My rendezvous with ‘The Ghost’

The ghost that got me

The ghost that got me

It wasn’t till December of 2011 that I was introduced to this menacing looking chilli. By now the BHOOT JOLOKIA also known as Ghost Chilli had already established a reputation of notoriety across continents.

Placed right in front of me, I didn’t have the least desire to challenge its potency.

“Just a small bite!” cried out my chilli loving husband. He would look for every opportunity to ridicule my inability to eat things spicy and here he was asking me to commit an act nothing short of being suicidal. We were atop a hillock overlooking the grassland of KAZIRANGA. At a distance, we could see Rhinos grazing. A little nip in the afternoon air an enormous spread for lunch and Bhoot Jolokia for company!

Rhino up & close

Rhino up & close

Beautiful Kaziranga

Beautiful Kaziranga

Before I got the taste of authentic food from this region, I had a preconceived notion of it being an extension of the North Indian cuisine, a pasty concoction of dhaniya, jeera and garam masala powder submerged in finger deep layer of oil. I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered to the contrary. Food habits of my friends (My husband included) from this part of the country had convinced me that one got to be a non vegetarian to survive here. They would, and still do, live to eat the next meal where there ought to be a thing which once walked, crept or crawled this earth.

Was I thrilled to learn that the choices for a vegetarian are far more than I ever had growing up with Sambar, Rasam and Thayir Saadam (Curd Rice for those who don’t know Tamil!)? The freshest vegetables cooked with least amount of masala.

I could go on about Assamese cuisine, but let me reserve that for another day.

Today is the day of the not so humble Bhoot Jolokia. For centuries, Bhoot Jolokia has been used to garnish food in this region. Add it to pork, mutton or chicken, I am told it has transformational qualities. Bhoot Jolokia is also used to cure stomach troubles and to fight the summer heat, declared my husband’s cousin. Paradoxical it does seem but native practices sometimes defy conventional understanding. As we got to devour what lay in front of us, I couldn’t help ponder on what possibly is the reason behind new found stardom of Bhoot Jolokia.

Bhoot Jolokia lived in obscurity for centuries. In 2007, Guinness World Record declared this chilli the spiciest in the world, loaded with a destructive arsenal of 1,001,304 Scoville Heat Units (SHU). This against 7,000 SHU for Tabasco Habenero sauce, the most adventurous many of us will ever get to!!!!

If it wasn’t for the Guinness, like many other beautiful things, Bhoot Jolokia would have remained confined to this region alone.

Today Bhoot Jolokia has grown in stature some would say much larger that the land it grows in. From restaurants in Manhattan to eateries in Amsterdam, all so proudly announce the hottest chilli on their menu.

The local markets

Find them easily at the local markets

I truly am happy for the chilli but what baffles me is why just the chilli?

Here is a land so pristine so rich! She holds in her bosom nature’s bounty, there is Kaziranga, Nameri, Manas and plenty! And yet the shores of the mighty Brahmaputra sees not visitors too many.

It took a Guinness to elevate the chilli. It will take the might of many to unshackle this region from its solitary confinement. Many to visit, many to talk about it and many more to know that to see an unexplored heaven, we need not travel too far.

For me the journey has just begun. The road is long and bumpy it ought to be.

Next stop MAJULI. A river island which till recently had the distinction of being the largest in the world. Sadly, erosion is eating away bit by bit this jewel in the heart of Brahmaputra and I got to get glimpses of it before it’s too late.

“And thus began my love affair with Paradise Unexplored”

 Assam Really!!!! Where is this place? Is it safe to go there? Do you have flights to Assam?

Perfectly normal reactions for someone who hasn’t traveled to that part of the country and it would be safe to assume that the number here is pretty large. Not till long ago, I was part of this large club. Assam to me was a northeastern state, far, really far away and here I am traveling to this distant land more frequently than I could have ever imagined.

What brought a girl born in Chennai, grown up in various parts of the country to Assam? Marriage!!!Not something one would remotely reckon as a reason.

I would love to have you believe that my love affair with Assam was, well as they say at first sight. But for a newlywed bride, the apprehensions of stepping into a new household far outweigh the beauty of her surroundings. I hardly did behold the pristine surroundings into whose lap I had just walked into.

Gauripur, a sleepy little town situated not too far from Bangladesh and West Bengal borders is my new home. This is where my husband was born and my in-laws have a history of many generations to look back at and feel immensely proud about. This was my introduction to Assam, a place I would eventually fall in love with so much so that I will take it to people far and wide to have them come and experience it.

“North east of India- Paradise Unexplored”, the catch line of the department of tourism, govt of India will have you believe. Words like paradise, Last Shangrila, Unexplored, off the beaten path are so over used that they fall nothing short of being clichés. So I will make a sincere effort to use none of these to narrate stories from a region which whether or not qualify as a Paradise, does qualify as a place Un-spoilt, a place really beautiful. For many, the beauty of North eastern states is in its abundant green cover, innumerable number of water bodies, swathe of flora and fauna, towering snow-clad peaks. All these being omnipresent, for me the beauty is amplified by the simplicity of its people.  It is in their strong bond to their traditions. It is in their resolve to hold on to their heritage, their desire to enjoy the simple joys of life and their detachment from many pleasures, material, which we the urban dwellers stake every day of our lives to achieve, acquire and accumulate. While the rest of the nation has embarked on a path of development, time seems to have stood still here. A blessing in disguise one might say. Development has yet not cast its ugly spell but the reality is that day isn’t far away. I considered it my duty to introduce the Un-spoilt innocence of this region to the world outside and thus was born Untold Stories.

“People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home” said Dogobert D. Runes.

Ah! the mighty surreal

Ah! the mighty Brahmaputra….so surreal

Embracing culture....

Embracing culture….

The pleasure of greenery around makes me spellbound

The pleasure of greenery around makes me spellbound

The whole of north-east India is filled with such fascinated people and it is right here at home….

At this juncture I leave you with one thought….”So what is stopping you”