From Our Foreign Curryspondent ... Dateline: Nepal!

(The TATTGOC brotherhood extends around the globe, and we welcome reports of curry expeditions beyond Glasgow – here, international traveller and photographer Tikka Mabaws goes looking for tigers in Nepal. Check out his regular travel blog at I Done A Holiday)

Tiger Tops, Nepal

Your Foreign Curryspondent: Tikka Mabaws

The Time: Early February in the Nepali lowlands, only a few miles from the unmanned Indian border.

Booking Name:
Scadgy McFreestuff

The Pub Aforehand:

In Attendance: Tikka Mabaws and Phall From Grace

Decor: Sal tree jungle to the left and right, acres of elephant grass ahead, clear blue sky above.

Hopeful rather than expectant, given how far we were from any reliable power source and had a lingering worry about the "Kathmandu Quickstep".

The Experience:

Morning came cold and early as Phall From Grace and I woke up on our second day in Nepal. Our heads were numb from the chill – it turned out that an overnight in commendably green, stilted jungle accommodation didn’t necessarily equate to the utmost comfort*.

We were visiting Tiger Tops, the oldest accommodation in Royal Chitwan National Park, in the hope of seeing wild Bengal tigers for a piece on big cat conservation in the mountain nation. Other than sitting around in observation towers for hours on end, that mostly involved rattling around on the back of an 11-foot elephant at impossibly early hours in the morning.

Still, what an experience – and even though we didn’t actually see any tigers, there were plenty of bamboozled (and similarly endangered) one-horned rhinos. Plus, we were riding around on an elephant.

Following a quick breakfast, morning continued with a jungle walk to get on the tiger trail. Again we didn’t see any of the world’s favourite animal, but there were plenty of tracks and scary-looking scratch marks on the trees (see picture evidence). After a couple hours of that, Phall From Grace and I were very ready for some lunch. Nepali cuisine, like its geography, draws inspiration from China and India. Momos are often served as the starter. They’re not a boot in the baws away from dim sum: steamed parcels of greasy chicken, veg or mystery meat, depending on your fancy. High in fat and carbohydrates, they’re the snack of choice for those who come from closer to Tibet and the Chinese border.

However, the national dish is curry – and a very specific type known as dal bhat. For the Sherpas and other trekking tribes, this is the magic that fuels their incredible feats of stamina. It’s popular down in the jungle too. Served in a series of bowls, the classic dal bhat includes dal, rice, boiled spinach, curried potato, a poppadom or two and some chicken if you’re willing to spend an extra 10p. It’s easy to digest, cheap and tasty. A lot of the Nepalese eat it twice a day.

At Tiger Tops we were treated to a slightly posher version that also included buffalo meat balls. We ladled our plates high and set off to our seats on the lawn. As in Sri Lanka, the dal was a good deal spicier than I perhaps expected, but tasty and fresh nonetheless. The curried potatoes, meanwhile, were much milder and ridiculously moreish and, were it not for having to interview the owner of the place shortly afterwards, I would have disgraced myself by indulging in a BLD (the Breakfast Lunch and Dinner, a meal so disgustingly large that one need not eat again for the rest of the day). I would even have helped myself to much more spinach.

Thanks to this trip, I overcame a childhood revulsion to the lank, green plant. Again, the freshness no doubt helped (spinach grows in vast quantities in Nepal) but, as a kid, the horror that Popeye’s favourite fare actually tasted a bit boggin’ was only surpassed by the discovery that mushrooms were, in actual fact, putrid.

Anyway, dal bhat worked as a great meal, even if there wasn’t too much choice to it. At Tiger Tops, as in restaurants throughout the country, you simply picked dal bhat, or something altogether more western. The addition of meatballs was welcome, considering how hungry we were, but certainly not essential – and for the rest of the trip, we saw no such fancy extras on offer.

For the hardy mountain men, it’s all washed down with a glass or two of raksi. Made from millet seeds, the clear booze tasted somewhere between whisky and grappa. Lord only knows what the alcohol content is. No-one seemed to really care. I opted for a large bottle of Everest, one of two imaginatively-titled beers brewed near Kathmandu. A good deal cheaper (£1, instead of £1.50) than it’s nominal rival Gorkha, it would be a stretch to say that it actually tasted any good: a bit too vinegary; chemical, almost. Like Fosters, but with a cool limited edition bottle.

Given the surroundings, it seemed a little odd that Sanny Mitchell was the drink of choice for the other guests at Tigers Tops, and throughout the country there were endless adverts for Tuborg. Rightly proud of so much of their heritage, even for the Nepalese, their beer was nothing to shout about.

But the food more than made up for it, at Tiger Tops and throughout Nepal, the dal bhat was a popular ever present. Unlike those elusive tigers.

* It was not, however, as uncomfortable as discovering an actual tick on my actual balls a couple of days later in Pokhara.

Range Of Drinks:
A fully stocked bar featuring the local grog Everest. San Miguel and Tuborg seems to be the next most popular as far as the beer went.

Discovering that spinach isn’t actually a vomit-inducing weed after all. Also, a wild boar and piglet waddling across the lawn while we ate.

Only going up for one course; the lack of tigers on show.

The Verdict:
Fresh, moreish and relatively healthy.

The Damage:
Free to those who can afford it. Very expensive to those who can’t ...


The Tramp said...

Nice work Tikka Mabaws... Hope you got that tick problem sorted out. I've got a tick remover but there's no way that I'd allow it to be used under those conditions - what method did you use to remove the beast? Interesting to read that you encountered a wild boar and piglet while you were eating - several of the curry club are often mistaken for wildebeast and hippos while we're out but we've yet to encounter any wild boar.

Tenzin Gyatso said...

Greetings Mr Mabaws. I'm glad you enjoyed your visit to our country. Please consider following me on Facebook ...