The Times Temple Food Trail was my next travel platform. My latest mantra of life is travel as I believe that experiences give us lasting joy while material things do not. If I have the money then I am going to travel coz` if not now, when?’, as one of my friend keeps chanting.
Ever since I was a kid, I have fantasized about distant lands I had read about and the adventure of travel – the unfamiliar, the new. And I feel the same way today. When I travel, I am more impulsive and don’t think of the future or the past; just live in the moment. I love meeting new people and sorting them out. Trying to analyze them and wondering what makes them tick and what makes them different from me. The world is largely full of friendly, kind people I feel. The friends you make while traveling never seem boring as you simply don’t know them long enough to notice their flaws or get tired of them. I love the freedom and the feeling of independence from traveling. Like I have sprouted wings and I am flying across the seven seas.
I was looking out for any chance to travel and I came across an ad of The Times Temple Food Trail, an initiative by The Times of India on a friend’s timeline on Facebook. The Times group has started these Times Passion Trails which cater to everyone’s pet passions. Times Passion Trails are tailor made, experimental and informative trails, where ardent travelers embark on theme-focused trails led by an Experience Architect.
Started over two years ago, the program has connected enthusiasts of Photography, Cycling, Music, Heritage, Trekking, etc. under the guidance of experts. Their funda is #LiveWhatYouLove!
As I had come across the latest Times Temple Food trail, I registered just within a few hours of the closing time. They enticed me with their byline-‘ Taste the flavors of your passion.’Temples always fascinate me and food, of course, is close to my heart. It was sold as a fascinating ‘food for the soul’ journey, covering places like Delhi, Mathura, Vrindavan, Jaipur and Nathdwara. With a peek into the ‘Kitchen of the Gods’ and find out how divine food is prepared inside intriguing temples of India like Jagannath and Govind Devji Temple and the promise of discovering an ‘Inner God’ by the end of the trail.
The curator for our trail was Dr. Pushpesh Pant, an acclaimed Food Historian, a Scholar from Banaras Hindu University and a storehouse of information on Temples in India! He is also a Padma Shri awardee. He was a walking talking encyclopedia and spoke about the temples and the foods with ease. We were all ears and tried to soak in as much as we could. Names and dates rolled off like a page from Wikipedia.
Those passionate about food often say it is a path that leads to the divinity of the body and soul. Maybe that’s why food has always been an integral part of every ritual. The Krishna Ras Trail we followed explored various godly meals. Food is a great unifying factor as it energizes our mind and soul. It is said that eating together while sitting cross-legged on the floor reduces people’s perceptions of inequality based on race, gender, or socioeconomic background.
Some religions claim that God dwells within you when you eat certain foods. Bhog or Prasadam has always been a special part in the Hindu rituals in India. With the plethora of gods and goddesses in India, there are a huge number of food varieties that are cooked and offered in Indian Temples. This trail followed foods in the Krishna temples only. We were a motley group of 30, who considered ourselves as spiritual foodies!
We started out with a grand launch at the basement of Jagannath Temple, Hauz Khas, New Delhi. We were served a unique appetizer in clay cups. It was a flavored tea with galangal, pepper and other herbs which tickled the palate. There was a classical singer, singing paeans to Lord Krishna and then the ceremonial lamp was lit by Mr. Raj Jain, CEO, Times Group, Pushpesh Pant & Mr. Pradhan. We went up to the temple for the ceremonial evening aarti and the Chappan Bhog was arranged all around the deity. After the bhog, we were led to the dining hall to partake the prasad.Chappan Bhog is the 56 food items offered to Lord Jagannath in the holy Temple of Puri, located in Odisha, India.It is also known as Mahaprasad. We were in Delhi and the cooks were flown in especially from Puri to serve us this divine meal. And we were told that instead of just 56 varieties we were going to be served a mindboggling 81! My jaw just dropped at this smorgasbord spread for us which was ambrosial, to put it mildly.
