Friday, 16 May 2014

astam, the beautiful nepali village

A bundle of firewood amidst spring blossoms, and snow-capped peaks in the distance.

I don't know where, or how, to start with our experience in Astam, the beautiful little village in Nepal.

But let's start with the accommodation, and all the wholesome things we consumed while we were there.

We stayed at the Annapurna Eco-village, a sweet, sustainable family-run mountain resort. They have a gorgeous garden full of edibles, and they make their food and drinks from scratch. I only wish we stayed longer, so I could participate in activities such as milking cows, churning butter and grinding flour.

Fresh chamomile flowers in the garden.

We had fresh tea everyday.

Tea made from chamomile and lemongrass from the garden.

And delicious breakfasts...

Breakfast plate with eggs, potatoes and crepes.

This porridge, made with local grains, had an intriguing colour and a gentle, nutty flavour.

Local porridge - made from local grains.

When we ordered muesli with curd, we were told that there was no guarantee that their curd would turn out right, because such things can be fickle, and would we be okay with yoghurt instead if it didn't pan out? Yes, we said. I am happy to report that their curd recipe did not let them down.

Muesli with curd.

I don't generally tend to order porridge, but this banana porridge was so smooth and perfectly sweetened, it was addictive.

Banana porridge.

I also tried the fresh cow's milk. They don't tamper with it, other than warming the milk slowly over a fire to make it safe to drink.

I observed them pasteurizing the milk one evening.

And here it is, a minimally processed milk that still retains a rich complexity and character.

Fresh cow's milk.

We snacked on samosas, too.

Samosas.

They were the freshest, lightest, healthiest samosas I've ever had. I mean, check out that samosa filling.

The cross-section of the samosa.

We also enjoyed the noodle dishes...

Stir-fried noodles with egg and cheese.

This soupy vegetable one is called Thukpa. The handmade noodles were a delight.

Thukpa, a Nepali noodle soup.

And their vegetarian curry was rather tasty, as well.

Vegetarian curry.

Of course, we had the national dish here. Dal Bhat Tarkari - lentil soup with rice, vegetable curry, and pickles.

Dal (lentils), of the Dal Bhat Tarkari.

Very nice.

The rest of the Dal Bhat Tarkari.

We also tried this traditional dish called Didhu. Funnily enough, when we ordered it, we were practically dissuaded from doing so. Foreigners don't tend to like this dish, they said. We said we'd try it anyway. More hesitance. More back and forth. Finally, okay, they said, we'll try to make it more delicious for you.

Didhu seems to be pretty much the same thing as Dal Bhat Tarkari, but instead of rice, there is this almost elastic lump of paste instead, which is made from ground local grains. This is best eaten using your hands. We were instructed to dip our fingers into the lentil soup, pinch off a bit of the paste, dip that in the lentil soup again, then put it in our mouths and try to swallow it without chewing. We were perplexed. Why shouldn't we chew? We didn't quite understand their explanation, but it seems that it may have something to do with that stuff being really hard to clean if it gets in between your teeth. We may have cheated a little, it was just too difficult to eat without chewing!

And, while it was an acquired taste, I thought it was fine, and Simon actually seemed quite into it. We did share it, though, and I think that little mountain of dhidu would probably have been more daunting, in its starchy, stodgy manner, if one person had to finish it all.

Didhu / Didho / Dhindo. Like Dal Bhat Tarkari, but with a maize-buckwheat paste instead of rice.

But it's not all just about the lovely resort and the nourishing food. There is so much more.

Morning meditations.

Everyday, we woke up early in the morning and went for leisurely walks that were filled with happiness.

Fields of green wheat... or is it barley?

It was here that I first became familiar with the sight of mustard plants. Once those pods ripen, simply pick them open, and voila, you have fresh mustard seeds. In Nepal, they like to infuse it in oil.

Fields of mustard.

I had no idea what these were, but I think I've now identified them as oat plants!

Fields of oats.

We breathed in the fresh mountain air. We feasted our eyes on verdant springtime scenery. We went up, down and around hilly paths with villagers, dogs and goats.

Adorable baby goat.

We made friends with a few of the villagers, and everyday they invited us to sit on their front porch for conversation, snacks and fun. We learned about each other, we ate together, we danced together, and we laughed together.

A village snack of crunchy lentils or beans with lemony sugar. I think they call it something like "portu".

We were sad when we had to say goodbye. You will not forget? They asked. And they said, we will miss you. Of course we will remember, we said, of course we will miss you too.

And I do miss them already.

Oh, to be back in Astam again...

Life in Astam, the beautiful Nepali village.

12 comments:

  1. What a beautiful, beautiful experience ...

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  2. What an amazing array of dishes, and an amazing experience more generally. I imagine the memories will stay vivid for a long time.

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  3. I have enjoyed your pictures and story intensely; one of my cousins who is an intrepid traveler visited Nepal and Bhutan recently, but I had never seen imags of her trips. The place sounds heavenly, and brings forth my own dream of creating a similar retreat in the Chouf Mountains in our (huge) family home surrounded by garden and orchards. A few hurdles have to be overcome first; who knows, we may meet here in the future, inshallah! :)

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    1. Thank you for sharing your dream, it sounds wonderful! If you make it happen, I would love to visit. :)

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  4. I loved this post! The delicious looking (and sounding) food, that magical place, it was a lovely start to a Monday to read :)

    Oh and all your photos are beautiful but that last photo is my favourite.

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    1. Thank you, it's definitely a favourite of mine too! I thought it would make the perfect ending for my blog post. x

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  5. Oh wow. You just transported me there on a beautiful journey. This sounds like a wonderful stay, how beautiful to make friends with the villagers, and see where your food came from.

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    1. Thanks for the lovely comment! It was truly a wonderful experience. I don't know if I am cut out for living in a village long-term, but I always love visiting such places. The nature and the tranquility can be so joyful and calming.

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  6. I have spent 6+ months in Astam doing development projects and I was thrilled to see your blog. It captures the essence of Astam, the wonderful food, and just how fantastic the eco-village actually is. Downside: still haven't shed the pounds - I blame Goma!

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    1. Thanks so much for coming by and sharing your thoughts, Mark! I had such a wonderful time in Astam and I can only hope this blog post does it justice, so I really appreciate your kind words. :)

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