Chikankari – pride of the Lucknawi Culture

” There is a distinct timelessness to Lucknow – things have changed, yet, things have stayed as they are. Lucknawis are great patrons of art “.

– Pandit Birju Maharaj , India – Moods & Memories

Lucknow – widely popular as the city of Nawabs and once, as the capital of the vast and rich dominions of the state of Awadh is an ancient keeper of the Mughal art and culture. As stated by Pandit Birju Maharaj (a leading Kathak exponent from Lucknow) in the book ” India – Moods and Memories ” – Lucknow has seen innumerable changes with years but the heart of the city remains the same with the legacy of its age old traditions thriving to this day, having stood the test of time and modernity.

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The topic of the artistic association of Lucknow with Mughals will be incomplete without speaking of the Chikankari art which appeared in Lucknow in the late 18th century and its exquisite aesthetic and craftsmanship sustained the tradition to this day, through changing patronage and market trends. Chikankari is one of the finest traditional embroideries of India, a symbol of Lucknawi culture and elegant courts of the Nawabs of Awadh. 

Meaning of ” Chikan “

 

” The magic of Chikankari or the white-on-white embroidery of Lucknow reflects the splendor of Indian craft as pure moonlight resplendent in all its beauty.”

– Amrita Walia

The word ‘Chikan’ is probably a derivative from the Persian word ‘Chikin’ or Chikeen which means ” running thread through cloth”. In all probability the word Chikan is used for the white floral embroidery that Queen Noor Jehan brought with her from Persia. The form of embroidery became very popular with the king and his nobles and they began the work of embroidery on muslin and other fine cottons in a myriad of delicate stitches. Cool summery shadow work veils were in vogue for hundreds of years.

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Chikan Embroidery

History of Chikankari

” Lucknow chikan work is the most artistic and most delicate form of what may be called the purely indigenous needlework of India”.

– George Watt

The art of Chikankari in India is about 400 years old. It is believed that this is a Persian craft, which was introduced by Noor Jehan, wife of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir. Chikankari flourished under the patronage of the rulers of Awadh.

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Later when the capital of Awadh shifted to Lucknow from Faizabad, in the year 1722, the knowledge of the craft came to Lucknow. Chikankari, although it developed towards the end of the Nawabi era , is often taken to epitomize the best and ultimate refinement of Nawabi and Lucknawi Culture. Interestingly though it is considered an embodiment in the royal city of Lucknow , chikankari has its origin in the royal courts. 

Blocks in Chikankari

A chikan block is a design unit by itself, or it can be used as part of more complex and ever changeable design composition. This system allows endless and instant combinations and permutations. It is a typical feature of the chikan embroidery process and it is a very ingenious and economical method to create innumerable designs with a relatively limited collection of tools.

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  • ARKO – A block used for borders with a design consisting of three small borders – generally the border one is in the middle.
  • KANTHA – The ‘ quarter moon block’ with the shape for the typical neckline on the angarkha or on Bangala kurtas. Its name derives from kanth ( neck).
  • BEL is a straight, single border, more or less wide, generally placed around the front opening of a kurta. 
  • KAT BEL is a border with a scapelled motif on one side.
  • KONI is a block with a painted motif which is placed at the corners of kurta.
  • BUTI is a block of small motifs or small flowers designs.
  • BUTA is a block with a large single motif.

Motifs in Chikankari

Chikankari motifs depict a strong influence of the motifs and screens ( jaalis ) present in the Taj Mahal . At present , the Taj motifs are freely used in Lucknow’s chikan work and most of its glory springs from the Taj pitra dura.

