Let me say it: I am a hopeless traveller. I keep travelling to the same places, doing the same things over and over. I also go to places that might not figure in the bucket lists of travellers. You see, I fall in love with places. No biases. No demands. Just pure joy of discovery and exploration. This sheer spirit of exploration took me on an interesting road trip to Eastern Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh a while back. Did you just furrow your eyebrows and curl your lips? If you did, you ain’t alone. Most of my colleagues, ex-bosses, friends, ex-colleagues expressed their desire to mock me when I shared this plan with them. I know. I know. None of you have completed your unconscious bias trainings.
Let me say it: Bihar is beautiful if you are looking in the right places. And so is Jharkhand. And so is Chattisgarh. This is India, my friends. It’s incredible for a reason.
On this trip, I had no expectations. Partly because I don’t like plains much and partly because of all the mockery I had undergone. But I had decided one thing: I was going to treat myself to plates of authentic litti-chokha*.
By the way, did you know that before Bihar became popular for its extracurricular activities and earned the name that it has earned today, it was famous across the globe for its spiritual advancement, progress in education systems and great military expansion? Oh yes, the erstwhile Magadha region which included today’s Bihar and part of Uttar Pradesh, Odisha and West Bengal played a significant role in spreading Buddhism and Jainism. Nalanda university, the ruins of which can be seen in today’s Bihar, is believed to be the first residential university by historians. One of the oldest rock-cut caves, Barabar caves, exist in Bihar. Lord Buddha achieved enlightenment under the Mahabodhi tree in Gaya, which is also in Bihar. But yeah, keep mocking.
After stops at Benaras, Sasaram and other places, I reached Gaya.
In Gaya, I found peace & quiet. I found time for self-realisation which was mostly embarrassment at the kind of aggressive human being I had turned into. I admired the architecture, listened to stories, talked to people and spent three beautiful days. But I couldn’t find a decent place that served litti-chokha. Interestingly they were selling chola bhatura, dosa, idli and chowmein; no one sold litti chokha. We had a few more places to visit in and around Gaya and then we reached Jharkhand. It was so easy to identify that one is in Jharkhand: better infrastructure, better quality roads, no encroachments and signs of development everywhere.
When we reached Jharkhand, our first stop was Patratu valley. There were a lot of vendors there selling interesting eatables. I was damn sure I would find litti-chokha there. Given that it was afternoon, dining on a plate or two of baked wheat balls would have been a fulfilling experience. With great interest and somewhat greed, I reached the place where there were vendors and their stalls. Yes, there was food but no signs of litti chokha. All they sold was corncobs and boiled chana chaat. By the way, the chana chaat is really good. You must taste it.
We were in Ranchi for two more days. And decided to have dinner at one of the highly rated restaurants: Mocha Cafe and Bar. The thing about road trips is that you end up driving so much that when it comes to intercity travel, you prefer local conveyance. We booked a taxi and as soon as we sat inside, I saw a stall at the opposite end of the road. There were too many people standing around that stall and I could see steam rising up from a big griddle kept on a few pieces of coal. I didn’t know what he was selling but something told me that I needed to be at that stall. So I jumped out of the taxi without telling the driver a thing, ran across the road (I know, how irresponsible of me) and reached the stall. And lo and behold! he was selling litti-chokha. 🙂 🙂
I asked for a plate. He picked two pieces of roasted wheat balls, mashed them, and added roasted potatoes, diced onions, green chilly & lemon juice. And the rest are memories. 🙂
Later we went to that restaurant and ordered a few dishes. The ambience was super cool with mood lighting, candles on tables, live music and fancy cutlery. The food was decent too. We paid the bill and came back to our hotel like any other day. A year later, I don’t remember much about that fancy restaurant but I do remember the taste when I took the first bite of that litti.
The next day, I had to take Digene tablets. But hey! who’s complaining?
*Litti Chokha is a native dish of Bihar which has gained global popularity. Litti is a roasted/ baked ball of wheat (filled with gram flour). These balls are dipped in clarified butter and eaten with roasted aubergine, potatoes and green chilly. Oh, it tastes amazing.