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HOW MADHUBAN FOODS IS SERVING SATTVIC VEGETARIAN FOOD DURING KAILASH MANSAROVAR YATRA, CHINA
This happened few years ago. It was the toughest day of my life. It was the day when we had trekked non-stop for more than 18 hours (3 a.m. to 9 p.m.) on high altitude in Uttarakhand, India. I and my friends Vipul and Srikanth were at the height of 16,499 feet (5029 metres), gasping for breath.
We were as thirsty as a dog in summers and so hungry that we could have chewed our arms. The trekking company we had traveled with had not given us anything to eat since 10 p.m. last night. This happened just before we were about to summit the famous Roopkund lake. Out of the blue, a team member cam running to us. He handed over food packets to us wrapped in aluminum foils.
Excited, we attacked the packets like famished wolves, only to be crestfallen within seconds. I had been given boiled potatoes sautéed in pepper. My non vegetarian friends had boiled eggs to eat. I got angry, ate some anyways and got angry again. This was all we ate as we navigated our way through treacherous paths on entirely snow capped mountains.
This is when I realized why good, nutritious, protein rich food is so important on such altitudes. But then Roopkund trek was my first high altitude trek. The pilgrimage to Kailash Mansarovara Yatra is no different.
Though, the trekking days are comparatively less than Roopkund trek in India but even the best of us can find it difficult to complete the parikrama when embarking upon Kailash Mansarovar Yatra. It is not for the faint hearted. It requires determination, lots of pre-trip preparation, even giving up on alcohol and smoking and following a healthy dietary regime.
Yes, it is very important to eat right even before you embark upon the arduous journey. Being a vegetarian heavy nation, many Indians are worried about the sattvic food at Kailash Mansarovar Yatra in China. And we all know China can give vegetarians sleepless nights.
Especially for Indians who consider even onion and garlic as non vegetarian or vegans from mostly West, who have shunned even milk and all dairy products from their diet. So, how did I cope in China during Kailash Mansarovar Yatra?
I was lucky that I visited when Madhuban Foods had just entered the scene. Thanks to Scout My Trip team for extending this invite to me and in believing in me and my skills. Scout My Trip is a well known brand which specializes in road trips. Madhuban Foods is also a known name in Indian Food and beverage ecosystem. With its restaurants in Katra, Gurugram and Shirdi, the brand has established a niche in providing healthy, nutritious, sattvic vegetarian food.
The entry of Madhuban Foods in China is a diplomatic victory between three neighbouring nations viz. India, Nepal and China. During my yatra, I could not help but admire the staff of Madhuban Foods who successfully cooked and catered healthy, nutritious, vegetarian food to yatris (pilgrims) from all walks of life.
What makes their work even more heroic is the fact that all the 7 stations where they have the kitchen are in remote locations and without much facilities or mobile and internet connectivity. The herculean task of catering to hundreds of pilgrims (sometimes even thousands) is no small feat.
1. Warm Welcome With Ghevar in Kyirong:
The moment we entered China via Nepal, I realized I have entered in a completely alien landscape. I had no idea what to expect. I had not even read about it much. Being a strict vegetarian, I was most worried about the food.
As soon as we dumped our luggage in the quirky hotel in one of the glitzy lanes of Kyirong, we rushed to the kitchen of Madhuban Foods. Seeing a team of Indian chefs and management waiting for us was comforting.
We stayed for 3 days there. Can you imagine what we ate there? Gujrati dishes included the farsans, theplas, dhokla, white kadhi-khichdi and hold your breath oundhiyan! Gujrati dishes are one of my favourite and it’s near impossible to find many of these dishes even in North India.
So, I was pretty excited for the meal times every day. Even Maharashtrian dishes, another favourite were available. I overate when they presented the spicy thecha with kothambir vadi followed by the sweet pooran poli?
And on the day, a South Indian group arrived, we were treated with idli, sambhar, rasam and what not!
The best part was that the food was made with love. We interacted with the kitchen and service team. It made me curious to know what motivated them to leave their homes and families for months on end and work in an alien country.
The few staff members at this kitchen were from different places in India such as Andhra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh etc and yet the camaraderie and bonhomie was to be seen to be believed. The friendly atmosphere also reflected in the way they served to the guests with attention to each pilgrim and their dietary needs.
On the day of our departure from Kyirong, bidding them adieu felt like saying good bye to close friends or family. But I have trained my traveler mind to stay unattached
2. THE SAGA KITCHEN OF MADHUBAN FOODS:
The kitchen at Saga, our next stop was right opposite the large luxury hotel where most of the pilgrims stay. The cafeteria is built on a raised platform accessed by a metal staircase. The dining space was quirky. The transparent glass panels replaced the opaque concrete walls and slanted roof of the building made it stand apart.
