Of tranquil trails and tea cups: Himachal Pradesh’s Palampur gives ‘Alice in Wonderland’ charm- The New Indian Express

Express News Service

Climb the mountains, see the world, they said. For, this world would be unlike any other. The moment the cacophony of civilisation is left behind, this world beckons, almost like a dream.

The melodious notes of babbling brooks and rainbow world of wildflowers give the greener-than-envy fields of Palampur in Himachal Pradesh an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ charm. As if it is all but just a matter of a moment and adorable beings from another side would come tumbling down the rabbit holes.
The tech-less existence at the Rakkh resort with a bird’s eye view of the deodar-engulfed pastures and snowy peaks of Dauladhar as a backdrop further adds postcard-perfect memories. That rooster, however, whose cock-a-doodle-doos tear through the quiet and calm morning, could elicit different emotions. Yet, the embracing warmth and hues of the winter sun and ceaseless chirping of birds make for quite the spectacle for the sunrise in the hills—the golden crimson rays and smoke from the village homes adding surreal to the picture.

The activity at the dugout pits at Rakkh would mean a special feast—Kangri dham, the traditional vegetarian festive meal of Himachal Pradesh. Till then, a quick yet somewhat demanding walk for city legs through the lanes and life of the Rakkh village—the tiny panchayat office, cattle rooms, mud houses, colourful idle looms and reluctant kids off to school—churns up quite the appetite.

Of Tranquil Trails and
Palampur landscape; freshly plucked tea leaves being brought in for processing at the Himalayan Brew Tea Factory; varieties of tea; Kangri dham; lungdu pickle

Himachali delicacies
The dham’s origin is believed to date back more than 1,000 years. The no-onion, no-garlic feast is said to have been inspired by the 36-course Kashmiri wazwan. Chamba’s king Jaistambh, a descendant
of Lord Ram’s son Kush, asked his cooks to evolve a similar elaborate menu as per the local traditions and Himachali produce.

Its cooking techniques and the order of serving the dishes were based on Vedic knowledge. According
to some, dham may have developed from Himachali temple cuisine too. In any case, the slow-cooked sattvic feast was made only by a group of Brahmin cooks known as botis, who still follow strict practices while cooking it in charotis (copper and brass vessels with narrow mouths). They are also the custodians of the ancient unwritten recipes that are passed on by word of mouth. The traditional dham meal is devoid of bread. It includes plain rice, madra (yogurt-based lentil curry), khatta (chickpea curry), sepu badi (black lentil dumplings), kulthi dal, and sweet rice served on pattal plates.

of tranq
Andretta Pottery Studio; (right) mud sculptures at the studio

Tea times
A scrumptious meal like that should be duly followed by some activity before indulging in more epicurean delights. It’s time to expand the tea horizons from the known Assam and Darjeeling to the unknown tea capital of northern India and be awed upon introduction to Kangra teas at Himalayan Brew Factory. Started in 1894, Kangra teas were, in the late 1800s, hailed superior to many of their international counterparts. Palampur owes its place on the world map to that tea bush in 1849, brought by one Dr Jameson, the botanical gardens’ superintendent, from Almora. Palampur’s weather helped the tea, and these black and green varieties found their way to far off tables across the globe. They were, however, dealt a cruel hand by nature in 1905. A 7.8 earthquake meant that along with numerous lives, the estates were also lost. Kangra tea is currently trying to make its presence felt again and striving for the past glory.

Art alert
Half an hour away from the resort is another connection with history that Palampur is proud of. For, Andretta village is not only keeping 1,000-year-old pottery techniques alive, but is also quietly leading the pottery movement in the region. Right from Andretta Pottery Studio’s signature slip design to other studios in and around Palampur, introducing enthusiasts to basic and advanced skills, even the 16th-century Japanese technique of glazed ceramic firing—raku—the therapeutic presence of clay is all around. Norah Richards, an Irish theatre artiste, laid the foundation of Andretta artist colony in the 1920s. Sardar Gurcharan Singh and later his son and daughter-in-law, Mansimran and Mary, built
and expanded the pottery studio.  

The humming wheels and soiled hands are inspiring enough to make visitors give clay work a try. The experts’ direction and encouragement bring life to the imagination. And, who knows, it might even be worth skipping city beats for a slow tranquil life in the hills, making a few cups and pots in
the process, some of them finding pride of place in the shopping windows of the world.

More to it  
● Besides the many treks that start from Palampur,
a quick trip to Bir (1.5 hours) for paragliding can be considered.

● Apart from dham, other vegetarian and non-vegetarian delights include khatta mutton, lungdu pickle and local saag with makke ki roti made from freshly ground flour.

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