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Chikan then and now

As written by Paoli Manfredi in her book ” Chikankari : A Lucknawi Tradition” –   the finest Chikan embroidery would ornate the garments in subtle ways, ultimate luxury being defined not by quantity but by the flawless workmanship and inconspicuous miniature-style minimalism of the stitches. ” Lightness of touch “ was the essence of the elaborate Lucknawi courtesy, and we could say, of some exquisite chikan embroideries of former times. Chikan used to white on white embroidery executed with minute stitches on translucent fine cotton muslins. Quite the opposite of the aesthetic of today’s chikan which favours lavishness of craftsmanship , whether grossly or very finely executed, in any color and on any kind of fabric : cotton, silk or synthetic textiles, on thin or thick weaves , on plain or printed materials. Today chikan can be bulky with the thick threads and slack and long stitches or very fine, delicate with intricate textures for few elite niche markets – in either case, Lucknawi chikan will always evoke images of insubstantial, evanescent and delicately flowered muslins.

Chikankari – Not just an embroidery 

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Tereza Kulkova, an anthropologist who did extensive research on this subject says that Chikan has a symbolic value of its own ; it is not just a souvenir par excellence from Lucknow , but first and foremost a materialization of the discursive representations of the city. This material thing, this embroidery, gives the city its identity and it also projects its identity onto the weaver of Chikan. Chikan is associated with wealth, style and taste, extravaganza, finesse, delicacy, but even honor, respect and power.

” Chikan is like a dragonfly’s wing, its white-on-white gossamer textures reflect the light and shade of her( the artisan) life – its beauty and its fragile, transient nature.”

– Laila Tyabli , CEO of Dastkar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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An Escape – Where forever begins

For the love of all things wonderful, here’s a little something to get your hearts racing. An Eco-tourism resort with all the frills to leave you awestruck.

Cradled with the South Gola Himalayan range, Jilling Terraces is encircled by snowy peaks and cleaved by the silent trails carpeted with the magnificent Himalayan flora and gorgeous waterfalls. Jilling Terraces enables you to hear the sound of silence, spend the night star gazing, partake in an invigorating yoga session, relish a picnic amidst nature and explore village life. It’s a 35 km ride from the Railway Station of Kathgodam to the Matial Village, from where a winding 1.5 km trek takes you to the mountain retreat. During monsoons the hikers can expect to be rewarded with an ethereal carpet of blossoms, and an intoxicating fragrance.

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If you are looking to charm your lady love, then treat her like royalty by indulging her  with the enchanting experience of the nature’s marvel at Jilling Terraces. It beckons you and your significant other to rekindle your vows of togetherness.

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity…” 

-John Muir

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You can start your day with an in-room offering of warm cups of ginger tea and delicious cookies while the majestic view of the towering mountains will ignite the blissful experience. The wide open windows shows you how it feels to wake up to the beauty of nature. But even in the midst of the rustic landscape, the rooms are tastefully upholstered with choicest furnishings, refurbished interiors juxtaposed with modern day luxuries.

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As the dusk falls you will be served with a delicious round of snacks over endless cups of tea or coffee that will fill the room with the aroma of sweet spices. This will be followed by a lip smacking feast of Kumaoni delicacies prepared with the fresh and local produce of the region served to you in the generously sized living room with its unique oak and pine wood table.

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One of the most unique experiences designed for love is the private celebration dinner. Here you can indulge in the intimacy of candle light dinner beneath the open sky. The night sky above you. The twinkling stars as your only light.

“ When we are chafed and fretted by small cares, a look at the stars will show us the littleness of our own interests.”

– Maria Mitchell

All of us are so overloaded with work and deadlines that we often forget to look around and appreciate everything for what it really is. We even forget to appreciate ourselves. Stargazing encourages you to ponder over such little things in life and lets you appreciate the wonderful gravity of each passing moment.

Celebrate this Valentine at Jilling Terraces and allow the nature to unfold an unforgettable evening for you. 

 

 

 

The Art of Puppetry – All Strings are Still Attached.

A puppet is one of the most remarkable and ingenious inventions of the man. It has been said that a puppet has to be more than his live counterpart for it is definitely the suggestive element that is more captivating and enduring in a puppet.

