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The best Chai I have ever had!

April 1, 2012

Jay makes wonderful chai! It was cold in Pasadena today, so he made a cup of delicious ginger chai for me. I told him, “The chai is very good!” And our conversation steered towards the best chai we have ever had. Jay told me that he had the “best chai” on one of his treks. He said, “It was raining. We had just finished a hike and a bunch of my friends and I were dripping wet. We were forced to halt near a temple. There was just one person at the temple who was managing the entire affair. He gave us each half a cup of chai and that was the best chai I have ever had. Or it seemed so as we were drenched.” I forced an unnatural smile as I thought he would say that I make the best chai. Well, Jay’s answers are always short and mine seldom are! So I started narrating the story of my best chai!

Here is the story. This was at least ten years back. My mom, dad, Swati and I were in Manali, a charming hill station in Himachal Pradesh. I vividly remember the Dhoongri temple in Manali – dedicated to goddess Hidimba (from Mahabharata). The pagoda shaped temple and the tall deodar trees around it gave it a surreal feel!

During that trip to Manali, one day of the trip was dedicated to Rohtang Pass. (It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen in my life!) While we were driving up the mountain to arrive at our destination, the temperature and the pressure started to drop and our ears started to pop. But there was something to distract our attention from the gain in height – our driver and his stories. He was a young enthusiastic Shimla-ite and he narrated several stories to entertain us. While Swati and I enjoyed listening to his stories, my parents were freaking out. One story particularly scared them. He said, “Areyy ji, aapko pata hai, agar upar snow padne lag gaya, Rohtang pass mein, hum che mahine ke liye atak jayenge!” (If it starts snowing on Rohtang Pass now, we might get stuck for six months). We thought the probability of that happening was very low anyway. So we rented clothes, shoes and a huge cap to keep us warm and protect us from the bitter cold. (People usually rent clothes there.)

We finally reached Rohtang Pass. There was snow all around. Inside the car, I thought to myself, “It is not that cold yaar!” And I stepped out of the car in the next moment and shrieked, “Mama, papa, it is soooooooooooo cold here.” As usual my patient dad who is used to fluctuations of my emotions calmed me down by saying, “Don’t worry, you will be fine!” While my parents and Swati stared at the snow covered places around, I stared at the corn being baked on red hot fire! The idea of munching on hot corn while staring at snow gave me the courage to convince my dad to buy it. So I gathered all my skills and put on the cutest expression I could on my face and innocently looked at my dad. Of course, he is an expert at decoding my expression. He said, “What do you want now?” I pointed to the corn and he bought one each for all four of us. You see the advantage of asking, one asks, but everybody gets it! It was so cold that we found it hard to chew; it was hard to even move our jaws.

After this little gain of calories, Swati and I decided to climb a nearby snow clad hill from where one could apparently get a view of the distant Himalayas. We started climbing up and I started jumping on the snow, much to the embarrassment of my sister. I tried climbing faster. At one point, I found it difficult to breathe. I struggled to catch my breath and I felt extremely exhausted. My sister called out to my dad and he at once climbed up to reach us. He carried me down and took all of us to a cave nearby. The warm and cozy cave had many people in it and a woman who was making hot chai. The steam rising from the chai, and the chai itself, which was boiling in an earthen pot made me very happy. I calmed down inside the cocoon of the warm and kind cave. The woman, who wore a colorful bandana, poured the steaming hot chai into an earthen cup and handed it over to me. My face and especially my nose had turned red by then. I held the cup and sipped the hot chai. After a few sips, it felt like life returned to my numb soul! I felt as if I had sipped the best chai ever!

After cherishing the life-saving chai, we stepped out of the cozy cave to experience snowfall- the first time ever! Till that day, I had read about snowfall only in books or had seen it on television but had really never experienced it! It was amazing to see the tiny white snowflakes falling down gently and gracefully on us. I spread my arms and let the snow fall all over me. I was in a trance. My father broke my trance by shaking me and my mother spoke in a panicky tone, “It is getting colder. You will get sick. Get into the car now Sushree Mishra!” (When someone calls your full name aloud, you know you are in trouble, right?) I guess my mother was scared that we would get stuck on the mountain for six months! (Remember the scary story of the driver!) Swati and I got into the car and stared at the snowfall from the misty windows of the car. I wrote my name on the foggy window (Swati did the same) and I told my father, “Papa, look, I wrote my name!” My dad smiled and said, “Looks like you are feeling better now!”

Have you ever experienced what I did? For example, when you are ravenous and you eat something, you feel that is the most delicious food you have ever had! Or you are really thirsty and you have some juice, you feel that is the best juice you have ever had! If yes, please do share them with me.


Here is the link to more information on Rohtang Pass:

  1. Srija Unnikrishnan permalink

    The occasion and circumstance makes ‘chai’ special! Well narrated!

  2. Yes, the chai was special! 🙂 Thank you!

  3. Swati permalink

    Well I surely remember the taste of “coffee”(I hope you get the significance of quotes) and not chai!It was the best coffee I ever had!

    • Swati, yes, I do remember the coffee you had on the hills. Your affinity for coffee was not going down well with dad, remember? 🙂

  4. Wonderful post, as usual 🙂 Interestingly, I’m learning more about JK from your posts than from my own interactions! Well, to be fair, we mostly only discuss work-related matters… Anyway, here is a short account of a similar experience I had, not too long ago…

    It was only my second time hiking up the Echo Mountain / Mt. Lowe trail in Altadena. The first time was a group activity (most members of my research group (RSRG) participated) and was in December. I had taken just two medium-sized bottles of water with me, and that turned out to be enough for that trip. Remembering this, for my second time, on a May day that turned out to be hotter than usual for May, I happily started the hike with the same two medium-sized bottles of water. To cut a long story short, I almost finished both bottles midway during the upward climb, and was parched by the time I reached the top (you see, I was determined to finish the hike no matter what). There I emptied the last few drops of the water I’d saved for an emergency! I hurried back down as fast as I could, and there was a water spout at the base of the trail, which, as my luck would have it, was surrounded by a family of four, taking turns drinking from it, filling bottles, etc. It really was a torture to stand there and watch that. I then moved a bit closer and the father took one look at me, and I don’t know what he saw, but he politely (or so I’d like to think) gathered his family closer and a bit away from the spout, and I nearly ran to it, and appeased my thirst. As far as I can remember, nothing ever tasted that good! I drank almost a liter of water, then proceeded to clean the caked salt off my forehead, and fill up one of my bottles. By the time I was done and I turned around, the family had disappeared! I hope I hadn’t scared them away 🙂

  5. Raga, Interesting incident! Looks like you love hiking too! It has happened to me multiple times, you see. When I am extremely hungry and I eat something, I feel it is the most delicious dish I have had. When I taste it again sometime when I am not-so-hungry, it tastes normal! 🙂

  6. What a lovely narrative Sushree, I could relate to it just a little bit by going back to the first time I saw snow and realized how coooold everything was :).
    Not to mention your early mention of the differences in hubby’s and your narrative styles – that sounds familiar to me too definitely ;).

    • Thank you Aparna! 🙂 I had a good laugh after I read your last line! I just guess our husbands have live radio around them!

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