Wazwaan

A week in the valley feted as paradise on earth, now marred with constant strife, invokes a bag of mixed feelings within. Past its glory, but proudly holding up a faded reflection for all to see, Srinagar is a hospitable and charming place. Once the initial discomfort, at the palpable signs of a contrived security, vanished, the traveller in me took over. Then, it was easy enough to notice the starry-leaved chinars (some just turning an autumnal shade), the poplar-lined avenues (also lightening their hues), the clean broad boulevards; the once fashionable river-front shops, the grand old mansions and the hustle-bustle of life as usual.

And life as usual includes food. Crisp, crunchy apples, walnut kernels, apricots and gallons of qahwa notwithstanding, my trip would have been incomplete without a go at the famed wazwaan. Being the middle of the month of Ramadan, as it was, there was minimal activity at restaurants. Still, the Grand Hotel on Residency Road was offering a limited course experience, one I was more than willing to take.

A single serving trambee heaped with rice and topped with seekh kebab, tabak maaz and methi korma arrived wafting the varied aromas of its contents. A salad of grated radish and red chilly powder with walnuts served as the perfect accompaniment. The rishta, rogan josh, yakhni followed in quick succession while the gushtaba, the piece de resistance of a wazwaan meal, made its way to our table at an expectedly kingly pace. Traditionally, the oldest member around a trambee gets to divide the gushtaba, equally or otherwise, amongst the foursome. Fortunately, for me, the oldest member with us was vegetarian, so was another, by virtue of which, I ended up with a lion’s share of palatable heaven. This wonderful meal was rounded off with phirni and qahwa.

You would think nothing could equal such a gastronomic experience, but you would be just as mistaken as I was. An hotelier friend of my hosts suggested we try out the vegetarian fare at one of the dhabas on Durganag Road. Naturally, I dragged my feet all of the hundred yards it took to cross the road from their hotel to the Krishna Vaishno dhaba. We waited a good twenty minutes for a table, a sign that woke me up to the extent of its popularity. The wait was spent noting the freshly prepared items in shiny brass containers, the turnover of rotis and paranthas at the tandoor, and the quick service. Once seated, we ordered stuffed paranthas, rajmah-chawal, kadhi, daal and baingan bhartha. Delicious is definitely an understatement. And naturally, I was now the last to leave the table.

Another experience deserves a mention entirely because of the incredible hospitality displayed by jawans minding an army post at thirteen thousand feet. Trust me, tea has never tasted so incredibly sweet, nor pakoras so heart-warming.

May their tribe grow.

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