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Ancient Hindu philosophers have paid the greatest tribute to puppeteers. They have likened God Almighty to a puppeteer and the entire universe to a puppet stage. Srimad Bhagvad Gita, the great epic depicting the story of Lord Krishna in his childhood say that with three strings – SattaRaja and Tama, the God manipulates each object in the universe as a marionette.

 ” Without culture and the relative freedom it implies, society, even when perfect, is but a jungle. This is why an authentic freedom is a gift to the future.”

– Albert Camus

Puppetry throughout the ages has held an important place in traditional entertainment. Like traditional theatre, themes for puppet theatre are mostly based on epics and legends. Puppets from different parts of the country have their own identity. Regional styles of painting and sculptures are reflected in them.

” Culture is the habit of being pleased with the best and knowing why. “

– Henry Van Dyke

Viewing colorful wooden dolls with bountiful eyes and expressions , swaying with the rhythm as they twist and twirl with their delightful Rajasthani outfits on, while the puppeteers work wonders with the strings never fail to leave the viewers awestruck. The tradtional art of puppets has stood the test of time and has been entertaining the Kings and nobles since times immemorial. Rajasthani kings were patrons of Art and Craft and they encouraged the craftsmen in activities ranging from wood and marble carving to weaving pottery and paintings.

Kathputli

Kathputli is a blend of two Rajasthani language words Kath meaning wood and Putli meaning a doll which has no life . Kathputli means a puppet which is made entirely from wood. It is a string puppet theatre , native to Rajasthan , India and is the most popular form of Indian puppetry. Being a string marionette, it is controlled by a single string that passes from the top of the puppet over the puppeteers. It is created with wood and fabric.

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The process of making puppet is very intricate and involves a lot of patience. The process is conducted by both men and women. In Jaipur the puppets made are of small size; with wooden heads, decorated with cloths and stuffed with chaan or cotton.The wooden faces of these puppets are colored as per the characters they play in a specific enactment. Painted in yellow shade with their hands loaded down with clothes, cotton and fabric pieces, they wear delightful Rajasthani outfits.

Heavy embellishment is done on the puppets which are meant for performance. They are decorated with handmade jewelry, instruments etc. to make them appear lively. These puppets are mainly sold as souvenirs and for this reason the female puppets have traditional gorla on their foreheads while the males have beens (Snake Charmers Flute) which depict the culture of Rajasthan.

Rejoiced in voluptuous and regal splendor throughout its history, walking through luxurious colors, earthly rich materials and showcasing a flamboyant flair divulged in culture and manner, India is a land of kings and emperors. It is the nation whose columns of history is crowded with thousands of monarchs, their majesties and graciousness, serenity and royal highness’s, but this influential past bought with itself the great responsibility of keeping these tales alive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jilling Terraces – All Snowbound and Iced Up for the Long Weekend

Breathtaking spaces. Delectable meals. Romantic Relaxation.

And the blanket of snow to complement the fore mentioned pleasures as Jilling welcomes the white winters in full glory today.

” The first fall of snow is not only an event, it is a magical event. You go to bed in one kind of world and wake up in another quite different and if this is not an enchantment, where is it to be found ? “

– J.B Priestley

From its colonial style architecture to the idyllic rustic elegance perched in the laps of South Gola range of Himalayas, Jilling Terraces is the nearest thing to a bucolic Garden of Eden. Ensconced in the uphills of Matial Village, and inspired by the beautiful flowers and mouthwatering berries of the region, the Chestnut House of Jilling Terraces gracefully blends a contemporary look juxtaposed with modern day luxuries.

Huddled amidst the mountains it serves in abundance an honest, straightforward charm of happiness that creeps up on visitors like a mountain breeze ruffles through the hair. The rooms are tastefully upholstered with choicest furniture, warm lighting, wooden flooring and each one of them offers spectacular views of the valley around.

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When it snows, it’s like the entire place has put on a white quilt to wave out the cold. 

The moment you arrive hand-in-hand , you are greeted by our warm and hospitable team. The melody of the cold waves will entice you further inside. The evenings spent near the fireplace with dreamy life tunes of the crackling fire will keep you swaying. The night sky above you. The twinkling stars as your only light – you just need to turn your heads up and then wait for the unforgettable evening to unfold.

