The very mention of Rajasthan for a holiday evokes raised eyebrows and reserved murmurs among all Bengalis. For one, it involves a good 15 days for a comprehensive tour of the state if you want to cover all the popular destinations that includes Jaipur, Udaipur and Jaisalmer, not to mention the holy trips to Pushkar and Ajmer Sharif. It demands long hours of travelling from one point to another. Two, a meticulous planning often stretching to months, precedes the actual journey.
My decision to visit Jaipur for a short four-day trip was met with the usual “God, are you crazy? Who does that?” response. I soon had a group of friends trying to convince me why it was another bad idea. But after seeing my nonchalance, they firmly believed that this mid-twenties girl had just lost her sanity.
They were not entirely without reason though. The roundtrip ticket cost me around ₹13,000 and that too on a budget airline. But honestly, one should be respectful towards tourism in Rajasthan and visit at least two places.
Well in my defence I got a short window of six days. I had to go somewhere. Hadn’t been anywhere in more than a year. That came with the perks of course, I had some money in my purse. I didn’t think much and landed a nice deal on one of the travel portals. My mom had been yearning to visit Rajasthan for years. And for me, the innumerable forts tucked in every manageable cubbyhole in the state, was attraction enough.
For most Bengalis, a trip to Rajasthan even about a decade back, was no less than setting foot at the Mount Everest base camp. The commoner in us used to fear the unfamiliar cuisine. The dearth of maach-bhaat, daal, torkari, aloo bhaja et al was paranoia enough. But things have changed of late. The gastronomic Bengali today is not afraid to taste the non-Bengali cuisines that were largely unfamiliar even a few years back. Trying dal baati churma is like ticking a thing off your bucket list.
To the voracious eater in me, the land of the desert came as a pleasant surprise. On a trip to Jaipur, like I said, the dal baati churma from Rawat in the Sindhi Camp area is a must. Laal maans (red meat) is one of their specialties. Trust me, it isn’t anything like the Bengali kosha mangsho. Spicy, soft and succulent, and delectable in every bite, the laal maans was a gastronomic delight. Chicken, surprisingly, is more expensive than mutton in Rajasthan and fish is as alien as camels are in Iceland. No, you don’t get any fish or even its close relatives anywhere in the desert state.
But they do love their sweets. On our return leg we packed in some of their sweet savouries that won’t be available anywhere in Kolkata. Ghevar and mithi phini (not to be confused with phirni) were the must-haves. Ghevar is much like American honeycomb but is sweeter and made from pure ghee. Mithi phini resembles vermicelli but is thinner and more delicate in taste and it comes in two variants; the yellow variety contains saffron, while the brown one is the deep fried version. Both are then dipped in flavoured sugar syrup, put in a box and sliced. Roasted almond and pistachios are then sprinkled all over it.
Most sweet shops in Rajasthan pack food for flight journeys at no extra cost. People from all over the country and beyond buy sweets in bulk and carry them back. Every sweet shop has its own delicacy but the pyaaz ki kachori is overwhelmingly popular. You can have it by itself. It is spicy, crispy and ups your cholesterol level. And that makes it all the more delicious.
Most tourists visiting the state try the authentic Rajasthani thali. It is mostly vegetarian and consists of meetha pulao, naan, gattey ki sabzi, paneer, aloo and dal. A piece of roasted papad and a piece of sweet come as a bonus.
Rajasthan is famous for its green chillies and I brought home a kilo and a half of it. They are longer than the average green beans we get here.
One word of caution. Do carry a file of antacids on your next trip to Rajasthan. The average Bengali pepsin may not respond to what comes down your oesophagus, at least for the first couple of meals.
But otherwise, it’s bon appétit in the land of sands.