3. WHICH VEGETRIAN/VEGAN FOOD TO EXPECT AT MANSAROVAR LAKE?
The kitchen here was one of the toughest to manage, I observed. It was an open space with not much construction. Everything was exposed to the elements.
It was also one of the hugest kitchen since this is the place where most pilgrims congregate and often stay for more than a day. They need the extra time to perform religious rituals by the lake, a holy dip in the lake, to embark upon the parikrama (on bus) of the lake or to just sit quietly by the holy waters and meditate. I saw my first glimpse of Mount Kailash from far distance from here itself.
You can not not read: What Kailash Mansarovar Yatra is like!
A few days after our yatra, the Indian politician Rahul Gandhi ate in the same cafeteria. Food again is served in a buffet here. Be it breakfast or lunch or dinner, we were treated with hearty home-made Indian vegetarian food such as poha, upma, paratha, chola bhatura, mendu vada for breakfast and meals like aalu gobhi, missi roti, Punjabi kadhi, daal, salad, papad, pickles and assorted soups etc.
This is also the kitchen when sometimes as many as 3,000 pilgrims show up. The staff burns the midnight oil and serves them all, no questions asked. When we visited a large group of Isha foundation run by Sadh Guru had also arrived. The kitchen catered to them as well.
4. VEGETARIAN/VEGAN FOOD AT TAKLAKOT AKA PURANG IN CHINA!
Taklakot aka Purang had the most well equipped kitchen. Located inside a luxury property, the kitchen in Taklakot has modern amenities such as huge baking machines, access to exotic ingredients and a large working space.
We were stunned to be able to eat the exotic quinoa salad, falafel and hummus rolls, the delicious kidney bean vegan burgers, and latte without milk. The food at this Madhuban Foods kitchen took us by surprise.
Please read: The holy Mount Kailash and Mansarovar Lake in China!
The kitchen catered to the Vegan café by Madhuban Foods. Apart from Taklakot, they have vegan cafes in London (UK) and Shirdi (India) as well. I totally loved the concept, food and presentation.
It matched the 5 star standards. Apart from the vegan café, as expected the Indian food served here was equally brilliant, be it the multi grain pao bhaji, dhokla, curries or breakfast items, each dish had us begging for more.
For a moment I thought I was on a food pilgrimage. Special mention to the vegetable cutlets and doughnuts! It was the crispiest doughnut I have ever had. I ate 4 big different varieties of doughnuts in 1 day! The flavoursome cutlets were crisp from outside and melt in mouth from the inside.
5. THE DERAPHUK KITCHEN OF MADHUBAN FOODS IS THE MOST CHALLENGING ONE:
It is the remotest location and yet a pilgrim magnet. This is the place from where you get the divine darshan of the most popular North face of Mount Kailash. This is also the most difficult place to set up a kitchen at.
In spite of bare minimum facilities at their disposal and temperatures often dipping below zero, the kitchen team still delivers with aplomb.
We met the energetic Mayur of the Rocky and Mayur fame who run a popular TV show called ‘Highway On My Plate’. Mayur was delighted to find hot and piping aalu ka paratha in the kitchen. A prominent lady from the Isha Ashram often spent time in the kitchen, finding comfort in the warmth of people and kitchen fire.
The staff told me that the climate is harsh in Deraphuk. The weather here changes in a jiffy, which I saw for myself. Despite the odds, they love working here. It is the abode of Lord Shiva after all and to be able to see Mount Kailash so closely every day is nothing less than a blessing.
6. AND THERE IS A KITCHEN AT THE REMOTE ZUTHULPHUK TOO. CAN YOU FIND IT ON MAP? :
Zuthulphuk is in the middle of nowhere. You can stand on any random rock and see most of what is called Zuthulphuk. There are very few buildings in the middle of a green valley surrounded by tall mountains and that is it about it. Now picture an Indian kitchen serving you hot sewai and assorted pakodas along with desi masala chai. It’s not luck but design. Yes, this is one of the remotest location of Madhuban Foods. It was so comforting to be able to eat Indian snacks and sweets to our heart’s content after a grueling second day of parikrama.
7. THE FEAST AT THE DARCHEN KITCHEN:
The Darchen kitchen was of average size. But their cafeteria came in XL size and so did the heart of chefs who served us delectable Punjabi food here. It was like eating in a big fat Hindu wedding in North India. The puris, sabzi, pakodis etc had us drooling. A sense of accomplishment after completing the entire parikrama successfully called for a celebratory dinner.
The other desi diners from different groups including some Europeans ate under the same roof, like one big family. They shared a joke, or their triumph or trials and the tribulations they faced on the yatra.
Hot soup and masala chai comforted them. The cafeteria here was the largest one. Like Taklakot, this cafeteria was inside a luxury property as well.
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