*This is a sponsored feature
In the second part of our food trail, we continue our search for delicacies. But, with the Jammu-Srinagar highway closed, we had no choice but to take the A4 on the treacherous Mughal Road.
As I’ve mentioned before, I love making plans. But you know what they say about the best laid plans, don’t you? Well, as expected then, fate got in the way of our plans and threw a spanner in the works. And, since I’m a control freak, it gets on my nerves when that happens. But, it happens often, so the only thing to do is to quickly come up with Plan B.
For those of you who followed part one of this food trail last month, you would remember that we were on the fourth day of our trip, and we had to resort to taking the Mughal Road – an ancient route used by the Mughals to conquer Kashmir – to leave Srinagar since the main highway was closed due to landslides. Let’s put it this way, this is an alternative route to the crowded NH 44 between Jammu and Srinagar – but one that’s been under development for almost five decades now!
Peer Ki Galli
What makes things even more interesting is that the Mughal Road passes through towns, such as Poonch, Pampore and Shopian – names that we usually hear of for all the wrong reasons. Nevertheless, after a couple of hours of state highways, we finally hit the Mughal Road and soon ascended to the famous Peer Ki Galli. A part of the original road, it’s truly beautiful and picturesque. The lack of traffic helped of course, but the natural beauty of the Pir Panjal range, accentuated by light snowfall, really set the tone. Of course, we stopped to take a few pictures, but the biting cold and the freezing wind at an altitude of over 11,000 feet made us quickly get back into the cosy cabin of the Audi A4.
The reason why the Mughal Road is not so popular is twofold – first, its longer than NH 44, and, second, it can get quite challenging in parts. In a lot of places, there was virtually no road to speak of. But, despite that, the Audi A4 surprised us and gave us no trouble at all. In fact, it dealt with everything that the road threw at it quite effectively. All said and done, with the help of the A4, we prevailed and made it to Jammu. The next day, we would start early and head towards our next destination – McLeod Ganj.
Less Tibetan, more ‘Chindian’
Most of you would know about McLeod Ganj – it’s famous for being the residence of the 14th Dalai Lama, and has a pretty impressive monastery too. Our target was to find some authentic Tibetan food, but, alas, my plans failed here too. It was like one of those times when nothing works in your favour. After trying a couple of restaurants, we found very little authentic Tibetan food. What we did find was more of what one would call ‘Chindian’ cuisine. Soon, we learned the reason. Apparently, to cater to tourists that come here from all over India, the cuisine has been adapted and there’s hardly any authentic Tibetan cuisine available in restaurants. We weren’t able to arrange an authentic meal at someone’s house either, so that’s a goal we’ll save for another day.
Having finished our scouting at McLeod, and after a truly average lunch – our first disappointing meal of the trip yet – we set off for Amritsar to dig into a meal that I would remember for various reasons. But, more on that later. As we got out of the madness that is traffic in McLeod Ganj, we chanced upon a truly stunning sunset – the clear skies of the hills obliged, and so did Kapil with some sublime photography. And, while mostly all roads seemed like the Autobahn after our tryst with the Mughal Road, the road between Pathankot and Amritsar is really a fantastic stretch, which allowed us to stretch the legs of the Audi A4 and make up the time – something that we really needed.
The next day was another early morning for us. We intended to catch the sunrise at the Golden Temple, and, as you can see, it was a beautiful day with a clear sky. While I’m not a religious person, seeing the vast crowd of devotees waiting patiently outside the sanctum sanctorum did make me wonder about the value that faith offers to a lot of people.
After the cleanliness, order and tranquillity of the Gurdwara, we descended back into the chaos of the city. And since there was still time before our lunch stop opened for the day, we took a long walk through the old town of Amritsar – looking at the architecture and the stress that our ever-increasing population puts on these structures. But we also sampled some old school mithai.
For those who are familiar, there are still shops that make traditional mithai, filled with (or rather dripping in) ghee. And we chanced upon just one such shop in Amritsar. I couldn’t resist and decided to buy some old-fashioned pinni and besan laddoo from Amar Chand & Sons. And while it was delightful, the sheer quantities of clarified butter or ghee in just one piece is enough to coat your throat for the whole day! I had to stop at just one piece, for I was saving my appetite for a hearty traditional Amritsari lunch.
The lunch proved to be truly memorable, but for slightly different reasons. All my sources told me that this hole-in-the-wall shop in Chungi, in Amritsar, serves the finest specimen of what is arguably the most famous dish of the town – the Amritsari kulcha. Made fresh for you in a tandoor, the multi-layered Kulcha is then slathered in butter and served with chole. Let’s just say that it lived up the hype – that fresh kulcha, with its layered construction, coming straight from the tandoor to your plate, proved to be a deeply satisfying meal. The freshness of the food, the simplicity of the service and a restaurant without any embellishment, all of it together made our time there truly memorable. It’s true that sometimes a bare-bones experience is the best one can find.
Life goals & lessons
Now, after a week on the road, all the while gorging as if we were about to run out of food, and tasting as many things as we could, did I learn anything? Yes, quite a few things actually. Firstly, between the Wazwan of Ahdoo’s in Srinagar and the Amritsari kulchas of Chungi’s, what I learnt was that, most of the time, the traditional ways are the best. Sure, the chefs might be old-fashioned and the antithesis of a celebrity chef, but that doesn’t mean that the food can’t be spectacular. Our meals at both these places, and even our breakfast spot in Karnal, proved that sticking to the tried and tested can be very rewarding indeed. And, secondly, when you’re out for a full week, driving for thousands of kilometres with the sole aim of eating some great food, having a silent companion like the Audi A4 helps. It’s discreet, capable and very efficient. In short, it’s all that you can ask for from a car during a road trip. With the varied terrain, the long hours, the increased load because of all our gorging, the A4 delivered not only reliably, but also spectacularly.
However, I’m not getting any younger, and all that rich food isn’t helping me get any slimmer, so I think it’s going to have to be a winter spent in the gym after all that delicious food.
Of course, once I’ve lost these newfound pounds, it’ll be time for another food trail – to the North East perhaps. I wonder which car Audi will be willing to loan me this time…
Much to our disappointment, there wasn’t really an authentic Tibetan meal to be found in McLeod Ganj. The next morning’s sunrise at Amritsar was a sight to behold though.
The outstanding dish on this leg of the food trail was the Amritsari Kulcha from a hole-in-the-wall joint in Amritsar. And after that heavy meal, the superbly refined A4 was a godsend on the drive back to Delhi.