There’s a reason that every winter holiday revolves around eating and lights and presents. Without all the jolly distractions, winter can get gloomy really fast. But Luckily, books and places like Jilling exist! And that means that it’s never so cold or dreary or mushy outside that you can’t may your way to a celebrated escape this winter.

And if you haven’t felt it yet, you know where to come.

 

 

 

Rajasthan – India’s fabled Land of Kings and Camels

A nation’s culture resides in the heart and in the soul of it’s people.

    – Mahatma Gandhi

What makes Rajasthan so special ? So unique ? Why is it that despite being considered one of the country’s most ‘ backward’ states, Rajasthan remains the favored Indian destination, the highlight of the Indian experience for all but a few ?

 

 

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The gracefully ornamented Ship of Desert adoring itself after a ride. Photo Credit – Sunidhi Khandelwal

Rajasthan, India’s fabled ‘ Land of Kings’ is special and unique. There is no doubt in it. Of all the places I have traveled in India, I cannot with head or heart, find a place parallel to it. I belong to Rajasthan, but have spent all these years of my life in Northern U.P, because this is where I was born and brought up but I ensure to never miss an opportunity of spending a few days in the desert state and catching wonderful glimpses of this happy land. Rajasthan means many things to many people.

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A Rajasthani Folk Dancer in all its glory. Photo Credit – Sunidhi Khandelwal

Rajasthan, royal or rural, town or country, is essentially and above all, a truly happy land. It is our spirit as rare as our rains, honed fined by the hot desert wind and tempered true by the ancient wisdom; a spirit that transcends caste, creed, sex and class; a spirit that imbues kings and pleasant alike ; indeed a spirit that defines us all while binding us together. In all the color, romance and glory it is this spirit that the visitor of Rajasthan sees and feels, and is left smitten.

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Its noble amalgam of pride and arrogance, of self esteem and humility , of martial fire and civility, simplicity and sophistication, was centuries in the making , and like a prized sword has stood the test of time. Which brings to us the another great gift from Rajasthan : the sheer continuity of our institutions, traditions, trade and customs , our way of life, our very civilization , is staggering. You will not find this anywhere else in India, not even in ruins of the empires of Europe. This is reflected in not only our glorious history , the stuff of myth and legend; our magnificent forts and palaces, our grand traditions and glittering customs, colorful festivals , but also in our present day culture. Despite the pressures of modern day living Rajasthan remains today a deeply civilized society, at peace with itself and within itself. The visitor simply cannot fail to spot this, and be moved by it.

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Artists Performing at the Shilpgram Festival 2018. Photo Credit – Sunidhi Khandelwal

 

Now, coming to the cultural side , Rajasthan has left no stone unturned in making us familiar with the exquisite treasure trove of Indian Handicrafts.

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A Crafts Bazar in the fashion of a traditional ‘haat’ where visitors could buy traditional crafts from the Zone. Craftsman are invited periodically to demonstrate their skills and sell the crafts to the visitors at Shilpgram.     Photo Credit – Sunidhi Khandelwal

Each festival and ceremonial occasion celebrated here has its own style of costume and auspicious color- tie and dye leheriya is worn on Teej; chunari or plain red or green on Gangaur; faganiya on Holi; black and silver on Diwali; white or light pink or Sharad Purnima and red with gold on the birthday of the ruler.

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In these traditional huts, household articles of everyday use – whether terracotta or textile, wooden or metal, along with decorative objects and implements – agricultural or craftsmen’s tools, etc. are featured with appropriate signage and explanatory details.
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A Craftsmen exhibiting his handcrafted marvels. Photo Credit – Sunidhi Khandelwal

 

Shilpgram , a craft village situated in the western part of Udaipur, under the beautiful backdrop of the Aravalli Hills and lush greenery is a huge repertoire of Indian art forms, crafts, heritage and culture. It was inaugurated by Rajiv Gandhi in 1989. Set in dusty, rolling countryside, it’s contrived, but remains interesting. There are 26 traditional village houses from Rajasthan, Gujarat, Goa and Maharashtra, some with glittering mirrored interiors, and craft exhibits.

