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Catching a Moment - A Roadside Masala Tea-stop

NEPAL | Sunday, 14 April 2013 | Views [341] | Scholarship Entry

I disembark from my creaky, old bus. Trucks and bikes groan past, lumbering the steep incline into Daunne. Brakes and horns pump away wildly. Dust clouds around my head.

My bus driver has been tearing around hairpin turns along his highway, ferrying travellers through the jungle terrain of Chitwan in an attempt to deliver us safely to Lumbini. Now, the small town of Daunne has hailed us down for a roadside masala tea.

Shabby dogs wander by, unperturbed by the traffic edging closer to roadside stalls. Chickens peck and scratch while women dressed in saris pace and chat. A shanty stall hugs a bend on the outskirts of town. Its metal flat roof is suspended above by crooked boughs. Behind a cabinet filled with chips, chocolate and spirits stands the shopkeeper who takes our tea order. I pass over a crushed 20 rupee note and she grasps it while shining a stained, toothy smile. Her head subtly wobbles from side to side as she floats over to her wood-fired oven, chiselled from rock and rendered with a bumpy mud mix. An ash-smeared crevice is stuffed with kindling. Each branch cracks and contorts through the smoke and flames.

The shopkeeper’s old, beaten up saucepan balances above the crevice, see-sawing from the weight of water, tea and milk that she generously pours into it. She pokes and prods at the kindling to fuel the intensity of its heat. Her murky and milky mix bubbles. Steam hovers above the simmer. She then pulls out a large metal spoon with quick hands to stir her brew. With a sudden flick of the wrist, she scoops up a spoonful of tea and holds it high above the pot before pouring it back. The masala tea cascades into the pot, siphoned into its vessel with precision and control. Time percolates.

The shopkeeper spoons her tea through a strainer and into chipped china mugs before sitting them onto a tarnished silver tray. A candied aroma snakes from my cup and wafts through the dirt-crusted air. Sweet, creamy tea blankets my taste-buds as I take that first piping-hot sip. A rush of ginger, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon fills my mouth and nose, tickling my throat as I swallow.

Buses and bikes grumble by. Horns and accelerators are ablaze as dirt kicks up from the highway. As I sit hunched on my rickety stool and sip my tea, I too become unperturbed by the traffic. Just like many locals around me and before me, I’m preoccupied. I’m taking in my cup of roadside masala tea.

Tags: Travel Writing Scholarship 2013

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