Saturday, June 05, 2010


I wrote in the previous Blog that I was eating Puris. Perhaps not all of my readers have eaten Puris or know what they are. For those interested, here is a recipe:

2.5 cups chappati flour
2/3 cup water at room temperature
ghee for brushing the bread while rolling out the dough
Oil for deep frying

Method to roll out the dough
Make stiff but pliable dough.
Cover the dough with damp cloth and set aside for 30 minutes.
Knead dough a little again. Dough should be stiff enough to roll without extra flour.
Make small balls of the dough and cover them with damp cloth.
Take one ball of dough and dip a corner of ball in melted ghee or oil and roll it out into 4 to 5 inches round.
Repeat the same process to roll out all puris.

Frying the Puris
Heat plenty of oil in a kadhai until very hot.
Put in a puri and immediately start flickering hot oil over the top of it with a spatula so that it will swell up like a ball.
This should take only a few seconds. Flip the puri over and cook the other side until golden brown.
Serve hot with curries or vegetables.

Friday, June 04, 2010


6 a.m. no power and a light drizzle. I hobble up a side street armed with my splendid new umbrella (red on red). I am due to meet Passang Tsering outside a one-burner open-front cafe. The loaded vegetable truck is parked across the street. A couple of landslides blocked the road yesterday for a few hours and the driver reached Tawang late. The cafe's cook is my informant.
How is the road now?
The cook shrugs. Heavy rain fell most of the night.
And the power supply?
A second shrug.
I sit at the only table and order tea and puris. The cafe is a good spot from which to watch Tawang awake. Brushing teeth out in the street is a common habit. Women with their hair uncombed scurry to the baker or collect puris from the cafe. The drizzle is heavier now. Bare feet in sandals slosh through puddles - so much for the Old Maid's warning against wet feet: You'll catch your death of cold. Two indolent bullocks sniff at rain-melting cardboard cartons of vegetables in the back of the truck.
I ought to be worried and miserable. I am content. The upright wooden chair is comfortable. Tea is hot and sweet. Puffed-up puris are fresh from the pan, dipping sauces laced with hot chili. I can't control the weather or fix the road. Passang Tsering will negotiate the truck rate. What ever will be will be...
Meanwhile I am doing what I enjoy most (other than eating prawns): watching people.

Thank the Lord for my Leatherman flashlight. What else works in Tawang - other than my bladder? I light my way to the bathroom, no power, limp back to bed, huddle under duvet and two blankets, listen to the rain, hope for more sleep.
4.30 and faint daylight seeps round the curtains. I peek down at the wet street. Nothing moves. Why would anything move? A gap in the clouds shows fresh snow on the peaks. Tawang is not my favourite place.


Thunder and the beat of heavy rain wakes me at 6.15. Still no power. A single candle on the counter dimly lights the telephone central. The angel assures me that power will be restored at 7 p.m.
I call the Colonel in Kolkata. Where are you? Tawang. You are enjoying yourself. Not exactly.
Power returns as the storm intensifies. Thunder echoes continually from mountain to mountain. Lightning lights the underneath of almost black clouds. A massive thunder clap and the light fails. Steel shutters rattle shut. Tawang is closing down for Friday night. I make am umbrella-protected run for the bar-night club and order chicken kebabs. Not even a Tawang cook can produce chicken-free chicken kebabs. So where to go next? Back to bed, listen to the storm, worry that the road will fall down the mountain...


The glass-fronted bakery counter protects trays of multicoloured cakes and bread rolls of various shapes. The woman behind the counter is seated on a fold-up chair and in earnest conversation on a mobile. She talks. And talks. And talks...
Various customers enter the bakery, wait a while while the woman talks, leave without being served.
Early afternoon and daylight is minimal with cloud tails trailing between rooftops. I sit in the window and scribble a while in my notebook. A jeep pulls up to the curb. A middle-aged man and a late teenage girl scurry in out of the rain. The man goes directly behind the counter and stuffs rolls into brown paper bags, twenty of this, twenty of that. The teenage girl fills a plastic container with pastries before studying a tray of cup-cake chemical creams. The two she finally chooses seem to me identical to the others. What would I know?
I choose a pastry and a chocolate cake before the woman can get back on her mobile. The cake is for the angel at the telephone central.
A man, probably the mobile-addicted woman's husband, enters with a small child. He shouts at the woman. The woman shouts back. The man leaves without the child. The woman returns to her mobile. I take the cake to the angel, then return to my bedroom and climb into bed. Where else to keep warm? Maybe the power will come on in a while. Maybe not.