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Beautiful terracotta windchimes adding to the glory of the festival.

From twisting and turning on a camel’s hump decorated with colorful beads and bells to the mouthwatering Rajasthani delicacies served here, everything will make you take pride in being an Indian and in being able to witness the culture of the entire state at one place. The skirt of a village women, the swirl of an odhni, the ghunghat, all in rich tones that splash the barren desserts with colors. Name a shade and it’s there in the dress, the jewellery, even the decoration of the huts here – the country’s dullest land is transformed by a veritable explosion of brilliance.

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Then there’s anything nothing like Rajasthani food anywhere in the world. At Shilpgram, you can treat yourself with wholesome Rajasthani meals to your heart’s consent without burning a hole in your pocket. One of the most popular dishes is gatte ki sabzi, which is made of nothing but besan. The logic is simple- with no vegetables or rich agricultural harvest, improvisation was the only way to ensure great meals : daal-baati choorma, papad ki sabzi, besan ki kai, bajre ki roti, baajre ki khichdi, daal ki kachori, pyaaz ki kachori.…Another very popular dish – ker sangri – is actually an innocuous shrub ! Rajasthan is also a great place for sweets , just right to balance out the spicy fare.

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Rajasthani Meal at Shilpgram Dhaba – Dal, Baati, Gatte ki Sabzi, Kadi, Sweets, Pickle and Salad
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Bajre ki Roti, Makke ki Roti, Missi Roti , Gatte ki Sabzi, Kadi, Dal, Pickle and Salad.

The most surprising part of their hospitality is that , you pay once for any cuisine who want to savor yourself with and you get extra servings for free, with all presented on your table with love and affection. There is something in the land that invokes courtesy, hospitality, an unquestioning hospitality of strangers.

From a rickshaw puller to a cafe owner , the people here are very warm and polite, and this attitude reflects in their very language – in the gracious and polite ‘hukkum’ a far cry from the bare urban ‘yes’.

 

Urbanization, tourism , commercialization everything has its own utility , but this state still retains its old world charm , its historical grandeur to a far greater extent than many others. Despite the pressures of modern day living it maintains a deeply civilized society, at peace with itself, within itself. The visitor simply cannot fail to spot this, and be moved by it.

Stay tuned for more travel updates from Rajasthan !

 

 

 

 

Jilling Terraces – For the fleeting Winter Charm

As we ring in 2018, two New Year resolutions might come to mind – travel more and socialize more setting the social media apart. Turns out the best way to tick off these resolutions is to just give in to the flow and not fight it. In this case, I mean you had to go in support of your instinct and play tourist to fall in love with the places and its people and eventually kill two birds with one stone.

With Christmas right around the corner, Jilling Terraces – a gorgeous mountain retreat tucked in the Himalayas can help you draw in towards its fleeting moments of sheer brilliance and be a great beginning to the New Year.  

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Perhaps you might want to spend your getaway in a cozy cottage amidst the mountains. Check out this gorgeous, over-the-top winter rental that will definitely help you enjoy the snowy month ahead.

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Chestnut House – an Eco-tourism resort awaits you at an hour ride from Kathgodam, followed by a moderate trek. The trek is not easy but once you will reach , you will know that this mountain retreat was worth every step and it takes some doing to satisfy your wanderlust.

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I would recommend stopping from time to time on the way up to catch your breath—you can say you’re bird-watching—because you’re really going to need it when you reach the top, where the views of Nanda Devi and the valley some 7000 feet below are truly breathtaking.

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Streaked Woodpecker

On any snowy winter morning, before the sun rises , you might see tea steaming from a large frying pan placed on an open-hearth as Basant bhaiya begins preparing the morning breakfast. It is difficult to compare hearth cooking with cooking on a modern kitchen stove because the open-hearth is so much more than a place to cook. The firelight casts its spell over the room and infuses everything cooked on the hearth with a touch of magic.

