Hit the Road

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Hot Tea Across India by  Rishad Saam Mehta, book reviewThe book is an accumulation of the columns that Mehta wrote for various papers, including HT Brunch. A compendium of some of the road trips that he took across India. Mehta’s chosen to group them according to all the chai stalls that he met on the road. ‘There’s not a highway, road or dirt track in India where you can’t find a cup of chai whenever you want it’ he writes and so he sets out to write about travelling down India’s rickety or mountainous roads fuelled by a passion for seeing new places and cups of tea. To begin with the chaiwala is a constant factor along with odd or touching encounters over cups of tea, like the saffron tea that he shares with a Kashmiri shepherd, but along the way tea gets overtaken by a love for Enfield Bullets.

This has nothing to do with the quality of Mehta’s writing or the stories that he has to tell but is a reflection of the fact that he wrote for different publications, including Autocar India. Though the story of his Bullet being coveted in Kargil followed by Mehta riding off into the night to escape a forcible sale is a hold your breath kind of story.

The fact that Mehta is a foodie also comes through strongly, though his fondest memories are reserved for Kashmiri cuisine. There is the patriarch of a nomadic tribe who serves him the best lamb that he ever tasted, cooked out in the open with just chillies and saffron. Or there’s the restaurant famed for its generous servings where the staff hold their collective breath at the effortless way in which Mehta and his friend polish off three helpings each of their largest dishes without showing any ill effects.

Readers will also encounter evidence of political problems from north to south. In Kashmir Mehta is stopped by the police who think he’s part of a trio of bikers who have been wandering the roads without permits, or crosses a mountain pass just after the Army have closed it to access. Or is stopped by a group of protesters down south in Kerala who want to burn his SUV since he has violated their bandh – he has a tranquil translator who seems to approve of the protesters’ intentions and is rescued in the nick of time by a chaiwala who calls the police and then revives Mehta with a strong sweet cup of tea.

Mehta’s experiences are guaranteed to entertain armchair and actual travellers, bike enthusiasts and foodies equally.

Hot Tea Across India by Rishad Saam Mehta
Published by Westland in India, November 2011

Buy book online
Buy book online
Hot Tea Across India
by Rishad Saam Mehta

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Written by Anjana Basu