The most incredible food experience I’ve ever had was in Kashmir, India, while on a trek to Gangabal Lake. The trek started in the quite village of Naranag. Hannah, Eldar and I spent a night camping in front of Mushtak, our guide’s house.
Early the next morning, Mushtak came to our tent to wake us. We sat on his porch, sleepily munching on chapatti (a flat Indian bread) rolled around an omelet, as Mushtak anxiously waited for us to finish.
“Let’s go, let’s go! We have a long day.”
A Long Way Up
We decided to take horses on the hike, foolishly assuming this meant we wouldn’t be walking so much. The trek began with a hike up a wooded mountain. It was very steep, and it was far too dangerous to trust the footing of the horses, so we had to walk.
Mushtak strolled by our sides, reassuring us that soon we would be able to get back on the horses. “Soon” ended up being over two hours of an uphill climb that began at a fairly high altitude.
Half an hour in, we were already exhausted and feeling our empty stomachs, the fuel from the meager chapattis long gone. Locals giggled at our breathlessness as they breezed past, herding sheep and goats.
After what seemed like an endless journey, we arrived at the top of the mountain and out of the forest. It was a breathtaking view.
From our place on a rolling green hill, we were surrounded by the snow-capped Himalayas. We were ready for lunch, but Mushtak insisted that this was not the place. He gave us each a hard-boiled egg, instead.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to receive such a meager snack. It was such a simple, humbling moment to sit in silence in the presence of great mountains and eat an egg.
Sensing our exhaustion, Mushtak let us ride the horses to our lunch destination. He walked next to us, cutting the silence of nature periodically only to ask “You happy?”
We, of course, were.
“Ok, then I’m happy too.”
About an hour later, we found ourselves next to a rapidly moving river filled with boulders. “Ok! We are here!” announced Mushtak.
We gratefully slid off of our horses and lay on the ground as Mushtak prepared lunch. He had brought several tins with food.
The metal cylindrical tins were cleverly meant to be stacked on top of each other to form a full lunch pail and were filled with the rich smells of Mushtak’s wife cooking from the dirt floor of her kitchen.
One by one, Mushtak opened the tins revealing one colorful curry after another. To our delight, most appeared to contain meat. After months being in the predominantly vegetarian India and not eating meat, this was quite a treat.
Curries were served in stackable metal pails. Photo by podchef.
“What kind of meat is it?” asked Hannah.
Mushtak regarded her quizzically, as if it was so obvious. “Chicken!”
It was most certainly not chicken. It was very dark brown and had a stringy texture. We knew without a doubt that this wasn’t chicken but had long ago embraced the idea of eating mystery foods, and readily accepted that we had no choice but to enjoy this unidentified meat.
The curry was clearly not made of chicken. Photo by diongillard.
Again we sat, surrounded by the Himalayas, eating the most complexly spiced and rich meal I have ever eaten. From such a small and basic kitchen came the most elaborate and delicious food.
Time to Digest
I could have sat for hours after the meal, appreciating the simplicity of eating a good meal in a beautiful place, but Mushtak insisted that we continue on.
We hopped from boulder to boulder to cross the river, slid (accidentally) down a snow covered hill, traversed a shaky, balance beam-like log over raging rapids, and finally reached our destination.
The awe strikingly beautiful Gangabal Lake.
It was the fullest day I can ever recount having. Every sense was constantly overwhelmed.
The day ended in extreme exhaustion, shakily plodding down the same mountain we had come up in the morning. After eating another incredible meal prepared by Mushtak’s wife, we fell asleep almost immediately.
What’s the most incredible food experience you’ve had? Was it just the food, the scenery or both? Let me know in the comments below.
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Unless stated, images author’s own.