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Hearth Cooking

You can enjoy tightening your grip around the warm cup of tea while being snowed under your blanket or can make you way to the oak inspired dining to play a game or read a book and defrost your bones sitting by the fireplace. If your idea of surviving snowy winter moves around warm quilts, hot cups of tea and views from window sills despite being an outdoor buff , then this Himalayan haven is sure to win you over its fleeting winter charms.

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We all travel for different reasons. I care little for popular sites and activities but I’m a sucker for stories, surprise and serendipity – none of those can be arranged in advance.  But now as I am writing and looking through these images, I can feel a sense of wonder filling my head. Memories of fleeting beauty flood my mind, creating an overwhelming urge to return, in winter once again perhaps.

Would to visit Jilling in Winter ?

Or is summer more appealing to you.

Jilling Terraces : In the praise of Kumaoni Cuisine

One of the nicest thing about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating. 

– Luciano Pavarotti – Lewis Grizzard

Food is very personal. We know that.

What we often don’t realize is that food is also more than personal.

It is also about culture, and most importantly, about biodiversity.We often do not think about how flora and fauna around us make up our culture. Each region in India , indeed the world , is diverse in its food habits. It has its own recipes; it cooks with different ingredients and it eats differently.

And the mere thought of this wonderful blend takes me back to Kumaon. Tucked away in the Kumaon hills of Uttarakhand stands a 100 year old colonial cottage which is grand yet steeped in simplicity.

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Photo Credit – Avijit Dutta

Set in the middle of majestic mountains surrounded by fragrant rhododendron, oak, and pine forests, the whiff of the past lingers in each and every corner of Jilling Terraces, from the warm fireplaces to the rooms inspired by the endemic trees of the region.

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Dining Space in the Chestnut House

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Here the food has a touch of colonial ceremony: tea served in a pot with an embroidered tea coaster and three-course meals even for vegetarians like me.

Step into their kitchen and you will find the air filled with pleasant aromas. There is likely to be occasional crackle of masalas or a little clang of metal utensils as Basant Bhaiya with the help of other cooks prepare mouth-watering Kumaoni delicacies for the mealtime bonhomie of the guests. People in Kumaon, love their lentils and beans – be it the urad dal ( the black  gram ) or the locally grown bhatt ( soybean). Their bulk hours are spent in relishing a spread and planning the next one.”

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The best past about the wholesome Kumaoni preparations is that they are fresh and feature local produce. Nature is a part of their lives ; it makes the connection between what they eat and why they eat it, then they can also safeguard their resources for tomorrow.

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Salad made from locally grown vegetables

Its difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato.

– Lewis Grizzard

The charm of Kumaoni cuisine is not the obvious kind. Its beauty is in the sounds and tastes and in the way it makes you feel. Breakfasts for instance includes piping hot stuffed paranthas glazed with a cube of butter and teamed with a bowl of curd, fresh rhododendron juice and pudina chutney. As the morsels dipped in pudina chutney will disappear into your mouth, you will find yourself praising the cooks for satiating your hunger. The Rhododendron juice is sweet in taste and have medicinal properties. They contain ursolic acid and quercitrin, which have anti-tumor, anti-inflammatory, anti-ulcer, anti-microbial and anti-viral properties.

The Kumaoni kitchen also treats you with hearty meals and memorable dishes like crispy okra, bhatt ki dal, baigan ka bharta, mix veg, buransh juice, and gahat ki dal, a local Kumaoni lentil stew.

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Piping Hot Chappati being cooked in Angethi
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Yellow Dal
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Mix Veg
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Jeera Rice

As evening descends upon Jilling, you can enjoy cups of delicious ginger chai to defrost your bones as you savor the pervasive silence by the fireplace.

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” There is no sincerer love than the love for food. “

– George Bernard Shaw