Treats and Traditions from the Hills

The best thing about roaming around the Eastern Hills is that every district has its own distinct character and traditions. This part of Nepal is home to so many different ethnic groups that you encounter different languages, foods, clothing and languages at every turn.

Coming back to the Tarai after Christmas in London was a bit of a wrench for various reasons and coming back to a cold and damp house/office did not help matters. Biratnagar is sitting under a thick blanket of fog, bringing flights to a standstill and casting a morose atmosphere over the whole town. After a week of walking around the house wrapped in a duvet the winter blues were setting in fast. Fortunately, work took me uphill this week, towards sunlight, good food and some fleeting glimpses of Mt Kanchenjunga.

One the specialities of the Eastern hills – best enjoyed in winter – is tungba, a drink made from fermented millet. It is served in a wooden jar and drunk through a wooden straw poking out of the top. The jar contains grains of millet, and once you’ve finished your tungba you just top it up with boiling water, so in a way it is like a never-ending drink. The wooden tungba jar must be carefully maintained while not in use, by being covered with butter (from a yak, if you are at a high enough altitude) and stored with a little bit of water inside to stop the wood from drying out.

Tungba, enjoyed the traditional way

Just a little bit of this stuff in the evenings really helps to keep the cold at bay.

For those who are non-veg there are all kinds of things to sample in the hills, ranging from sekuwa (grilled cubes of goat meat, a bit like a Turkish kebab) to one Limbu dish whose name I forget which is made of rice and practically every part of a chicken that you can name, feathers included. I don’t usually eat meat, and would class myself as ‘vegi-curious’ rather than fully vegetarian, but sekuwa generally gets the better of me.

One of the other specialities of the hill districts is churpi, a (rock) hard cheese which is sold in little cubes which are chewed like gum. I spent months wondering what these strange yellow sticks hanging in shops and fireplaces were until someone pointed out to me that they were, in fact, cheese. I can’t say I’m a big fan of this stuff.

'Churpi' - the chewing gum of the hills

Tibetan butter tea is another hilly specialty that you can find in hotels and restaurants owned by the Sherpa community. This is more like a soup than a tea, and is strong and salty. Definitely not for the faint-hearted.

The Eastern Hills are famous for their brightly-coloured, homespun fabric, called khadi. This can be used to make salwaar kameez or saris, or worn as a shawl or head-dress. I snapped up a brown shawl (sadly the strong colours and big patterns don’t look that good on pale white skin!)

Khadi cloth

The biggest treat of the Eastern hills, however, has to be the sunlight. There is nothing quite like the strong, pure sunlight at a high altitude. I’m now feeling wide-awake and all thoughts of curling up under my duvet and going into hibernation are all gone… well, almost.

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One Response to “Treats and Traditions from the Hills”

  1. HOW CAN YOU NOT LIKE CHURPI?
    we bring them back in KGs from kalimpong!!!
    also, there are different kinds…if you don’t like the ones you took a photo of, try the one that are caked with white dust, they are softer and kind of salty-sweet (mmm, that doesn’t sound too appetizing either! haha)

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