The Chappan Bhog includes unusual items like rice, ghee rice, mixed rice, cumin seed and asafetida-ginger rice mixed with salt, dishes like sweet dal, plain dal mixed with vegetables, mixed curries of different types, Saaga Bhaja, Khatta, porridge etc.Dry confectioneries are prepared of sugar, gur, wheat flour, ghee, milk and paneer.It is said that every day 56 types of Prasad are offered to the Lord during the time of worship and all of these are prepared in the kitchens of the temple and sold to the devotees . The Mahaprasad is cooked only in earthen pots and the fuel has to be firewood only. I was awestruck at the food which was served to us on plantain leaves. My tummy was full just looking at the tantalizing spread and taking in the exotic aroma. Mind you there is no use of garlic ginger onion tomato like most Indian curries yet the food tasted awesome.
I was waiting to be served all the dishes as I wanted to see how my heaped plate looked. I kept counting till 50 and then lost count as the food was being served fast and I was also watching the others excitedly relishing the delicious Prasad. On my right was seated Sanjay Lalji, Chief Architect – Times Passion Trails &AVP – The Times of India Group. Pecking at the food, he was overcome by the amount of food piled on his plate and kept on saying that he could not eat a morsel more. It was difficult to eat so much food but I tried to savor every morsel I had and each tasted delectable. I wish I had more time to analyze each item and guess what went into it.
After this once in a lifetime experience, the well-satiated troop flopped into their comfortable beds back at the TOI guest house. I found that Nandita Gurjar was my roommate. I was glad to share the room with her and we were like kindred spirits. Actually, we both snored and that connected us more I guess!
It was an early morning call the next day as we had to have breakfast and travel to the birthplace of Lord Krishna. We had a hurried breakfast of Upma, paranthas, and pickle and steaming hot tea to jolt us awake from the stupor of last night’s meal.We trooped into the bright orange coach which would be our mode of conveyance. All of us were chatting and nodding off through the journey.We reached Mathura after 11am.
Mathura is an ancient city of India, one of the oldest in India and is mentioned in the ancient Hindu epic Ramayana. We will be visiting the Krishna Janmabhoomi Temple. It is the birthplace of the Hindu deity Lord Krishna who was the 8th incarnation of the deity Lord Vishnu. Krishna was said to be the slayer of all evil. Kamsa was the evil ruler and when he came to know that his sister’s (Devaki) eighth son would be his nemesis, he put her and her husband Vasudeva in a stone prison. We actually have access to this prison cell and went inside to touch the rock where he was born. Kamsa mercilessly killed the first six sons of Devaki. Devaki’s seventh son miscarried but mystically transferred to the womb of Queen Rohini in Vrindavan. This baby was Krishna’s older brother, Balarama. Soon thereafter, Devaki became pregnant with her eighth child. Lord Vishnu advised Vasudeva to take him to Vrindavana and exchange him with a girl that had just been born there. Thus Yashoda became the mother of Krishna and he was brought up in Vrindavan. Baby Krishna loved to eat Makhan mishri and that is the main Prasad served there.
Hindu temples and mosques have a never-ending knotty history. The Mughals have ransacked and ravaged numerous temples and constructed mosques over them. Right in front of the temple is the Juma Masjid which was constructed by Nabir -Khan the then Governor of Aurangzeb in the year 1661. The mosque houses the tomb of the Mughal governor. This close proximity gives rise to a security issue and we were not allowed to carry anything inside the temple premises. There was a physical frisking of each one of us which was very offensive. After the temple tour, we were escorted to the dining hall and served a Thali. Strangely we were made to sit at tables and were served Kadhi chawal, roti, sabzi, and kheer.The kadhi had tiny pakoras and the food was absolutely yummy. As we were not allowed to carry our cellphones and cameras I do not have a picture of the Thali. Food was in the air as most of the group picked up the famous Mathura pedas. Mathura peda is a North Indian sweetmeat that originated from Mathura and the city is synonymous with peda.
It was time to move on and we eagerly boarded the bus to go to Vrindavan, our next stop. The TOI crew accompanying us were a genial lot and catered to all our silly demands and answered all our crazy queries.
I think I should continue in my next blog as it is becoming very lengthy.Stay tuned to more anecdotes of the Times Temple Food Trail.