I am not a tea person, but when I am travelling I always long for the cuppa. And that becomes a point of discord between me and my husband very often when we are travelling. While he wants to reach the destination as early as possible, I want to stop by along the roadside dhabas after every two hours, sip my hot chai and stretch my feet; the best part about road trips. That is why when I started reading Rishad Saam Mehta’s Hot Tea Across India, I was completely hooked till I completed the book.
A light read of just 191 pages, Mehta takes us on a journey “from the desolate unsealed roads of Spiti high up in the Himalayas to the sinuous route of Munnar”. In the course of his journey, he treats us with piping hot tea from the most obscure of dhabas along the highway—“cardamom and ginger tea in Gujarat to the pale greenish liquid with yak’s butter floating on top in a monastery in Ladakh.”
The narrative is casual coupled with humour, compassion and insight. Mehta is a great storyteller and can easily transport us to the places where he had travelled, as he effortlessly narrates the encounters and incidents through his journeys.
He has captured the vistas of the little hamlets of Chattru, Chotta Dara and Batal along the Manali-Leh-Ladakh-Srinagar route so beautifully that the wanderlust in me can no longer wait to visit those places and sip the “spicy masala chai” at the “solitary dhaba at Chotta Dara”. An extensive portion of the book dwells on his travels in the Himalayas. He could portray his love for road trips very vividly whether he is on his Royal Enfield travelling through the Western Ghats or in the Himalayas in a Maruti Alto or hitch-hiking from Mumbai to Delhi in a truck.
His narration about the cops he meets in Jammu and Kashmir; the journey from Manali with goats in the bus; the incident of the angry mob nearly lynching him in Kerala; the ‘Pathan in Pehalgam’ who volunteers to be his guide; and the refined guide in Karnataka who is a class apart from the others, are all in a lighter vein.
If you are a frequent traveler, you will easily identify with quite a few of the incidents that he described, and of course feel like hitting the road instantly. Even if you are not that fond of travelling, it will take you through a fascinating journey across the beautiful country with its rugged terrain and the beautiful landscape; it also highlights how a journey can initiate new friendships on the road.
Though the pictures are missing in the book, he portrays the scenic landscape so clearly that I could visualise all the places right in front of me. If you are looking for a light read during your bus journey, get your copy of Hot Tea Across India.