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Eat, walk, repeat

Woollens at Nainital’s Tibetan market Photo: Special arrangement  

Sandwiched between a sooty wall and a noisy tourist, I wait for my plate of momos to arrive. The narrow gully where Sonam’s Momos stands in the Tibetan market of Nainital is probably the most crowded spot in the whole of the lake town in the outer Himalayas. There’s hardly any place to sit on the wooden bench that’s perched on a high platform at the far end of the market. The wait for food is endless, and the clutch of hungry tourists around the eatery grows by the minute.

When the momos arrive from beyond a cloud of steam, I’m cut off from all else. I’ve travelled hundreds of kilometres from home to Jim Corbett National Park to see a tiger and have arrived at nearby Nainital the next day, disappointed — but that mouthful of snow-white mutton momos makes the journey worth it. Perhaps, the trick is to not expect something as grand as a tiger and take pleasure in the little things along the way? Sonam’s Momos teaches me as much.

It opens up a whole new world — we discover a vibrant side to the quaint Nainital. The resorts and lakes on the face of the hill town part to reveal a fascinating eco-system in the form of the Tibetan market. It’s the perfect place to shop for jackets, shoes and woollens. But more than the clothes, it’s the food stalls that add character to the market.

There are a countless number of them bearing gaudy signboards with humorous spelling errors. But with food, especially their version of Chinese, these restaurants make no mistake. Be it a bowl of thukpa — similar to noodles, but served with soup — or chow mein, everything we eat is an experience by itself. We wash it all down with steaming mugs of hot chocolate — at that altitude, the stomach doesn’t seem to be satisfied, ever.

And so we head from one restaurant to another, eating chicken momos in one and drinking coffee in the other. Soon, we become part of the curious, chatty and every-hungry wave of humanity that aimlessly floats around the Tibetan market. Walk deeper into the many by-lanes packed with shops, and a peculiar smell hangs in the air. It’s of fresh woollens, laced with the steam from the aluminium momo steamers. After all, there’s always something being fried, steamed, or simmered nearby.

We’re extremely full, even by our standards, when we spot a tin case that boasts golden-yellow slices of cream cake on the roadside. Standing next to it, Lakshman Ram watches the crowd with a bored expression. “Factory, factory,” he tells us through his muffler, when we ask him if he baked the cakes himself. We gather that he buys a fresh batch every morning and arrives at the spot in the market — he’s been doing so ever since he can remember. The cake is unlike anything we’ve tasted — the cream is smooth and buttery, the sponge, soft and mild.

Candle shops are aplenty in the market. The town is full of these — the candle industry forms an important part of Nainital’s economy. Locals say that almost every other household makes candles to be sold to tourists and nearby towns. The candles come in intriguing shapes and sizes — the beer mug one that is filled with golden-coloured wax, being the most popular.

It’s almost dusk and the temperature drops further — in Nainital, temperature can drop to up to seven degrees in the months of January and February. And so, we decide to call it a day. But wait, what’s that man selling in the aluminium box?

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Printable version | Oct 21, 2020 7:02:18 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/eat-walk-repeat-an-evening-at-nainitals-tibetan-market/article8257535.ece

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