Farm, Fair and Rustic exuberance

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” - Leonardo da Vinci

I am a self-confessed urbanite. While I like nature, the urban soul in me always emerges. Maybe it’s because I have lived in areas far from the city, unheard, unexplored locales in this country, that now I feel the need to explore metropolitan hinterland. Often rural areas are more of a mystery than being considered a way of life.  Country living is so simple, slow and full of life. There really are untold, unseen places within this country which are never branded as touristy, but offer the same (and at times, even better) experience. (And now I firmly believe that you aren't a genuine traveller if you don't know your own countryside; seeing places that always seem too close or too local, things that are your own and things that represent your culture and your roots.)

Every year, the Agricultural Development Trust in Maharashtra organises a rural fair in Pune. Known as 'Bhimthadi Jatra', this is a fair organised to promote the entrepreneurial spirit of the local women. Bhimthadi is a province on the banks of the River Bheema and Jatra refers to a carnival. And what a carnival it is!

This year it had close to 500 stalls, including an open food ‘park’. There were stalls selling everything from woollens to spices to snacks, pickles and an entire aisle selling fresh farm produce. I of course headed first to the food park (so much so that my Dad knew exactly where to find me when he came – my excuse is that I needed good photos in good light) and that’s what I’ll tell you about. A local speciality is ‘Mande’ – which are rotis packed with a sweet lentil filling, and cooked over open, inverted kadhais (or woks). For the Maharashtrians reading this, think of Puran Poli – only 3 times the size. Making them looks easy, but there is so much skill required to roll them out large and thin and not have them tear.

The food park also had a stall dedicated to lassi – something very similar to that of the Rajasthani Makhni lassi, but this was the Maharshtrian version. There were Modak (sweet coconut filling, steamed rice dumplings) in the traditional version, and lovely chocolate and mango flavours. One of the things I had for the first time was the ‘gavha chi kheer’ or wheat kheer. This, for me was a revelation. I was doubtful at first but it was too cold to not try the hot kheer. It was quite sweet and garnished with dry coconut but when it’s so cold out, you don’t care much.

Then there was a trip to Ahmednagar. Ahmednagar, or Nagar, is town about 120 Km away from Pune and famous for an old Maharashtrian tradition of eating Hurda (roasted tender sorghum). In the winter months, it used to be routine to go for a picnic with close friends to the fields or to the river bank, roast the tender cobs from Jwari (Sorghum), sift the green seeds out and eat them with a spicy ‘lasna chi chutney’(or garlic chutney). In our contemporary lives, this tradition has somewhat taken a back seat. People don’t even know about it, let alone consider the possibility of exploring such a place.

As one travels out of Pune, towards Ahmednagar, the rapid change in the countryside is astonishing. One minute you are manoeuvring your way out of mall hopping crowds, the next looking at manufacturing units of large conglomerates and then suddenly, you leave all the urbanity behind, and enter the villages. There are local markets galore, acres and acres of fields on either side of the roads, tiny houses in the middle of the fields, and farmers on their daily rounds inspecting crops.

We went to a place called Ranvara – a little farm outside of the city, located right besides the Sorghum fields. It’s a completely rustic environment, a large open land where seating areas a marked by mango trees. The seating is on the ground (that is, no chairs) with large rugs laid out for sitting. Everything is served to you once you order (in concession I suppose, to the sensitivities of the urban crowd). The Hurda (Sorghum) is sold by the kilo (cob, stem and all) and the locals set up a mini barbecue around your seating area. Each cob is roasted, then rolled to separate the tender grains. The grains are then sifted to remove any husk, and then served. Hurda is to be eaten with a spicy dry garlic chutney that complements the sweet, milky grains.

Alternately, if you have been running around the countryside, and want to hydrate, add the Hurda to a bowlful of fresh yogurt, and eat (And one more thing, don’t drink water immediately after eating Hurda. It’s not recommended).

Another speciality from the area is the kadhi wada. This is not similar to kadhi pakori from North India. This is the classic batata wada – part of the illustrious wada pav – but served with kadhi that’s slightly sweet, and substitutes the sauce. Kadhi is a savoury yogurt based gravy and is made in different ways across India. 

The place serves up only the traditional country fare. Baingan Bharta, Thecha (crushed up green chillies), Pithla (curry made with chickpea flour), roti and Bhakri. For dessert, try out the sugarcane juice – refreshing and sweet. 

If you are visiting Maharashtra around the winter months, I recommend that you add a Hurda Party to your list. It’s a different kind of an experience, and one that I can say with complete sincerity – unexpectedly good. It’s not a decadent, luxuriant kind of a picnic – but one that’s genuine and that serves to remind us that simplicity is often the source of happiness.

Happy New Year everyone!

Note - Hurda is in season for a very short period of time. Its available from December till February. So you still have time - if you are in Maharashtra anytime soon.


Popular Posts