My school-trip about forty years ago has left very sweet memories of Rishikesh in my mind. It was Delhi-Agra-Hardwar-Rishikesh trip in the month of February. We reached Delhi by train sometime late afternoon after a journey of 30 hours. We were transported to Maharashtra Bhavan (a lodging/boarding facility made available at economic rate by Govt of Maharashtra). We were two bus-loads of students. Our teachers then gave us about three hours to get refreshed and be ready for dinner. It was an early dinner at around 7:30 pm. Our teachers announced that we were leaving for Hardwar and Rishikesh that night itself. Post dinner we were escorted to two 2×2 luxury buses. It was winter in Delhi and pretty cold outside. Not used to such cold weather, we were trying to keep ourselves warm in sweaters and shawls.
The buses left Delhi around 10:00 pm. And we fell asleep as soon as the lights inside the bus were turned-off. After a night long twisting and turning bus journey, and god-knows after how many hours, we were woken up rudely by the sudden silence of bus engines. “What happened?” “Where are we?” “Why have we stopped?” “Are we there?” everyone asked. “Yes”, our teachers told us, “we are in Rishikesh”.
Now wide awake we all stumbled out of our buses. Though it was around 6:00 am, it was still dark and nothing much could be seen around. Rishikesh was engulfed in thick white fog. The buses were going to halt in the parking area and we were supposed to walk around Rishikesh and come back to this place. Our parade started walking towards Laxman Jhoola, the famous suspension bridge.
The fog had cleared by the time we reached Laxman Jhoola. It was my first visit ever to holy river Ganga. Those first images of the holy river, the jhoola, and the temples and dharmashalas on other side of the river are etched permanently in my mind.
We crossed the river by bridge and started walking on the road along the river Ganga. After about an hour’s walk, we reached a small restaurant for our morning breakfast.
The restaurant had an open kitchen visible from everywhere. The cook was sitting with a huge deep kadhai full of boiling oil and the freshly fried north-Indian breakfast assortment around him. He started frying fresh Samosas as soon as we were all seated. Soon the fresh, hot, tasty large samosas were served to us. The winter morning cold…..the hungry stomach after full night’s journey followed by an hour’s morning walk along river Ganga…..and the smell and sight of freshly fried delicious Samosas !!! Ah! Those moments have left an indelible mark on my sensory organs. It was the perfect environment for a perfect samosa. No samosa could ever match this one in my life later. I looked around for the name of the restaurant. And there was a small board which read something like “Chotiwala”.
Four decades later, very recently, I planned my next tour to Delhi-Agra-Hardwar-Rishikesh. For Rishikesh, the focal point was river rafting for my kids, but not for me. Internet had told me that Chotiwala has now become famous and it is now a chain of restaurants. It also warned me that many other restaurants now tout themselves as Chotiwala. (Apparently, they did it in the past as well). But it said that the original restaurant is at the same place and has retained the same taste. I was determined to be there and was eagerly waiting to revisit my past.
So soon after packing my kids off for river rafting, I traversed the old path in search of the Chotiwala – the one that I experienced in my school days. Again, after another hour’s walk I reached a place called Ram Jhoola. This suspension bridge did not exist earlier when I had visited the place in my schooldays. I had still not located the Chotiwala that was residing in my memory. So I asked someone and he pointed right behind my back. I turned around, and oh-la-la. There I saw the magic words – Chotiwala. I almost ran towards it hoping to see the same old place that I had visited long years ago as a schoolboy.
Chotiwala was now surrounded by many other small shops. I instantly realized that the feel of river Ganga that one used to get earlier while sitting in the restaurant is now permanently lost due to the shops that have sprung around the restaurant. Okay, I said, I was anyway expecting some changes. As I moved closer to the restaurant, I suddenly saw two restaurants side-by-side and both sporting the name Chotiwala and also looking more or less similar. The surprise did not stop there.
Both restaurants had a live chotiwala seated in front of them. None of the restaurants had the look matching the images in my memory. Okay, the samosas are going to be the same, I reassured myself. After all, it was a traditional recipe handed down generation to generation. How can that change. So I decided to enter that restaurant of the two where samosas were being fried fresh. I did not see that in any of the restaurants. In fact, one of the restaurants was serving only the lunch. I entered the other. My heart was now sinking. But I noticed samosas behind the glass counter. They were already fried. I hoped that they must have been fried just a few minutes ago and then kept behind the counter. I asked the person on counter – are they fresh? He said – Yes, they were made today only. My heart sank further. I asked – Are they hot? And he said – no problem, will make them hot in a minute – and pointed towards the microwave behind him. Noticing my disappointment he tried to stop me by saying – Sir, this is almost lunch time and you will get hot lunch……
But then I had no heart to be there anymore. I just walked out without saying a word.
We asked our taxi driver to stop at any decent restaurant on our way back from Rishikesh. He promptly stopped at a spic-and-span restaurant on highway – Bikano – an ISO certified chain of restaurants. It was modelled on lines of western fast-food chains but served Indian food of all variety. We were hungry and we wanted to eat the regional flavors. So we ordered parathas. I somehow could not take my eyes off one item on the menu card – Samosa – but was scared to order it for the obvious reasons. The waiter somehow noticed my dilemma and said – Sir, we always serve fresh samosa. Would you like to try? And he pointed towards a bright corner of restaurant outside the kitchen. I saw the big kadhai with boiling oil and a cook ready to fry fresh samosas. Sir, we fry samosa only when we have on order – said the waiter again. I never realized when the order slipped out of my mouth. Within a few minutes the fresh samosa was fried in front of my eyes and then served.
And boy! It had the taste that I was looking for. My kids loved it too.
Can my kids look for the same taste in the same place after 40 years? Who knows!
All the images have been from recent past and have been use for illustration purpose only. None of the images are 40 year old.
Some of the images in this blog have been downloaded from internet. I sincerely thank the original uploader.