepherding the flock – car journey Himachal Pradesh, India; Nov 2014 – all rights reserved

Makes me wonder if the current yardsticks of progress are the right ones. I had much the same notion when traversing the road from Bhubaneswar to Puri in Odisha and while exploring Siem Reap and Ankor Wat.  Please don’t mistake me. I would like to see the peoples in these regions fulfill their life’s desires. I would like to see them cosy and secure in well-built housing. I would like to see their bellies full and their children getting a good education. What I would hate to see is the people here losing their contented look and warm smiles in the ceaseless quest for a better car, a bigger house, the latest gadgets and more imagined social status.

I wonder if there isn’t a way to strike a balance? To do that, however, the world is going to have to stop holding up economic progress as the holy grail to a better life. Better we look at social progress with different measures for life’s achievements. Economics can be a part but not the whole.

India has an opportunity to define that for its people and for its tourism industry. Today, tourists flock to India from overseas searching for answers they feel India has to their discontentment. We must remember that and look inwards to study as to how we can retain that strength instead of tearing down our forests and sullying our rivers in the quest to follow the developed world’s ideas of progress.

Life streams along behind the Sterling resort, Dharmshala - The Sanctuary
Life streams along behind the Sterling resort, Dharmshala – The Sanctuary

Atithi Devo Bhavah

Athithi Devo Bhavah is a Sanskrit phrase meaning the guest is equivalent to God. Though urban India is rapidly losing this dictum of Indian culture, perhaps rural India retains it.  What else could account for the warm hospitality we received at every road side stall we stopped at for a meal?

The environment was earthy and rustic. But each road side bhojanalya or dhaba (Hindi words for restaurant and road side restaurant respectively) was spotlessly clean and served heavenly desi (Indian) food. That too, makkan laga ke (with a generous wallop of butter). I can still taste the piping hot aloo parathas (an Indian flatbread with potatoes and onions), rajma chawal (red kidney beans curry with rice) and the fresh curds to accompany.

But perhaps the meals tasted even better because of the heartfelt hospitality. This blog will get too lengthy if I describe each pit stop we made on the long drives through the terrain of Dharmshala and Manali. But here’s four where the food and the sheer warmth of the hospitality blew me and my friends away.

Prince Bhojanalaya at Laru - midway on the road from Dharmshala to Khajjiar and Dalhousie
Prince Bhojanalaya at Laru – midway on the road from Dharmshala to Khajjiar and Dalhousie

Suryansh Bhojanalaya at Ahju village (8 kms ahead of Bhaijnath temple on the road from Dharmshala to Manali

A picture of the warm and friendly owners of Suryansh Bhojanalya at Ahju village (8 kms ahead of Baijnath temple on the road from Dharmshala to Manali).

 

Grandfatherly warmth. The proprietor Sanjay Sharma overseeing the satisfaction of his customers at Abhi Vaishno Bhojanalya, Kangra
Grandfatherly warmth. The proprietor Sanjay Sharma (His personality was so much like Prithviraj Kapoor – the patriarch of the Kapoor family of Bollywood) overseeing the satisfaction of his customers at Abhi Vaishno Bhojanalya, Kangra.
The owner of Chandra Dhaba at Kokshar on the Manali-Leh highway. Kokshar is the first stop after Rohtang Pass
The owner of Chandra Dhaba at Kokshar on the Manali-Leh highway. Kokshar is the first stop after Rohtang Pass.

Happiness. There for the Asking! 

It’s been a week since I got back from Himachal. But even now the mind is in a blissful state with the imagery of the deodar clad foothills of the Himalayas, the cold mountain stream water and the warmth of the people who take such delight in as simple a gesture as asking if I could take their pictures and get their permission for posting on the Internet. The delight one saw was not so much that they were going to get publicity but because of the appreciation they felt for their food and service. The delight one can only feel when one gets recognition for a job well done.

It would be a tragedy of epic proportions if modern urban values and living took over in these regions in the name of progress. I wonder if we can pick and choose the elements of true progress and leave out the trappings? The example that comes to mind is the disappearance of the Irani cafés and Udipi restaurants (Udipi is the name of a region in India and the cuisine from there) from Mumbai. These outlets invented the principles of fast food way before McDonald’s and its like made their appearance in the world.

There was a time when these eateries served wholesome food at an affordable price. And no one minded the simple, no fuss decor. Now, it’s different. Catering to current day aspirations, all these cafes have turned into air conditioned restaurants with staff in ill fitting western attire.  The food doesn’t taste the same. But the prices pinch!

Those Irani cafés and Udipi joints were quintessential India. But they have disappeared in exchange for the sanitized McDonald’s and Pizza Huts of the world. Talk about giving up a point of differentiation and unique strength. Now that’s a me-too strategy for you!

Can we instead focus on encouraging country wide promotion of eateries that are quintessentially Indian? Maybe we can make a beginning by holding Indian street food exhibitions all over the world with all the accompanying pageantry. Making it a truly delightful Incredible India experience that will satisfy any Masterchef aficionado.


 

Link to Education by Travel – http://www.latawonders.com/education-by-travel/

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