Diary

The Mountain Walker Diaries: Of Chuche Karela, Volcanic Chilly And Other Sikkimese Organic Vegetables

Gangtok-Ravangla Road, Sikkim, India, 14 June 2018, 1405 hours:

So apart from really tall and exotic and remote, harsh mountainscapes, what does it really mean to be traveling through the Himalayas? Hmm?

Well, the Himalayas are home to a very diverse range of flora and fauna, across the length and breadth of the range of mountains. And when one is traveling through Sikkim, you can actually see, interact and taste some of the wonders of the natural environment.

According to the Indian Brand Equity Foundation’s (IBEF) April 2018 report on Sikkim, this Himalayan state of India is home to 4,500 different flowering plants, 550 types of orchids, 36 varieties of rhodendrons, and 28 bamboo species; it also has a suitable climate for a diverse variety of agricultural and horticultural products – in fact, it happens to be the largest producer of large cardamom in India (contributing over 80 per cent to India’s total production).

Many may be aware that as of 2016, Sikkim is a 100% Organic state (the first in India)- which means that farmers and producers in the state do not use synthetic fertilisers and pesticides.

While we were in Gangtok, we didn’t really encounter or think too much about Organic

Farming; however, once we started our drive from Gangtok to Pelling, it was a different story. An hour beyond Singtam into South Sikkim (after we had crossed the Teesta over to the other side), we got our first taste of Organic Vegetables grown in the state at a roadside vegetable and fruit stall, thanks to our driver and guide, Chong Bhutia.

The whole of South Sikkim is dotted with these little stalls that are made of wood, bamboo and an overhead covering. This particular stall was selling local Cucumbers, bananas, Bitter Gourd (karela), little tomatoes and (among other items), these crazy-spicy, tiny little chillies! I call them Volcanic Chillies🌶!

We bought some chillies and a huge cucumber which we cut into six slices and ate promptly enough. Juicy, full of moisture, soft and yet crunchy.

Next, we stopped at another roadside ‘stall’ this one seemed a farming family selling its produce. It was more of a vendor spread than a stall since they had spread a sheet on the grass and displayed their produce for sale. Way down below, the Teesta went about unwinding itself all along the twisty Himalayan mountains. A very picturesque vegetable stall as you can imagine.

Our driver bought Chuche Karela, an indigenous Sikkimese vegetable that is like karela (bitter gourd) but that isn’t bitter.

Higher up still, we drove upon narrow single-lane dirt roads and through dense forests covered in fog, till we came across a proper vegetable stall this time at Pathing. And lo, the lady there had everything from tiny carrots to Local Raddish and Beans (pahadi rajma), turmeric and cabbage and what not. We ate some fresh carrots and Raddish and bought some more along with local rajma and turmeric.

By the time we reached Ravangla (where we had hot chai made with organic milk), we were feeling good munching the fresh vegetables and breathing the fresh air.

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