Back at the telephone central with rain falling, call Baby, tell her that I'm returning to Assam by truck. "The Sela Pass was too much."
"That road was making me nervous for you," says Baby. "In the back of my mind I was thinking that you should stay here. So many interesting places and people you can talk to."
But no challenge, no chance to prove to myself that I can still hack it.
Hack it aged 77? Who am I kidding?
The power cuts out. I glance out of the window. The road is two inches deep in hail. Bloody Hell!
I scuttle to the neighbouring store and buy an umbrella, then to the Chinese restaurant for a bowl of soup. Three kids enter, smoking.
Apparently the NO SMOKING notice is merely for show.
I cancel the soup and take my custom to the bakery.

Fish smells. Passang Tsering favours the vegetable truck. He will talk with the owner. Clouds close in as I walk back up the hill to the Tawang hotel. Walking up hill at 10000 feet is moderately exhausting. I sit on a wall a while in company with a nanny goat and kid. The nanny goat is demoniacally possessed - or a close ancestor posed for medieval paintings of the devil. Wicked eyes accompany horns and a beard. Perhaps I should visit the monastery to pray for protection. A thin drizzle falls. Stupid not to have bought an umbrella...

Thursday, June 03, 2010


Passang Tsering runs a small store the left side of the road. A son home from college in Delhi speaks reasonable English. A younger son wears rubber gloves to hand print Buddhist prayer flags. The father is the strong silent type. Ask him a question and he ponders deeply. Waiting for an answer, you wonder whether he has lost the thread - or succumbed to boredom. My question is the cost of a truck to Assam. Son inks wooden prayer blocks. He has printed sufficient prayer flags for a summer solstice celebration in London's Hyde Park before Dad replies: a truck fetches fish every day from Tezpur. Another fetches vegetables. Trucks travel empty of cargo south to Assam. Passenger passage is 500 Ruppees. Say a further 1500 Rupees for the bike.


I have the telephone number of a friend of a friend, Passang Tsering. An angel runs the telephone central below the Tawang Hotel. I tried calling my wife last night. The land line refused to cooperate. The angel lent me her mobile. Now she telephones Passang Tsering and gives me directions to his store a kilometer down hill in New Market. Sunshine improves Tawang - not much but enough to make the walk enjoyable. Wild yellow Primulas grow on the grass bank above the road. Tin cans planted with garden Primulas splash balconies with rainbow colour. Tawang monastery up on the right dominates the route. Second largest Buddhist monastery after Lasha, it is home to 450 lamas. Have I visited? No. Will I visit? No. Monasteries and churches and temples are for prayer. Tourism strikes me as disrespectful.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010


4:30 a.m. and the concrete bumps in the mattress win. I take a hot bucket bath, return to bed and face reality. I am beat. Definitely beat. Totally beat. My back hurts. My ankle hurts. My hands hurt. Everything hurts. The Last Hurrah was the Last Hurrah.
6 a.m. and I search for breakfast. A newish lodging house up a side street advertises Chinese. The door is open. I order Nescafe and a plain omelet as probably safe and ask the kids running the place the cost of trucking my bike back to Assam. These are bright kids. They can spot a score. They quote seven thousand rupees as the norm - though a friend of theirs might do it for six.
I respond with one of those patronising smiles with which Oldies of what ever century infuriate young whippersnappers.


I have discovered Tawang's hot night spot. Or may have. To be certain, I need more light than a lone candle. And maybe a few people. Fortunately I came armed with a Leatherman torch. Flash it round and I discover an untended bar, a couple of plastic-covered sofas and a dozen square tables each with four chairs. Decor is Western pop star posters. My sons might recognise the music. I share the table with the candle - not much of a conversationalist and I'm too tired to talk to myself. Voices come from behind a door. I tap. Then tap more firmly. Then bang. A head appears above a fake leather bomber jacket, middle-aged with glasses.
Does he serve food?
He thinks a while before answering in the affirmative. He even switches on a light above the bar and turns a dimmer switch controlling ceiling lights from zero to .5 on a scale of zero to ten.
I order a bottle of strong Fosters (he doesn't stock normal). The beer alone is warm in Tawang and the chicken chowmein would please a vegan.