The cool October breeze blew across my face as I sat in a roadside tea shop with my eyes
closed and hands clutching on to a hot glass of tea. Precariously perched on the hill side road edge of Bhowali-Bhimtal-Haldwani Marg, this tin-roofed chai ki dukan came across as a delight to me and my senior colleague. We were strolling around aimlessly in the early hours of morning. Neither of us are dedicated devotees of fitness special “morning walks” but waking up prematurely in such a famous hill station (Bhimtal) compelled us to embrace pristine natural beauty during best time of the day. Moreover, it was only 6:45am and the hotel room service would not take orders before 8am. Needless to mention, the thrill of exploring new places is perennially overwhelming. We had lodged the evening before in Maple Hermitage – a hotel 600 meters downhill the tea stall. The chaiwala had generously offered us a pair of light weight plastic chairs to be seated off the road, in the gravel laden pathway overlooking the picturesque landscape.
I surely captured darkness with my closed eyes but the sense of being cradled in a peaceful abode was magnanimous. My eye lids opened to the sound of a motorbike descending the hilly road behind us. “Ma’am, isn’t having a cup of tea here far better than having one in those crowded urban restaurants?” I asked my colleague. “I simply want to enjoy this experience with as much silence as possible. In the last 40 years of my life, I have never stumbled over such a marvelous cup of tea. I cannot comprehend whether the tea is exceptionally good or having it in a completely different setting is making me appreciate it more”, she replied and simultaneously sipped at her hot tea. We asked for some crunchy biscuits to munch on by dipping in the tea. The tea sips got even more delectable.
The lovely panorama of hills mesmerized us enough to be deeply lost in the sprawling
serenity. A National Excursion with our college students had brought us to the state of
Uttarakhand. Bhimtal was just one of the many places in our travel itinerary along with
Nainital, Dehradun, Jim Corbett National Park, Lansdowne and Landour. So, surely our routine was hectically packed with long road trips, sightseeing and visits. Nonetheless, managing enthusiastically spirited thirty odd young adults in an adventurous trip is a Herculean task in itself. We invariably hunted for opportunities to escape the work station companions and buy some relax time for us.
I silently tried to gorge the breathtaking tranquility of the lake view valley in between my tea sips. The lucid floating clouds alongside made me wonder how better the heavens could have been. “Bhai sahaab, aap ka ghar yahan se kitna durr hai?” ma’am asked to the chaiwala who had a short and stout figure of a middle aged man. It is then that I paid some careful attention to his chai ki dukan. There was hardly any room for more than one person. The thin asbestos shelves and wall hangers had utensils and grocery items on them. He had put up neat glass jars to display his stock of locally made biscuits and breadsticks. A pile of eggs, Maggie packets and bread loaves said us that there was more than just tea available here. “Memsahab, woh raha hamara ghar”, he replied in a distinct North-Indian accent of Hindi, pointing to a thatched shelter of mud, tiles, tin and wood in the steeply dented hill-side rocks right below where we were sitting. He said it was just a climb of few steps for him. But I could already feel a backache springing from such sharp uphill ascent on a daily basis over the jagged and unstable boulders.
As we got up to leave, we thanked him for his awesome tea and asked how much was the
bill. It was 16 INR. I reached out for a fifty rupees note in my wallet and handed it out to him. He requested for rendering the exact change but all I had was a few one hundred and five hundred rupee notes. I munificently mentioned with a grand smile that he could keep the entire amount. He went on to tell that we could retire without paying and send him his payment of exact change anytime later in the day through the hotel gardener who was his friend. By this time, ma’am was already digging her purse for the required amount of money. She found a twenty rupee note and stretched out to pay. With a hesitant expression on his face, he pocketed it reluctantly.
We realized that we had indeed paid a really cheap bill after ages for the most priceless
experience of having tea which was incomparable to the “classy tea” served in “imported
porcelain cutlery” at the artificially air conditioned “continental star hotels”. Before we
departed for our next destination in the travel list, the room service brought us four rupees in our meal serving tray and said that it was from the chaiwala. Ma’am kept the four rupees smiling graciously at the chaiwala’s adamancy and I kept the indelible memory.